On the anniversary of the Cube Lighting & Design blog site, I’d like to share the journey again from how I started it up, to how I scaled it both up and down, and all the lessons I learned in between.
It started about 10 years ago when I was working in the hospitality industry. The guy I was working for started up an LED lighting business when it first became a thing and he brought me in to create a sales team to get the product to market.
After three years of doing that and effectively building someone else’s business, I decided that I was capable of more, so I made the risky decision to do it on my own.
I’d never been in business, but I had a real fire in my belly to be successful. I didn’t know what form that would come in, but I found a love for the lighting industry. Even after two, three years of hard slogging, I never got bored, every day was different, and it really excited me.
Honestly, I didn’t even know what LED stood for when he brought me in and even when he explained it to me, I didn’t even know what exactly we were selling.
I spent every day and every spare minute reading and researching – catalogues, data sheets, looking into lighting software – I threw myself into this industry wanting to know everything about it; what lumen output was, what lux levels were, what are kelvins etc.
I’ve been in sales a long time and if you don’t believe in what you sell, the customer isn’t going to believe it, so it was huge for me that I had to get behind these products.
Hurdles & Obstacles
When I first started Cube, my main obstacle was knowledge. Different suppliers and customers would ask questions that I didn’t know the answers to, and I was really scared to let onto my customers that I didn’t know something they were asking me.
It filled me with fear to think that I couldn’t answer a certain question.
For the first few months, I was trying to make it up, go along with it and say what I thought was the right answer. Then, very quickly, I got comfortable with customers and started learning from them instead.
As soon as I was honest and started to tell people that I didn’t have an answer for them right there and then, the response was amazing. That was a turning point in my career, to think that I could just be honest with everyone and they’ll still deal with me!
The Big Bucks
About eight weeks in, I got my first big order for a project. The value was about £9,000 and I can remember that being the most amount of money I’ve ever seen and wondered when that was to become the norm.
Every bit of money for the first two years was put back into the company. It was constant work – not going out with friends, not having money to do anything – the sacrifices I made in the first couple of years were horrendous, but it paid off in the end.
After reading an article regarding carbon reduction by the local council, I emailed them every single Friday to get on their radar.
Luckily just before Christmas (3 months on), they rang me and told me they might have a project for me to look at and tender for. Firstly I thought amazing, then it dawned on me- what is a tender? I still had so much to learn so I did exactly that.
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We went in ridiculously low but still at an amazing margin. We were 50 grand cheaper than the next cheapest quote which is when I learned where my pricing needs to be at.
We made no compromises, we still offered high quality and everything that the other contractors did, just at a more affordable price.
Expansion & Scaling Back
In 2018, we expanded the business massively and employed around 21 inhouse engineers to do huge projects from lighting to full scope electrical works on huge apartments developments.
Then the day I had always feared- we took on a job and the client closed down when the job was completed. We were left £86K out of pocket.
So, after that we learned to do our due diligence – we credit check people now, we don’t close deals with a handshake, we have delivery notes, job sheets, designs and all works signed off in stages. Although it was bad, it taught us some good lessons.
In late 2018, I completely scaled back the business because there is such thing as growing too quickly. Having such a vast turnover was a terrible thing because although it gave me the money to take things on I probably wouldn’t have done them otherwise, it also made me make less informed decisions.
So, we got rid of in-house engineers and stripped staff back to the minimum we needed to be able to trade in the capacity that we wanted. I got back to working in our old “bread and butter” way and started on paying off the debts of those old projects.
I owed a lot of people a lot of money but, luckily, we had fantastic relationships with them. This is key in business because these people knew it wasn’t me just saying I couldn’t pay them; they knew why, and they let me have payment plans.
Over 12 months, I paid £52K back in debt. It was hard work and it was stressful, and I wanted to cry most nights, but it remains a huge achievement in my business career.
I think Cube has proven its worth in the industry. We’re morally grounded which I think is so important in business relationships. I could’ve easily walked away from the debts, but I couldn’t stand the thought of a supplier being in the position I was in.
And that takes us to today and the company is as good as it has ever been. We’re expanding at a good pace and are working nationally. Our next goal is London so once we get there, I’m sure you’ll be seeing Cube vans all over the place.
Advice for people starting the industry
Persistence and confidence are key. Don’t think it’s going to be an easy ride because nothing comes easy when you’re trying to make money. If it’s easy, then everyone would be doing it.
Make sure you do your credit checks but don’t rely on them. Look into a client personally because we’ve been burned even after doing credit checks.
Money is difficult to talk about when you’re a new business but once you know your worth and you’re confident in what you do, you can tell a client that you want 50% upfront to cover materials.
If they say no, then they’re not worth dealing with. If they say yes, then you know you’ve got a customer for life.
Key things to remember when starting a business
Keep up with your sector; with what’s new, your competitors, get to work alongside them if you can. The majority of the time in the construction industry, competitors can become your best clients as long as they know that you’re not being a competitor.
Ready to take the step into the future of lighting? Contact Cube Lighting & Design here to see if you qualify for free LED lighting!