From the top · 5 September 2018

Red7 founder: I borrowed £200 from a friend and turned it into a £10m turnover business

Ian Lucas, Founder of Red7.

This travel expert started by borrowing cash from his friends to set up his business and is now known for treating his staff to luxury holidays and holidaying to Marbella every month.

Red7 is an independent travel business serving three specific markets: business travel, group celebration and occasion travel (which incorporates hen, stag and sten parties) and, thirdly, group sports tours.

Ian Lucas, the founder of Red7, started his business after attending a very disappointing stag do. The company now employs over 65 staff members, with annual turnover exceeding £10m. Business Advice caught up with Lucas to find out how he managed to build his success.

Where did the concept come from?

Red7 started life in the late 1990s as the first company in the UK to market pre-arranged Stag and Hen parties. The idea came to me after a really awful Stag do in London. Nowhere would accept a group of ‘Stags’ – we ended up drinking cans of beer walking and round Covent Garden.

When I got back home, I approached local bars, clubs and restaurants in need of business and started to put together pre-packaged Hen and Stag parties. I ensured the groups were welcomed into restaurants and bars and treated the same as any other client and I’m really proud of that.

When the first budget airlines launched we branched out into organising overseas Hens and Stags and we have helped over a million clients organise their pre-wedding celebrations.

Our pedigree in group travel has helped Red7 evolve into a leading independent travel business which now has a thriving Business Travel Service and a Group Sports Tours both for children and adults.

How did you fund your business?

I borrowed a PC from a friend, so I could print itineraries and post them, then I borrowed £200 from another friend and I placed an advert in a lad’s magazine. Demand was strong and just kept coming. We quickly grew to £10m turnover with no capital investment.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

The early challenge was to persuade a bank that Red7 was a real business. Often, I was told: “there’s a reason no one else is doing this…” The next challenge was to find a hotel, a nightclub and a restaurant that would accept groups of guys. In those days, it was simply not acceptable.

The third challenge was to get door staff at nightclubs to welcome groups of guys, rather than challenge them. Fast forward 21 years and now, door staff are hosts and most hospitality businesses accept groups. Groups are good business – so we broke down a lot of barriers.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

I think growing from an idea of employing over 65 people was quite rewarding. I’m quite proud of the people who’ve contributed to Red7 over the years. I think my biggest achievement is to still be in business, despite the best efforts of a few recessions, 9/11 and so forth. Also, my son 

What marketing strategies have you used?

Over the years, every single one of them. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t.

I strongly believe in ‘seven pillars’ of marketing. When you religiously follow through on them all, and personalise them to your business, the result is a much higher conversion and success rate.

The best strategy is 3D marketing – it rarely fails. That’s when you have to switch your mindset from budgets to the lifetime value of the customer and then invest in them.  It’s not very common, but very effective.

Of course, Red7’s best marketing is the same as everyone’s: customer advocacy and referrals. We enjoy our reviews and our referrals…

In five years’ time, I’ll be…

Either dead or alive. 

Who are your business heroes and why?

My business heroes are those who followed Red7’s lead and are still in business. I know them all and they helped stimulate a demand that one business couldn’t do on its own.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Persist. Persistence is always the key. Persist and you will get your way. Also watch Derren Brown. Become the greatest sales person.

If you cannot sell yourself, product or service, no one will buy into you, your idea or your employ. Ask advice from experienced entrepreneurs (I do a lot of mentoring). Never give up. When it gets tough (and it will) always bounce back.

What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?

Using anything that has power and a steering wheel. Very Jeremy Clarkson. 

Last series you binge watched?

I don’t watch much TV but I crammed Peaky Blinders on Amazon and Deutschland 83 had me hooked.

What three things can’t you live without? 

Deckchair Days: I go to Marbella for sunshine every month to escape the daily grind and relax, reflect and rewind. I work on the business rather than in it.

Sport – I enjoy watching my son play sports. I think sport is reflective of business, especially football and athletics where you see individuals and teams working to be the best they can.

Can’t disclose the third…

What app do you use the most?

Without question: WhatsApp. It’s great for communicating with colleagues, family and friends when you’re on the move (which I am almost constantly). And it’s really efficient at sending documents, images and voice messages. I’d say it’s almost the perfect app for modern business life.

What song is always on your playlist?

Everything by Weller, Blondie and Guetta. Quite a mix.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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