After a shaky start, James Mitchell built up the biggest online motorcycle accessory store in the UK with a current turnover of £14 million. It all started in a friend’s spare bedroom and now SportsBikeShop Ltd is aiming for a £30 million turnover by 2018. To top off his success, James is celebrating the signing of a new deal where he will build up a second empire in Germany over the next three years.
Having always been competitive, even with himself, the 35-year-old Managing Director of SportsBikeShop Ltd knew that he wanted to go out on his own and follow his path to success. As becoming a triathlete and an Iron Man didn’t pan out due to a knee injury, when he was introduced to web design in 2000 at the age of 20 he did everything he could to learn all about it.
Whilst working at Tong Engineering, web design started off as a hobby. He bought book after book and mastered design skills until he was in a position to start thinking that he could create a business out of it.
This feature interview was first published in issue 56 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at www.lincsbusiness.co. Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.
In 2003, James left his job to run his own web design company. “I was just a one man band, building websites for local businesses,” James explained. “My time was limited by how many hours there were in a day and how many websites I could build. So I decided I wanted to build a website that made money while I slept, rather than me sitting at my desk all hours.
“I thought, ‘Right, I’m going to start selling something online. I’ve got a motorbike, I’m going to get into bike sales’. But then my bike went because of the business. The first website launched in 2004 – and it was awful,” James laughed. “When I look back at our competitors, which there weren’t many of at the time, they all look horrible now but that’s just down to fashion and the way that things move on.”
Determined that he was going to do it his own way, James wrote the coding for SportsBikeShop.co.uk from scratch. “I was told by someone that I was reinventing the wheel, quite condescendingly so. I said, ‘No. I want to do it on my own. I want full control over it’. It was a bit of a challenge but I did it.”
Stuck in a jam
Starting a business that makes money while you sleep is no easy task and when James first started calling suppliers, he met no end of problems. “No one wants to supply someone sat in a spare bedroom operating a website who can afford to sell things for a few pound on top of the cost price. This was never our intention, but that’s how they assumed it was going to be operated.”
James approached a local motorcycle accessory shop to try and get a foot through the door. They worked together with James providing the website for online sales and an address so that he would be able to sell suppliers’ products, splitting the profit 50/50.
By 2007 he realised the potential that SportBikeShop had to really succeed. James decided he wanted to focus solely on the site, giving up his business in website design for other companies. He entered into a discussion with his partner to take the business in a new direction but was met with opposition.
“My business partner had his own shop that he didn’t want to quit. I said, ‘Look, I’m going to give up everything here to run this business full time’.” James discussed with his partner that they needed to look at the possibility of amalgamating the business or look to go their separate ways in order to grow their businesses separately.
Hostilities persuaded after the mention of a buyout for James’ partner. This ended up becoming part of a lawsuit and James buying his partner out for much less than was originally offered.
“It was horrible. You’ve got lawyers prompting us to do ruthless things, you’ve got to send all of these letters, we had meetings, we had a fight! It was horrible. It detracted from the business, it’s not who I am. I like to get on with people. I don’t like confrontation and we had to work in the same building while all of this was going on.
“When I look back on it now it was a blessing because I didn’t have to have a business partner, meaning that I got full control, which was great. I put my full efforts into it again and I got my passion back for it. But that year was horrible. It was a very flat year for sales as well because it just completely detracted from the business.”
The full cover interview with James Mitchell is available to read in full here. For the latest dispatch of business news from across Lincolnshire delivered in your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the Lincolnshire Business magazine.