Inspired by a trip down memory lane, Michael Parker decided to launch A Quarter Of, an online emporium selling retro sweets like sugar mice and gobstoppers. Although by his own admission Parker “had no clue about ecommerce or how to go about it”, he knew he could find people willing to part with their pocket money online to buy the sweets they fondly remember from childhood.
What led you to launch
A Quarter Of?
The idea for the site came from a Friday night chat with my brother Richard in our local pub. We started talking about the sweets we hadn’t seen for years. We ended up blagging our way into our local cash and carry to get an idea of what sweets were still around. I remember looking in awe at things that I hadn’t seen for 25 years. When I saw they had Anglo Bubbly bubblegum, that’s when I knew that an online sweetshop would be worth a try.
What is your greatest challenge on a day-to-day basis?
Focus. We have so many ideas of things we’d like to do, it’s really hard not to try and chase everything at once. But we know that if we are going to do something, we have to do it well. So we prioritise rigorously and repeatedly and anything that is not at the top of the list just has to wait, no matter how frustrating that may be. And it is extremely frustrating.
What has been your greatest achievement in business so far?
I would say to have got the business to where it is today. It’s completely different to when I started out. Initially there was just me doing everything—from buying and weighing out the bags of sweets and taking them to the post office, to writing the computer systems to enable me to manage the process. I was in a 400 sq-ft office. Now we have a 14,000 sq-ft unit, up to 35 staff at the busiest times of the year, sending out up to 2.5 tonnes of sweets per day.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Not that I can think of. That’s not to say that there haven’t been lots of really hard times since A Quarter Of started in 2002, but without those I wouldn’t have learned all that I have, about me, the company, business and so on. At the time I would definitely have wanted to have avoided the difficulties, but I think I’m a lot better placed to handle things in the future as a result of them.
What can we expect from A Quarter Of in 2012 and beyond?
Evolution not revolution. Being consistent to what our customers tell us they love about us; our old-fashioned approach to service and our fun, quirky, comic-styled website. And working through the mammoth to-do list so that we can do much more of it, in more markets.
What advice do you have for those looking to start their own business?
Don’t be obsessed with finding something completely new to do, it’s really hard to find anything that absolutely no-one else is doing. Find a different way of doing something, and communicate that difference to customers clearly and consistently. Don’t wait until you have the perfect plan or you’ll most likely never start. Be prepared to be flexible and learn on the job. Minimise and manage the risks as much as you can and make sure that your business earns more money than it spends.
Whom in the business world do you most admire, and why?
Jim Skinner, the chief executive of McDonalds. He took the helm in 2004 and, at the time, I really thought that the company was pretty doomed. In increasingly health-conscious times, the McDonalds fayre looked to be the opposite of what people wanted. And the share price was under $13. When he announced, in 2012, that he was to step down the share price had risen to $96 and the perception of McDonalds has completely changed. I think that’s an incredibly rare skill.
What was the last online purchase you made?
A box of comics from the 1970s on eBay. I used to get Whizzer and Chips delivered every week when I was a child—and it made such an impression that AQuarterOf.co.uk is based on the comic and we’re lucky enough to have one of the cartoonists who drew the strips in Whizzer and Chips, Colin Whittock, create the characters that we have on the site.
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