Mark Radcliffe, 38, became the UK’s first eBay millionaire at 30 after he set up First2save, a mobile phone accessories business from his parents’ garden shed. He went on to establish an online bathroom retail business and founded Victorian Plumbing in 2000. Turnover increased from £30,000 in 2001 to £74m in 2016.
The Formby-based company, with two warehouses in Skelmersdale, and a new office in the centre of Birmingham, employs 225 staff. Mr Radcliffe holds a 75 per cent stake in the company, having gifted 15 per cent to his brother Neil and 10 per cent between his mother and accountant.
Did you think you would get to where you are?
Yes, I did. From the age of 18 I used to say to my mother: “By the time I am 25, I will have a Ferrari.” When I bought my Ferrari I had just turned 26. My motivation to work hard as a teenager was to acquire a quality car. In 2004, when I moved from the garden shed to our Formby headquarters, I had to sell my car at the time, a Porsche, to cover the deposit to rent the building. The sale raised £62,000. The Ferrari came along two years later.
I could never have achieved what I have without the support of my parents and the hard work of my younger brother, who is the most valuable asset in the entire business. At the outset he was a shelf stacker at Morrisons in the evenings, and worked for me in the day because I could not afford to pay him for six months. Neil now manages the purchasing team and product selection.
When you had made your first £1m did you want to slow down?
I could not slow down when I had made my first million pounds profit, in 2013, because I was already looking at the next milestone — £2m profit — and there was certainly no celebration. Most of that money I used to improve our stock and premises. This year, our turnover is looking to exceed £100m but I am already looking towards the £200m mark.
What is the secret of your success?
Put simply, it is discipline and hard work. When I was establishing the mobile phone business and Victorian Plumbing, for the first six years I got up at seven in the morning, wandered down to the garden shed and worked until 10pm or midnight. It did not feel like hardship. It was exciting. The sacrifice was not having a social life, but I just didn’t think about it until afterwards.
My parents could not support me financially, but they helped in other ways. I was fortunate that every day my mother made me breakfast, lunch and dinner. As the accessory business grew, my father built an extra shed for me to store the products, which I could not have done myself.
Each of my staff has been homegrown and promoted internally, though until about a year ago I interviewed everyone myself, which is ridiculous. I have now delegated this side to my PA Stephanie, who was promoted to business manager and is in charge of everybody. My staff are absolutely fantastic.
Liverpool, Merseyside, January 1979
Southport: Birkdale High School (nine GCSEs) and King George V College (Business Studies GNVQ)
Career Part-time work in McDonald’s and Tesco. Age 18: Tesco section manager then worked for local mobile phone retailer. November 1999: set up Coral Phones Ltd selling mobile phone accessories, then 2003, trading on eBay as First2save September 2000: Victorian Plumbing established. August 2004: moved into premises in Formby 2008: sold both phone businesses for £80,000 (value of stock) 2013 and 2015: acquired warehouses in Skelmersdale
Lives In Merseyside with his partner and their children.
What was your best preparation for business?
It was working from a very young age. When I was 10 I collected eggs at a battery egg farm. I lied about my age, because you had to be 12. I did paper rounds, and worked as a labourer on building sites at weekends, because I always wanted to buy something. My first real interest was hi-fi. When I was 11, I convinced my mother to take out a plan on a £500 sound system, and I worked to pay her back. My mother used to work part-time in shops and my father was a labourer.
Do you have time for personal financial planning?
I do it, but I keep things simple, like putting most household bills on direct debit. I have a small mortgage that I don’t worry about because it is negligible. I saw the low interest rates as an opportunity to reduce the capital on our mortgage, whereas most people did the opposite, which is not logical.
What is your basic business philosophy?
Embrace the good luck when it comes along, and do not be defeated by bad luck. In every negative situation you can always find a positive. This philosophy developed from my first mobile accessory order, which turned out to be credit card fraud. It was for £76, everything to me then. So I developed my own system for detecting and tracking fraud on orders, by using a few facilities available out there.
I acquired a copy of the electoral roll, and there was a service called Code10, where you phoned the bank to verify the cardholder’s information. I would do this only on suspect orders. There are usually several giveaway signs, such as bad spelling, a nondescript email address, and the value of the order. Though my first order was fraudulent, it was the best thing that ever happened. I was never subject to a credit card fraud again, but my strategy was time-consuming.
What was the most challenging period of your career?
It would be acquiring the first warehouse in December 2013 and moving stock from Formby to Skelmersdale. We only had a two-week window to make the move and that had to be done over Christmas, which is a quiet period in the bathroom trade. Without the extra space the business could not expand. My father was loading products on to a lorry from a forklift truck in Formby, while I was unloading them from another forklift truck in the new warehouse. I did not really see the family that Christmas, but there was no choice.
Do you want to carry on till you drop?
Perhaps I am already taking a small step back, by starting to plan more time with my family. When my daughter, who is nine, was little I did not really see her much. That’s something I regret and have no wish to repeat with my sons, who are four and three.
In the first six years I did everything myself because I was self-taught, but I have learned to delegate. Within the next two years we aim to make the business international, but I am combining my work and personal time more sensibly. I try to do the school run twice a week.
Have you made any pension provision?
I don’t believe in pensions. I like to control my own investments. I have a modest property portfolio which should protect us in later life, though when I acquired the warehouse I did not set out to buy it with this in mind. I feel that with my heart condition (I had major heart surgery in to 2004 to correct a defect undetected at birth) it is more important to enjoy the present than worry about the future.
Do you believe in giving something back to the community?
I am hoping that within a few years I will have the resources to actually make a difference to the survival of many endangered species like elephants, whales and tigers. I donate money every month to various animal charities. These contributions are something, but not enough. They do not make a difference.
Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?
I own a racing car, as I am trying to be a professional racing driver. I am keen on restoring my collection of sports and classic cars. A few years back I bought my father a convertible Jaguar sports car for his 60th birthday. It is his most prized possession. My most precious car is a 1968 Mustang.
Do you believe in leaving everything to children?
No, I don’t. Family, yes, but not my children, because I worry that they will not work hard from a strong financial position. If I leave this planet a bit sooner than planned it is my brother who would take care of the business. I would make sure the children did not inherit until they were 30, because I want them to make their own opportunities like I did.
How have you survived the recession? For our
For our business the recession was an opportunity, because a lot of people turned to the internet for better value. The growth during that period was extraordinary. From 2008 onwards we doubled our turnover every year. I did not plan for it, but I adapted to a changing market. I have always adapted. The eBay store came about because it was a serious selling platform I could not ignore. I had a website but eBay was another marketplace, attracting a different set of buyers. When the pound lost value in the recession, selling mobile accessories was no longer viable, so I focused on the bathroom business.