Mark Ponsford says “The #1 absolutely essential thing without any doubt at all is don’t fanny around with the small stuff. Really get on, don’t worry about your logo because you’re going to do that logo again six months you’re not even going to look at it again and if you are looking at it, then business is probably gonna go bust. Get out there, every single day and sell.”
Dylis: Hi there, this is Dylis Guyan. Welcome to the Inspired Selling Podcast the place where business owners who sell to bigger businesses discover how to attract, convert and retain more of their ideal clients without any of those nasty, sleazy, pushy sales tactics that often give sales a bad name.
I’ve got a fantastic guest for you today and that is Mark Ponsford. Now let me tell you a little bit about Mark. Mark is the M.D. for Krowmark Limited which is a UK based work wear company which was established in 2005. Now one of the things that Krowmark really prides themselves in, is to perform to the highest standards within the garment customisation industry and aims to handle all customer queries with the utmost care and attention. I absolutely love that because it’s one thing to sell a product but it’s something else when you are committed to giving that level of customer service. So, I’m really impressed with that about Mark and his company.
I know that they are very proud of the customer service which has earned them the Customer Service Award and Business of the Year Award in 2015. Not only that, they’ve also achieved the #1 rating as the UK’s best work wear company on independent review websites. So congratulations on all of that Mark and welcome to the show. I’m absolutely delighted to have you on and to hear more about your business and how you’ve grown it to where it is today.
Mark: Ohh, I sound really good.
Dylis: I know.
Mark: Thank you.
Dylis: You are really good.
Mark: I’m blushing but yeah, thank you.
Dylis: Yeah and just before we get into things. I touched there on your values around customer service and customer care and just an example of that, about three weeks ago, I received a bouquet of flowers from my family in fact; it was beautiful but the next day, they started to droop. I sent them an email and I didn’t hear anything, and I thought oh they’re not going to do anything. Then yesterday I got an email from them saying “Absolutely we’ll replace these flowers for you.”
Now already they’ve lifted my view of them because of the care that they’ve given me afterwards rather than ignoring me. It did take a little while but the outcome was really excellent. That’s one of the things I love about what you do and having that philosophy. So, tell us, give us your backstory, Mark. How did you get to where you are today and be as successful as you are today?
Mark: Well let’s go back, let’s go way back into my childhood. I was brought up by parents who lived in a council estate. My mum was from London, my dad was a Portsmouth boy albeit he tried his hand at everything. He was an uneducated man as was his…in fact, my grandfather was a gypsy. So, like a lot of kids my age in that area we lived in a big council estate, went to all the local council schools and the reason I’m telling you this is because it sort of shows some psyche into what we have. As kid we had like a rule, you know, I use to wear hand-me-downs which is bit embarrassing because the next one down was my sister.
Dylis: I can see it, I can just see it Mark.
Mark: Bloody stiletto killed me. My sister was four years older than me. So, because girls tend to mature much quicker than boys, in essence, I was an only child, because my sister, when she was…by the time she was sort of…I was eight-nine-ten, she was fourteen-sixteen and she was off out with boys and I was home on my own.
Now, my mum and dad…my dad was a labourer, so my mom had to work full time because it didn’t bring much money in. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just where he was in life, and that’s how it is. So, I was a latchkey kid. You know, come home from school, put my finger in the letterbox, pull the key out, undo the door, go in, feed myself something stupid like a sugar sandwich or something ridiculous. I don’t know, it sounds funny but, a lot of kids my age did that.
Dylis: I know.
Mark: I remember getting my first bike and how pleased I was with it. I can’t even remember how old I was but it was my pride and joy. But other than that, we really didn’t have takeaways and all these sorts of things. I’m saying this because all these sorts of things, kids, mind you I got three kids, they will take it for granted these days. You know could we go on the internet, can we do this, they had everything. My internet was my front window looking out of it and my playground was what we called the green outside, you know and that was full of dog *.$# and full of cars and trees and people telling you to piss off and not play football outside their house. I’m sorry about my language, I was trying to moderate it a bit
Dylis: That’s alright.
Mark: Or a place where we used to call the dumps, where we got up to all sorts of mischief, you make fires and all sorts of stuff. There was a whole group of us like that. When I look back at some of those friends, they’ve all done fairly well for themselves because we had nothing, so everything we wanted we went for.
Now part of my growing up I went to a comprehensive school and was in all the top sets for everything but if I look back now I think I had ADHD. I think I couldn’t concentrate on anything, so albeit, I was very good verbally, sit me in front of a bit of paper, even now, to this day I struggle. Now if I apply myself, I remember after my…when I went through my electronic engineering training, I failed one of my math modules for Calculus, badly because I…just literally Calculus is a bugger. When I failed it I thought I better do something about this. I actually beat everyone in the class, even the boffins, even the kids with glasses and that sort of stuff. I’ve got glasses now, but didn’t then. Even those kids I beat them all and they were stunned because I applied myself and made it work.
I wish I could say that I carried it with me for the rest of my life but I’m still the same now, that has come with me. That sort of like, I will do things as I need to do them, as opposed to the whole regiment of things. Just, I will come back to that in a second.
Mark: So, went to a comprehensive school. In that time, I had 2 paper rounds and I worked at a fruit and veg stall as a barrow boy. I wasn’t doing the shouting out but I was in the back selling to people. Again, I say that because it really helped my confidence. See I was dealing with people day to day. Bit of banter, you know, all the old girls used to love to come around and I’d carried their bags to the car for them.
Mark: At that time as well, I also took up boxing. When I was about thirteen, I took up boxing and that helped my confidence and it also got me through…it probably kept me from being arrested for something, or smoking as well, I didn’t smoke. So, this is the sort of, the core of my background. I was a boxer, and I like boxing because I was okay I wasn’t brilliant, but I wasn’t bad. More of a fighter if anything and that helped my confidence as well.
Went through school, I’d like to say I did really well, everyone thought I did really well, failed everything, literally failed everything. Even though I was in all the top sets I’ve been offered about three or four different jobs as an apprentice and of course, I didn’t know so I was like…. Excuse me. I’m like no that fine I will just, so I went into an electronic engineering apprenticeship, which has got nothing to do with selling, obviously and that was because my boxing trainer was into electronics. That’s what was my inspiration. Before that, I wanted to be a car mechanic, who knew.
Mark: Went on from there, was still much about, too much of my first couple of years then thought I really needed to buckle down and change from in my apprenticeship would be I carried over my electronic training and change it to production management. By the time I’d finished my apprenticeship I was actually running a department over about 4 or 5 people coming up with new ideas. I remember the production director this, it was a big company. With compliment to my manager, was like you got a guy that was something else. I could have had that much nouse but I didn’t know what it meant at the time.
Dylis: It amazing.
Mark: Yeah, I know. So that’s it, I came from the very, you know we didn’t go on holidays. No I had one holiday when I was a young lad. I think my dad left home at that point and came back at some point as well. That’s the sort of, you know the sort tumultuous background. You know we didn’t have takeaways, it wasn’t…. my world, my world was you know, 5 miles on a train to go to a swimming pool and that was it, that was my world.
Dylis: Yeah, it was similar. My childhood, I was from the Northeast but mine was similar. We had sugar sandwiches and were absolutely thrilled when we got a bike and you know, Christmas you didn’t get all of these piles of presents you got a Bunty and Judy Annual and a game and…
Mark: Yeah and an orange in your sock at the end of the bed, if you got lucky. Only ever had chocolate bars you know Christmas, and I remember going to my mum. Mum could I have a biscuit, one biscuit, not like you know not like a whole packet like I would now.
Dylis: We didn’t have pop or crisps or anything like that, it so very, very different, so very, very different.
Mark: We did, it made me laugh. I saw a Peter Kay sketch and my mom was, my mom did brilliantly with her budget. I mean, she used to go to the market, she would get her meat from the market and all that sort of stuff. And I would go and get Peter Kay had a sketch about this. Go and get my Rola Cola. Which tastes…it just tastes of plastic. It doesn’t taste of anything like Coca Cola at all, you know. You could clean your windows with it, don’t know about anything else.
So that was, so we come from a background of nothing. When you come from nothing, you go two ways I think. You either accept that and go through life thinking, life’s unfair and you go through life blaming everybody else for your things. Someone said to me once, when you point your finger to blame, there is always three pointing back at you and that’s so true is that you’ve got to take responsibility.
Mark: Albeit, I didn’t see it as taking responsibility, I saw it as trying to impress. Now my dad was an authoritarian, you couldn’t have a different opinion to him. You couldn’t turn the telly over even though he was snoring in his chair because he was watching that. It was that sort of upbringing. I was the youngest of four, when I used to go out and play outside I was one of the youngest. I was always trying to impress, and it stayed with me, my whole life. Even now I’ve done things most of my peers would never do and I still look to do the next thing. I still didn’t quite do that right, I still think how could I improve on that, how could I make myself look more impressive.
Now I realise I do this now, so I try not to be too cocky about it because sometimes you can get a bit cocky when you’ve done these things. Not because you want to be cocky, because you want to impress people, it’s because you want to go “Look how well I’ve done.” and then you get a bit of adrenaline from it and then it goes away.
So, went into my electronic engineering apprenticeship, went through changes in production management, went to another company doing production management but quickly realised I’m going back to 1986 now. Quickly realised that I had a real aptitude for computers, a real aptitude. Literally, I could sit there and even I could have engineers that knew ten times, you know educated ten times more than me, couldn’t sort a problem out and I’d say “Just try that”, and they went ” No, no it won’t work”, like “Just try it, just go and try just for me, just try it,” “No, no” and got to be a bit later, I said, “You got to try it” they said, ok they’ll try it and it worked and I got no idea why I was good at it but I was.
So this company that I was with, the MD got fired because he was…he’s a nice guy but he just wasn’t doing the right things. He likes to sit in his office and I went with him to set up a company called Industrial Computer Source in the UK. Industrial Computer Source sold Industrial PC’s and I was brilliant at doing PCs, but I also realised I was good at talking with customers, I was also good at systems, I was also good at everything. I know it sounds bad but I worked as an apprentice through a company. Which meant I went to every single department.
Now I thought I know everything to that point but I didn’t know ….. really but you sort of, you do get….sorry I’ve sworn again. You do realise that what you know is not what you know tomorrow and what you will know the day after. At the time you think you know everything or you know most things and this is why continuous development is always a good thing.
Mark: So went into this company, worked with him, literally from doing everything and within 5…we opened in 1988. I took on a guy as a technical manager at the company and me and him ended up leaving that company at 1992 and setting up our own business. One of the, one of the inspirers for that for me, was one day I sat and this guy had a big house, this guy running the company and I was sitting at work one day, really worried about something. I looked out my window and I saw him go pass, the business was quite near to his house. I saw him go up and down on his lawnmower and I’m like, “Right, I sitting here doing all this and you’re, you are sort of taking the benefit from it. He promised you all sort of shares and this sort of stuff but his promise of the share isn’t ordinary you know they’re tight, aren’t they? And his promise of his share was like 1%.
Mark: So it meant nothing, it was nothing. So me and this guy set up another company and we’d done a bit of business planning like you do. Sat down, next 5 years and we made a business plan to sell industrial computers and within 5 years we said we’ll sell the business. Five years and 11 days we got our first offer for the business.
Mark: We were a UK industrial computer company and got to number two in the UK within 5 years, the other companies were out longer than us. We bought a manufacturing plant, I didn’t know how to do any of this, it was just me and him. He came from a very similar background to me. He was from Manchester but had gone to Australia, good friend of mine I’d love to work with him again now. He was mister detail and he used to call me Mr. 90% because I’d do most things and leave a mess behind me but that’s how you drive forward if you stop and do all the detail you only edge forward .
Dylis: The combination of you would have been very powerful, the fact that he was committed to looking at the detail and you were obviously the bigger picture.
Mark: He loved the detail, he loved the detail and he hated, he hated…if a customer got a bit narky at all, his immediate defence was, was to shut down. Whereas I’d negotiated, talked about it, realised that, you know albeit, I might be being a bit of a twit but you know they are your customers, they pay your wages. So, that really went well for us. And we sold out in 1998 for $7.6 Million dollars to an American company in San Diego. They took me across to San Diego to be their VP at World Wide Sales and Marketing and I loved it and hated it.
Mark: I loved it because San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in the world for me. Not beautiful from the point of view of a beautiful fauna, you know but it has, it has got that outdoor lifestyle, it’s got that Americanism where if you want it, you go and get it. Availability, having an English accent over there, everywhere I went I had a friend.
Mark: I’d go sit in a bar, I had a friend, anywhere I went, English accent, on the West not so much the East coast because so many Brits go to the East coast. The West Coast loved it and I love being there. Unfortunately, my wife had some illnesses and that so we had to come back. So and that never left me, I never wanted to leave so it’s something I will do in the future. I will go back and live over there for a while.
But what I hated about San Diego was it’s a corporate world. They had me responsible for World Wide Sales and Marketing but then at the end of the month, when they were trying to get their figures in. They had had me sat down, in a meeting for two days with all the rest of the heads of the department and I’d say ….it, I’m going and they’re like where are you going and I say I am going about my business selling. They couldn’t control me because they paid me so much money, they couldn’t sack me.
But when I was there, we got a potential contract with the United State Post Office and the salesman come up to me and said, “We’re going to have to walk away from this, it’s not standard product” I said “No don’t be stupid.” I went to the board of the company and they said “No, no the margins are wrong.” I said, “Leave it with me.” It was at the time when the computer price was really dropping because the technology was really moving really fast.
I actually got a computer designed, all the pricing sorted out and flew to Dallas to see…the customers couldn’t believe it, I’m the VP at World Wide. I’m on the floor plugging things in the back of this computer. They’re like “Who the hell is this bloke?” “They like he’s our boss?” Got it working. We won a $35 Million-dollar contract from that meeting. My Worldwide Target was 65 million and I got 35 million that one contract. We’re a spec team, we have designer specialist sat in. We’d done it all within about 4 weeks. We wouldn’t have got…it if I hadn’t been there we wouldn’t have got it. The board would have said no. We would have walked away.
What happened subsequent to that when I left is an example of corporate mentality. They were speced in and lost the job. The second one, it came up again the same size job as the second phase, they lost it. So I’d come back from that thinking, you know, this isn’t right. There’re things that I’d done a bit of corporate world. I was nice you know they paid me a ridiculous amount of money, I had an office. I lived in a house with a swimming pool. My kids, my youngest at that time was 18 months. My oldest was 10. It was great it was lovely for them. They weren’t too happy there because their mum wasn’t happy, so they didn’t go off to school, they should have gone off to school and stuff, but they had a month without it.
So, we come back and I came back and I sort of bumbled around for a while. Bought a big house, you know, bought it from a council house buys a big house, does it up. Bounced around in that for a while. Couldn’t get my head around what I wanted to do. But I thought right I see so many people out there doing things wrong, marketing and that sort of stuff wrong. I’m no marketing expert but I can see people doing it wrong.
What I started doing was started trying to sell marketing as a product. So, going out to people with the package and say right “What we’ll do for you we’ll send out your regular letters, your regular emails and all that sort of stuff and that’s called the blast off package.” It’s called Blast of Marketing Company but what happened was I kept getting pulled into consulting. They found out what I’d done and they wanted me to go and consult for them. One of those companies who asked me to go and help was Checkatrade, you know “Checkatrade, checkatrade.com.”
Dylis: Checkatrade.com yes.
Mark: They are literally 20 minutes from where I live. That’s where they’re based in Selsey in West Sussex. Met a guy called Kevin Byrne who was the owner. He sold out, he just literally just sold it. Really great guy and we got on so well that we set up a joint venture company, to sell to the tradesman. We originally called it Checkatrade Member Services on that side, but the actual company was started as Trade Service Direct that’s where Krowmark comes from, so we do services for tradesmen.
Tradesmen are real buggers to sell to, they want everything cheaply. They’re as bad as they are trying to get a hold of one. They want everything for nothing, they want it all changed, they want it delivered for free and they want it yesterday and they won’t want to pay for it just yet. So it wasn’t working. So I spoke to Kevin, I said, “Look Kevin, It’s not working in this guise.” One of the things we were sending to them was clothing. That was, you know I could see that it was tangible, for me, it was a physical thing rather than telephones or insurance or vans or whatever, you know, van leases.
So that was 2005 we started that. In 2006 was really the true incarnation of Krowmark. Still, Trade Service Direct but I went out and started to do Fax Marketing. We sending out 25 thousand faxes every single day. Every day, the amount of people that told me to stop sending faxes. They going to stick them up my ass. They’re going to do this to me. They going to burn my factory down. They hated it, and I get it and then everyone was saying, no fax marketing, faxes are dead. Even to this day we don’t do any more, even to this day it was still working. It really was, you know because people don’t get many faxes and when they get one, it’s like, “oooh, got a fax. What’s that?
Mark: They go and look at it and they phone us up, the amount of people, phone us and say, we’ve been getting your fax for years we hate them but and they buy something from us.
Mark: We stopped doing that now because it’s just…the list was difficult to get hold of. So that’s where Krowmark started from. For years I just kept…I was in a business. I have never been in this business before, knew nothing about it, there was a lot of big competitors out there, there still are. We sort of bimbled along, growing, growing, growing but never really making much money. Adding to the machines, getting more machines.
Then about…we, we started a French operation so that when we changed the name to Krowmark. So we got a French operation. So some of my France friends “Bonjour” and they talking to someone in Bognor Regis but French Natives, they know what every bloody East Enders is in France. They know all that sort of stuff. Je t’aime Island or whatever it’s going to be. They know all that stuff.
Dylis: Oh my God Mark you’re hysterical.
Mark: So they know that, so when someone phones them up, they are like, they could talk, about the French stuff, rather than like, you know like rather just an English person try to speak badly in French. So we set that up we’ve done the same with Germany. Germans are a funny bunch.
Mark: Sorry, they’re a difficult bunch to sell to. They don’t want you to email them. You can’t do anything, you can’t do anything entrepreneurial at all in Germany. It’s all very regimented. The people I got for that if I am honest and this is my fault were the wrong people and we struggled with them for 4 years. Then when the Brexit decision was made, we could see a real difference, a massive difference. I am not sure if it was their mentality, my mentality, the Germans mentality and we closed it down because it just wasn’t…it was actually costing us more to have it.
So that where Krowmark comes from but at that sort of time with Germany and France especially Germany, the Germans are real buggers for quality, you know. There’s no point me going out and saying they can get 30 polo shirts for £180, they don’t care. I can say you can get 30 top quality product shirts for €400, that’s more important to them because…I am not sure if it’s changing but that’s what it was then.
Mark: At that point, I thought, we competed on price and you know, we’re another and also ran and that sort of thing. We can’t keep doing this because we the bigger guys could beat me. So at that point, I say right, “What we’re going to be is the best” We’re not really the cheapest, in fact, we put our prices up, we’re not the cheapest on pricing but we are going to be the best in the marketplace. When people buy from us if we do get something wrong they don’t have to worry it. We get people saying that not quite the blue I thought it was going be, your picture looks wrong. And I feel like saying,….., you know. You just trying to pull the wool over my eyes. So they’ve got to keep me away from the phone because I’m… because of my background, I’ve got a very suspicious mind and I’m always thinking, you know, it’s just, who I am, I’ve got a suspicious mind.
Mark: So they got to keep me away from the phones. I have got a team of 8-10 account managers, so I don’t have to get near the phones now. I say to them if someone phones up and says “I got a problem with this shirt,” Just replace it. It probably costs us, yeah, even if we know it’s their fault and they’re just trying to pull the wool, I just say, just replace it, because our social proof is the most important thing to us.
Dylis: Yes, yeah.
Mark: It really is, and you know Krowmark is actually I tried to make an anagram of work wear, that’s where Krowmark come from its, so ‘Krow’ is work spelled backward and ‘Mark’ is me.
Dylis: I did wonder, show us your T-shirt, Mark, show us your T-shirt.
Mark: There’s my T-shirt. If I had been smart I would have printed one backward, so it would have kept it on the screen as well.
Dylis: That’s right on the screen. Yeah! That’s excellent.
Mark: There you go. I’d rather print it backward. That would have look *.$#, wouldn’t it?
Dylis: So Mark, I’ve written down three words here. One is courage. It seems to me over the years you have been very brave, you’ve got that courageous streak. I think that maybe comes from your background as well. You know, things weren’t easy, so you had to step out of your comfort zone many times. You are extremely resilient, so you bounce back all of the time. The other word I’ve written down is consistency. You just keep at it you just keep doing it.
Dylis: Let’s get down to brass tacks because this is a fabulous story I absolutely love it. When, when you tell stories like that it resonates so much more. Talk to us about how you actually get into these companies because you make it sound very easy. I love talking to people. You and I are very aligned actually with a lot of what you’ve talked about. I’m one of four kids and the sugar sandwiches and so on. I love talking to people and I love getting into bigger businesses but a lot of people can’t do it. Now some of it I know is this negative chatter that goes on that stops them.
Dylis: They don’t have that resilience to bounce back, and the courage to JFDI. I’ll say politely and just flipping do it. So what is it…
Mark: There are enough swear words in this podcast so far, you can just say it.
Dylis: I don’t swear actually. I do but…
Mark: Neither do I.
Dylis: It is really…oh yeah right. It’s as rare as rocking horse droppings actually. Yeah so, what is it you do that has made you so successful and made you be able or positioned you in a place where people are welcoming you or maybe not welcoming you, but eventually getting in to see these decision-makers who are saying, “Yes, let’s sign on the dotted line.
Mark: Well let’s just go back one step to what you said about courage. I understand why people say that but I’m not being cocky here. I don’t think I’m ever going to fail. I never think I’m gonna fail. I genuinely…I just went out and spent a million pounds on machinery. It took me about 45 minutes to make that decision. I’d done a quick working out on the back of an envelope and I made the decision. I got my team in, to sort of say, this is what I think we should do. They’re like, “Yeah that sounds good” gave them my justifications. So I don’t think I’m going to fail.
That’s not because I think I’m brilliant there’s just something in me that thinks, I always look on the upside. Always look on the upside and if I come to a problem, most people will spend hours trying to get that problem sorted out. If there’s a problem in front of me I just go around it. I literally, just leave the problem behind me and go around it. I may take me off at a tangent to a different place, but I just go around that problem. That could stop some of the best minds from actually being good in business because they get so excited about the wrong things, you know, “Oooh, how good is my logo, look at my logo.” Three days later “Oooh look at my logo,” I say, you know, ….. your logo, just get out and sell. Anyway, sorry. Swearing again! You have me doing this Dylis, I don’t know it comes out like this.
Dylis: I maybe need to write “passion” down here as well, because you have a real passion.
Mark: Most people do say that. Funny I remember once, going to a very good friend of mine who he’s got his own business and I told him…this is about 10-12 years ago. I told him I was having a problem. I said I got this…I’m really quite worried and got this…he said, “Thank God for that,” He said “You are human” I realised that I have this air of invincibility about me. Which is a bad thing! It’s good when you are selling but it’s a bad thing as well because it stops people talking to you. It stops innovation coming to you from other people because they think you don’t care. He’s got it all sorted, why talk to him about it.
So, I try not to do that but it does come across that I’m you know a bit cocksure of myself. Absolutely, 100% not true. The stuff that goes on inside, the imposter syndrome, the doubt, all that sort of stuff. I struggle with it daily. I literally don’t think I’m going to fail and every day I think I’m failing if that make sense. I see the sales aren’t quite where they are and I’m like “Oh God” that’s going to do this, that’s going to do that” and it worries me. So I have these albeit I say I’m never going to fail. Every day I think I’m going to fail. If that makes sense; it’s a dichotomy there but that’s how it works.
So how do I sell to bigger businesses? You know we made a decision, not to sell to big companies, not to sell to big companies unless they want to deal with terms on our terms. So I’ve got….this is bad I should know this off the top of my head I’ve probably got 25 to 30,000 people that have bought from me in the past and they are, we have an average order value of between sort of £250 to £400 it varies depending on the sector.
Now the reason I went for those guys or that group of people is because it’s no one’s job to buy work wear, in smaller companies the boss goes to the secretary “Can you go and buy this” or the boss goes to his right-hand person, can you do this can you go and get this. It’s not anybody’s job. It takes, you know it’s once a year, maybe twice a year. So we try and make art of buying work wear absolutely painless. So when my competitor phones up and goes “I can do that 10% cheaper on that £250 order”, they’re like 25 quid and I’ve got no idea about how much hassle you’re going to give me. We do, we put our prices up a couple of times to pay for this customer service. It probably costs me a couple of grand a month in new, and that’s just the cost price for us, of new garments we send out, where customers have said that there’s something wrong.
Mark: Ninety-nine times out of a hundred they’ve made a mistake and albeit we can go we can go and show them a whole email trail and they’re like yeah but it’s still not right we’re like go and replace it and we do and we do that. Don’t get me wrong if someone comes back with a 5 grand order and says, yeah I know I asked for blue but I wanted grey. We’re like well you know its five grand, let’s come to an agreement and will do stuff cheaply.
So we tend to stick to that, we were tempted to stick to that size market. We are getting into bigger companies now just done a massive deal for Rexel rolled out across the country for them; thousands of staff, hundreds of packs of all sorts of things and they loved it, absolutely loved it. I was at a company yesterday who suppliers are very large plumbing company. Plumbing and Bathroom Company he used to work there and he actually said he has never seen such a slick delivery of uniforms and I felt really good because this isn’t me, this is all my team, we got 50 or 60 people here doing that.
Now, getting into bigger companies, the social proof is crucial. I’ve got…one of my main competitors I won’t name it, but one of my main competitors their trust pilot rating is awful, it’s absolutely shocking. Now they sell to some massive companies. They are doing much better than I am but it wouldn’t sit good with me. I would get somebody going lying to us you’re doing this you’re doing that.
But we get companies coming to us and want to buy from us because of our rating. They understand. This company or some of these company they’ve got ISO 9000 and whatever, but that just means they can produce *.$# consistently. That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean they can produce good products. So for us to now to go to bigger businesses, the social proof is important doing things right is important and doing things how they want us to do them.
As an example, we had a very very big Electronic Component Distribution company come to us. One of the biggest in the UK, thousands of people. They wanted us to do all of their work wear for them. It was between us and this other company and I think they went to the other company, they are a bit cheaper but then came back.
Mark: They said to us “Okay Mark we want to use you. We’re massive. Look at us and this is what we want to pay.” And I said, “I don’t want to do it” They were huge, they would have quadrupled my business, they were huge.
Mark: I said “No! I don’t want to do it” and they couldn’t believe it. They said “Pardon” I don’t want to do it. I said, “why do I want to sell to you at this price and be a busy fool when I could sell to all my other fantastic customers at a good price and keep them happy, and keep filling my bucket up.” I always refer to my sales bucket that hasn’t got any holes in. A lot of people sales bucket, all they worried about is paying money for them to top up. And they got so many holes in that bucket that they have to keep filling up. My bucket just keeps getting bigger. It is like an expanding bucket because we genuinely don’t lose customers.
Dylis: Yeah, which is so important, isn’t it? In business and it is not just the repeat business either it’s the referral business because you are providing such a great service and quality. It’s not just your customer service, it’s the quality of what you are selling.
Mark: Absolutely, our quality is second to none. If we get any issues with it, we will just replace it. I’m glad you say that about referrals because the guy I went to see yesterday my 12 hour, marathon journey up north. It’s really cloudy up there. Lovely and sunny down here. My journey up north was to meet a guy who had used us in a previous company. Not a small company a very well-known bathroom plumbing supply company.
He had moved to this other company and it was him who said he had never seen such a slick delivery uniform. And he’s gone to a company where probably about straight away five times the size of the company he was at and in the next five years will probably go up to a billion-pound company and he got me in because of what we did before. He actually said in the meeting to me, he said “You’re gonna look good, but I know you’re gonna make me look good.” Because he’s going in there brand new and, that part of the thing.
So referrals are very important and we are starting to move towards our business now. We’ve had to change the structure of our factory because everything we had was all single head machines so we could do 1’s or 2’s, 5’s and 10’s, 20 when we got a job for a thousand something it was a bit of strain. We’ve now doubled our capacity on our embroidery heads. We’ve gone from 30 odd heads to 70 odd heads now.
On our printing, I’ve just spent £700 thousand on this state of the art Direct to Garment Printers. These things could print T-Shirts, Hoodies, Sweats, and high viz in high definition quality and punching out 3000 garments a day. I’ve now got almost 3 to 4 times the capacity that we’re selling at the moment. So we can now go into big business and say “Not only can we do it, we can do the quantities and we can get near your prices.” “ We are not going to come down. Because I don’t want to be a busy fool.” So we don’t tend to target the massive ones, we tend to target the ones with about 200 people. We do get the occasional one comes along but about 200 people.
Dylis: You should be able to do that Mark, I guess, from your experience of who you’ve sold to and who your best clients are.
Mark: Yep, social proof.
Dylis: You have your sweet spot of the type of clients that you love doing business with. Now you’ve got your bigger machines, I guess you’re thinking now can we go bigger, or can we do more for the ones we’ve got.
Mark: We look at the different market as well, we weren’t really in the T-Shirt business we are in workwear business; embroidered, polo shirts, sweat shirts, fleeces. Now we’ve got this machines they could do all of that but they can punch out a T-Shirt for anybody, in the most stunning quality. With no setup, we could do one all we got to do is load a high-resolution image, push a button and it prints. You might have seen the videos I loaded up. The machine is stunning. It looks like something from back to the future. It’s fantastic.
Dylis: That’s why I asked you to come on this show actually because I saw your video or a photograph of your machine being delivered.
Mark: Yeah, that’s right. That big machine coming off…the machine weighs 21/2 tons. Just to print T-Shirts but, you know it does it so well, so we’ve got 2 of those now. I’m always worried, albeit, I can cope with the capacity of one…someone said to me, I’m standing on my leg, you know, I may get it kicked out from under me. I’m lost so we got 2 now which serve the capacity for us but I can fiddle with other things now.
There are lots of T-Shirts people out there who want their T-Shirts printed and sent out directly to their customers. So we act just like a provider, a facilitator for them. So they can have their couple hundred thousand Instagram followers and they can sell through Instagram and what’s going to happen is it will be delivered straight to my machine and we’ll will post it out directly to that customer. If they want 1, if they want 500, we can do all of that and everything in between and make it look stunning. They’re not going to spend £350,000 on a machine is it’s a pretty stupid thing to do really but you know let alone two.
Dylis: That’s fantastic.
Mark: That’s our move towards bigger business is that we’ve got the foundation right here now and we kept pushing and I kept tweaking things and that’s one thing I have learned is don’t tweak do it in style. Go out and just go flip it and then and …. it and then go big you know. That’s what you got to do. That’s what we’ve done. I’ve done my math’s, it tight but we can do it.
Dylis: Fantastic, and you’ve got a team, haven’t you, telesales team?
Mark: We’ve got, so what we’ve got is we’ve got 6 dedicated account managers. So, generally I’ve got people that have worked with me for 10, 12 years and generally if you phone up like 6 months or phoned up in a years’ time able to have exactly the same logo so you order the exact same product, exactly same quality, exactly same position and you’ll talk to the same person.
We built up a bespoke CRM system. CRM Great Plains is tied up in our enterprise package, it runs the whole factory. So if someone phones up and say remember my order? The blue polo shirt with the little baby logo on the left breast, “Yeah that’s the one,” And they think that this persons got a great memory. I know it sounds silly, but they do and they love it.
Dylis: It makes the difference.
Mark: It’s the solution.
Dylis: Yeah, so in terms of your marketing then do you, how do you get the word out about your company?
Mark: Okay, so we do, I like to call it continuous marketing. We are marketing all the time on pay-per-click, we were sending out until not that long ago, maybe a year and a half ago to two years, we were sending out 25,000 – 50,000 faxes every single day. We send out a couple emails a week and we got an outbound telesales team now and we’ve got some really good techniques and it’s working so well. Literally just started two months ago so we did that.
What I’m doing now as well I’m just about to start working with a company, I won’t say who they are but because I design, I understand the importance of data. I designed a CRM Invoicing Great Plains Enterprise package, and everything’s really done since 2011, I’ve got every single bit of data on there. How they ordered it, why they ordered it, who ordered it, where it went, who packed it, who picked it? What the product was, what the margin was, everything?
Some of the links between Google and ordering it is a bit lost because Google are brilliant with a website but when you pick up a phone, you lose that, it breaks. So we’re looking at addressing that. So we got so much data and I’m like, look at this data, and I’m like heck, don’t know what to do with it. We’re starting to work with a company that crunches data and tells us what we should be doing. They’ve got this great big model, these very successful guys within their company and we’ve just about started working on…going to see them, next week. I’m away for the weekend. Got a bit of stag weekend in Brighton’s, that should be fun.
Dylis: Oh nice, I can imagine.
Mark: Let’s get some T-shirts printed and then I’m out of here.
Dylis: Yes, yes.
Mark: That it a bunch of old blokes, bumbling along drunk on Brighton’s seafront.
Dylis: Thinking that you’re 25.
Mark: Yeah, very true, until the next morning when the hangover hits.
Dylis: So for a smaller business, Mark that hasn’t maybe been as successful as you and grown in the way that you have. What are your top takeaways for the audience to help them to grow their business? What are the essentials that they must have in place?
Mark: Okay, the absolutely essential thing without any doubt at all is don’t fanny around with the small stuff. Really get on, don’t worry about your logo because you’re going to do that logo and in six months you’re not even going to look at it again and if you are looking at it, then business is probably gonna go bust. Get out there, every single day and sell.
Dylis: Can you say that again, Mark because I just lost you there for a second and I know what you said and it really important? So don’t worry about the small stuff, get out there and…
Mark: Get out there and sell, just sell. Just get in front of customers, talk to customers. All the stuff like where the full stop goes on the invoice and should it be green or should it be cream, it’s all bull*.$#. Get out there and sell, get in front of customers. Pick the phone up, whichever way you choose to do it. Whichever way you’re more comfortable with and don’t ever expect the customer, because you sent them something and sit there and tapping fingers and expect them to come back to you.
Mark: Why should they? You got to sell to a customer when they want to buy, not when you want to sell, that the…another key thing is work consistency, we market. If someone connects with us, you know they send a request for a catalogue or something. We will talk to them, throughout the year with emails, with phone calls, with 1-year follow-ups, with 6 months follow-ups. We’ll contact them, we will over whatever he looked at and send out offers based upon their original request. We’ll phone them up and ask them what else they’re doing. That’s because sometimes, yeah, we’ll sell to a guy who’s sat here in this chair and he’ll buy 25 polo shirts, you know, all great, a £100 order or something. He sat next to a guy that’s buying 5000 …. and that’s the guy you want to get to.
Dylis: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: You might need a censored and uncensored version and that’s the guy you’re trying to get to.
Dylis: This is music to my ears because I know that is what people should be doing but they would rather phaff about on social media and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be doing social media, it’s great, it’s exposure for you but it’s not the same as picking up the phone and sending some emails, following up. You know research shows only 2% of people buy on first contact and it’s between the 5th and 12th that people will make their purchase. So you’ve got to have this multiple contact strategy in place because you’re going to be absolutely shattered if all you do is make one contact
Mark: And it is not rocket science.
Mark: It’s just not rocket science, is it?
Mark: It’s just, pick the bloody phone up, talk to them, email them, ask them. The amount of people we’ve talked to….
Dylis: People always say “I don’t know what, Yeah. I don’t like using the phone.” I mean you know I work with sales people and business owners who are selling to bigger businesses and they’ll say “Dylis I don’t know what to say”. You know, if they make of phone calls they’ll get better at what they’re saying and get a book, come on one of my courses or work with me or just learn what to say. It’s not hard. You know, even if you just work out right, what are the problems that my prospective clients have without my product or service and talk around those.
You can help them with those problems you know I’m so…I’m like an evangelist Mark, honestly, getting out there and trying to inspire people to pick up the phone to make those contacts. This consistency word I picked up very early on from when we were talking. About being consistent about what you do, and you’ve just reinforced that. You can tell you’ve lit my fire, just by saying all of that.
Mark: I’m going to give you a bit of a secret of mine, I just started a telesales team. Now I hate it when people phone me up and say. “Oh hello, Mr. Ponsford. How are you today?” Okay, the first thing I say is “What are you trying to sell me?”
“Oh we are not trying to sell you anything,” I say,” Okay, bye then!” and just put the phone down. Now eventually, they learn. Then they phone and say “We spoke to you three months ago about,” I said “No you didn’t. You are lying” and I can’t help myself, I get so irate about this bull*.$# service they give.
So, okay this is my…if your people take nothing else away from this about outbound telesales, take this away, okay. This is how we open a sales call up. We’ve got a…and this is another bit of advice actually. We’re using a bit of software called call Sales Joe. I think it’s from Experian or Credit Safe or one of those top…Thompson Local it was originally. What it is, is every single UK company, because they’re all on Companies House, we have got access to it. Every single UK company with their telephone number. I think we got some Key names in there but we ignore those. What I taught my sales guy to do is to phone them up and we say “Hello, this is Fraser from Krowmark Work Wear, we are the UK’s number one Work Wear supplier and we want to sell something to you.”
So that it, they laugh, people laugh. They’re like at least you’re honest and they start a conversation. People laugh about it and then they say you are the right person. Now, it’s a funny thing Workwear because, often the gatekeeper stops you from getting through. But the gatekeeper sits there thinking, “Hmm, I’d like some new uniforms.” So we generally, we find it very easy to get the email addresses and telephone numbers and that, and we’re doing really well with it. We’ve got two great guys doing a fantastic job. But using that very, very basic technique.
Mark: And that’s working well.
Dylis: And as you said it’s not rocket science.
Mark: It’s not, it’s just talking to people.
Dylis: And stop saying, “How are you today?” or “Do you have 5 minutes?”
Mark: Yeah, no one gives a *.$#.
Mark: I’m a managing director, I get these phone calls, the only reason I let them filter through to me is in case I get a better technique. I want to hear some of the techniques, but I never do. I really never do. People would try to connect with me on LinkedIn. People try and connect with me on LinkedIn and are just going to try and sell me recruitment. So sometimes I’ll let them come through and I get an email or something very generic, it’ll go “Good afternoon Mr.Ponsford, we work in the…” I don’t want to hear that, I want somebody who’s honest with me.
A classic example is this cliché saying, “People buy people.” If I phone up and make my customer feel like I’ll do anything for him and I’m actually a good bloke and you know and if he comes back with a bit of banter that’s fine. But if I come across there and I’m very officious and you know, you have to do this can you send me your logo. They don’t want to know, they want somebody who is going to facilitate what they need and be easy to work with.
All these people that phone up and are very officious and let’s say you’re working in an environment where it has to be if it’s, you know very technical whatever it is money or something like that, I get it. But not selling most products, it just isn’t that, you just got to phone up and say “Hello”.
I remember a friend of mine a long time ago, talking about how he chats up girls and all the people were saying ‘What’s your chat-up line?’ and he says, “Hello.” ” My chat-up line is hello, my name is Steve” and genuinely that was his chat-up line. All these other guys they tried these other chat-up lines, that was his chat-up line and it stuck with me that, you know.
Dylis: Are you going to be using that this weekend in Brighton?
Mark: Oh no, no, no I’ve got a…well I’m not married anymore but I’ve got a girlfriend and she wouldn’t like me doing that, so yeah. No.
Dylis: That was tongue and cheek, Mark.
Mark: Yeah, especially being in Brighton it could be a big help, you know, you never know.
Dylis: So Mark, if people right to get in touch with you, if they are interested in talking to the number one workwear company in the UK and you would like to do business with them how can they get in touch with you?
Mark: Okay, so they can look me up on LinkedIn as always. LinkedIn is a good place, I don’t mind connecting with anybody on LinkedIn because they don’t get to see my pictures of me being pissed at a pub. They can friend me up on Facebook, they can email me, which is email@example.com and talk to me that way.
If they want uniforms or if you’ve got somebody out there who’s decided they want to be selling T-shirts as their business, we can print them for those. So we can do supply and we’ll do the work and they’ll supply it or we’ll do the whole lot. So any of those and anything in-between.
Dylis: Fantastic, Mark it has been an absolute pleasure and maybe we could connect again at some time and talk a bit further about this
Mark: That’ll be great.
Dylis: This has just been so enjoyable. Thank you so much.
Mark: I’m going to go wash my mouth out with soap now.
Dylis: Bye for now.
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