Every successful business has a story to tell, from its first day to its growth and onto serious accomplishments. We want to delve into these stories, highlighting the hard work, the inspiration and a few of the mistakes of their founders and key figures.
This month, we speak to William Forshaw, CEO and Founder of luxury leather goods company, Maxwell-Scott, about how he turned a simple idea into a successful business.
Here is William Forshaw’s growth story, full of tips and advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
To begin, could you tell us a little about your business? Specifically, its history and how it has changed since you first launched?
I am the CEO and Founder of Maxwell-Scott, a British-born luxury leather goods company for the refined professional seeking timeless design and high-quality craftsmanship. As such, we handcraft our products from the finest vegetable-tanned full grain leather in Tuscany. In 2002, when I noticed that some of my colleagues would carry poor-quality briefcases or even a plastic bag to work every day, I decided to create a briefcase with a focus on workmanship and only the finest materials.
This was to be my antidote to fast fashion. It was then that I started selling high-quality, functional briefcases directly to corporate clients in reception areas or office spaces before moving on to exhibitions, and eventually an online catalogue.
Since 2002, we have grown our range of products, expanding our line of briefcases and entering into new types of leather goods including women’s handbags, luggage bags and accessories. We are also now selling across websites in the UK, US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Australia.
Growth is without question one of the most challenging aspects of running a business. What challenges did you face as a business leader, and what strategies did you employ to overcome them?
I have never accepted outside investments and have always tried to grow the business very organically as I don’t believe in too rapid growth. Due to that slow but steady pace, I never felt overwhelmed by the way in which the company was evolving. This approach has worked incredibly well for Maxwell-Scott and has prevented a lot of the issues that companies have with extreme growth trajectories.
I always felt confident in growing the company to a good size in the UK. However, I realised early on that in order to grow the company internationally, I needed to work with native speakers. I was lucky enough to find international team members that have been vital in our international expansion - such as my International Marketing Director Julia Munder, who is a German native and has now been with the company for eight years.
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To what extent have external factors (like changing trends, the financial landscape) affected your business over time? And what can businesses do to future-proof against these kinds of peripheral shifts?
Cashflow is an important consideration for SMEs. I always try to prepare for the worst case scenario and have some emergency funds stashed away. However, I would also advise businesses to consider their location carefully. I started the company in London, but a few years back we moved the whole business to York in order to allow us to expand. The HQ and warehouse we have now would not have been financially feasible in London.
Luckily for us we have been positioning ourselves against fast-fashion from the beginning and, therefore, focused on creating timeless products that are not bound to changing trends. I can only recommend this shift towards slow consumerism to every retail company as it is not only more sustainable, but also removes any pressure regarding constantly looking for the latest trends.
Can you identify three lessons you’ve learnt in your time as a business leader? And how have they affected your own role as a manager and owner?
Healthy business growth often relies on several factors. What facets of business would you say have promoted growth in your organisation the most? And what should SMEs look to improve/develop to maximise their chances of success?
Our international expansion has been one of our biggest growth factors. It is fascinating to see how each country has different product preferences and bestsellers. Importantly though, launching internationally is not just done by translating your website to a different language.
It needs to be localised and the marketing needs to be adapted to suit a different target audience. If that is not carefully considered, an international expansion can do more harm than good. At Maxwell-Scott we always work with native speakers in order to give us the best chance of succeeding in our international target markets.
Also significant are the links built to our websites via as much press coverage as possible. A lot of people skim over this area, or add it further down the list, but from the beginning we have focused on this avenue to increase consumer awareness in our target countries.
What one piece of advice would you give you to other business leaders looking to grow their business?
Try to find people that are just as hungry for success as you are and give them the tools to develop. I am a firm believer in hiring people without too much previous experience - as long as they are driven and willing to upskill in order to bring the business forward.
If you were to start a new business tomorrow, what would you do differently and why?
In the last few years, I had to upskill myself in PPC and Paid Social Media and I find it fascinating how granular you can go with the targeting for the advertising. So, if I were to start another business I probably would work as a PPC or Paid Social consultant for other retail businesses. There are definitely some pitfalls I would avoid this time around though.
For instance, I would make sure that I prioritised a user-friendly experience on the website over design - a lesson I learned the hard way as I once made this mistake with Maxwell-Scott’s website and sales dropped massively until we rectified the issue.
We’d like to thank William for taking the time to contribute to the Growth Stories series. To read the previous instalments, click below.
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