Meet Chris Vincent
Former racing driver turned Entrepreneur, Chris Vincent, has overcome many challenges in his life to emerge as a Managing Director of a successful £12m + flooring company.
Chris, who is dyslexic, left secondary school with no qualifications and an ambition to become a F1 racing driver. Although he successfully competed in F Vauxhall and F Renault competitions, including racing for ex Formula One driver Martin Donnelly’s race team, he took the difficult decision to walk away from the profession after deciding that he couldn’t make a career out of the sport.
Instead, aged just 23, he turned his attention to enterprise, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who ran their own flooring business, to set up V4 Wood Fooring, with his older brother, Nathan Vincent, 16 years ago. LDC has named Chris as ‘One to Watch’ in the Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders programme, supported by The Telegraph.
1.Can you explain to us how the idea for your business came to you and how the whole process kicked off?
When I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to make a living as a racing driver, after taking some time out to consider his next step I followed in the family footsteps and started my own flooring business. Researching the market to find out what was likely to be the fashion for flooring in the future, I settled on something I was already familiar with, wood flooring. With my brother we started out with just 10 pallets in a small rented warehouse distributing flooring for one single Austrian brand.
2.What were the biggest challenges you faced when bringing the idea to market?
There have been two challenges that made an impact on me and the business.
The first came even before the company was up and running. In the days before Google had an answer for everything, and with no supplier contacts in the industry, the first significant challenge was to find a reliable factory to produce the flooring. Attending a trade show in Germany, I met with representatives from an Austrian factory, and after visiting the site began working with them. It could all have gone wrong but luckily the factory produced high quality products.
The second challenge came in 2011 when a fire destroyed one of the company’s four warehouses and burnt half the stock. Luckily, we had built up such a good relationship with our customers that they carried on dealing with us, although some products were out of stock for a few months. It took us a while to bounce back from that setback as you can imagine, but it made us more determined and focused. Our competitors were saying, “They have had a fire, they will struggle to get back in there”, and you want to prove them wrong – and we did.
Both these challenges demonstrate how some of the qualities needed to be an entrepreneur come into play when things don’t go according to plan. Finding the right factory to work with was critical to starting the business and back in the day that meant actually getting out these into the market, meeting people and doing due diligence in person rather than remotely meant that we built personal relationships that stood us in good stead.
The fire was one of those freak occurrences that, apart from the obvious insurance, you can’t legislate for. It was traumatic at the time, but I must pay tribute to the fire brigade who were amazing and very supportive both during and immediately following the incident. Again, I believe that the resilience of the entrepreneur and the personal relationships built up enabled us to overcome this challenge and come back stronger.
3.Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?
Good ideas come from surrounding yourself with good people. And learning from your mistakes. One of my first mistakes came when I should have established the V4 brand of wood flooring much earlier than I did. For several years V4 distributed flooring under the Austrian company name, missing a crucial opportunity to raise awareness of V4 in the UK. Brand identification is so important in building up trust and in some ways, it was like starting over again when the V4 wood flooring was introduced to market.
My grandfather and father have always been my greatest inspiration. Their journey from employment as floor and carpet fitters to founding and running a business, and the success they made of it, gave me the confidence to strike out on my own and take the risk of starting my own company.
However, if I was being completely honest, I felt at the time that my lack of formal qualifications, together with my dyslexia, limited my opportunities in the employment market and starting my own business was the best way to basically, make money!
4.What are your company’s values and why are these things important to the business?
Passion! Passion for what we do. I always aim to make employees feel far more like part of a family than just members of staff. I look for people with the same values as me and reward their loyalty well. This philosophy also gives employees more input into the business. Decisions, from marketing and branding to new designs and collections, are taken with a more collaborative approach than is found at most businesses and the family spirit of the whole company is something that is nurtured. Someone who has the respect of their peers and employees is a good leader, but that respect has to be earned and must be worked on as it is hard to attain but can very easily be lost.
Someone once said that too much of a focus on selling is not always good for a business. As the saying goes – turnover is vanity, but profit is sanity. That is a very good philosophy for a successful entrepreneur!
5.What is next for your brand?
We have recently opened a £3 million design centre in Woking. There are plans to open a showroom in Clerkenwell, which is renowned for being the home of trendy design centres, followed by a centre in the North of England, with Manchester an option under consideration.
6.What one piece of advice would you have for someone just starting out on their business journey or currently going through a setback?
Think things through but then have the courage to go for it. Take risks but make sure they are controlled risks. Don’t make excuses to yourself or others why things can’t be done as that is the easy option. A ‘can do’ attitude can work wonders, challenge yourself and you will be surprised what you can achieve. You must have a vision but don’t ever get complacent, have the ambition to change and evolve.
Enjoy what you are doing, take any setbacks positively and get up and move on. You will spend a lot, and I mean a lot, just ask my wife, of your time working both in and on your new business, so it must be something that you are enthusiastic about.
More info on Chris Vincent…
Brand Name: V4 Wood Flooring
Twitter handle: @chriscvncent
Facebook handle: https://www.facebook.com/chris.vincent