Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Baby Steps to Success; Interview of the Week Garry's Biz Is Looking to Grow Year on Year HE Hates Going into Debt, Has Little Natural Flair for Sales and His Primary Aim Is to Earn Enough Cash Just to Pay the Bills. So Why Is Garry Stonehouse Running His Own Business? JEZ DAVISON Finds Out

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Baby Steps to Success; Interview of the Week Garry's Biz Is Looking to Grow Year on Year HE Hates Going into Debt, Has Little Natural Flair for Sales and His Primary Aim Is to Earn Enough Cash Just to Pay the Bills. So Why Is Garry Stonehouse Running His Own Business? JEZ DAVISON Finds Out

Article excerpt

Byline: JEZ DAVISON

GARRY STONEHOUSE is one of Tees Valley's enigmas. He's no silver-tongued salesman but his problem-solving skills helped a local engineering firm more than double its turnover in three years.

He modestly claims he couldn't hold a candle to "successful" entrepreneurs, but he's built a pounds 135,000 computer retail and repair firm, Garry.biz, at a time when major PC chains are considering pulling out of high street locations.

And although he hates taking risks, he gave up a hefty salary and company car to build his business from scratch.

The Skinningrove man looks perfectly relaxed even as the worst economic tsunami in decades is blowing many skilled entrepreneurs out of business.

According to the latest insolvency data from Experian, business failures in the North-east totalled 365 in the first nine months of this year - a whopping 42.6% increase on the first three quarters of 2007 and nearly double the national increase of 22%.

At the same time, hundreds of little businesses that were just a twinkle in their founders' eyes a few years ago are getting out of the cot and standing on their own two feet: the number of VAT registered businesses in the North-east - the most reliable indication that the spirit of enterprise is alive and well on Teesside - has risen from 42,580 in 2007 to 57,205 so far in 2008.

Those who are feeling the first shudders of an economic wobble might not all be as philosophical as Garry. He believes rigorous cash control can steer businesses through the severest of storms.

"Cash is king in any environment", he says. "I don't like going into debt.

"I fundamentally disagree with the principle of borrowing large amounts of money to fund a business.

If you have a couple of slow months, you still have to make the repayments and pay the bills."

With a hawkish eye on cashflow, Garry is well on the way to achieving a 39% increase in turnover to pounds 188,000 by next April and aims for 30-40% year-on-year growth thereafter.

Eventually he plans to recruit extra bodies to help his three staff but for now baby steps are more important than taking that giant leap which could leave his company's finances hamstrung.

Despite Garry's successful dance with prudence, however, it's been a breathless learning curve.

"At the beginning we were competing against the pound shops that were knocking out products for a quid", he says. "But if we operated at the higher end of the market we'd have been blown out of the water by Asda and Comet.

"I soon realised that the margins on the added value stuff - the after-sales service and the e-hosting packagers we sell - are much higher. Not only are people buying a laptop, they are buying our expertise."

The information engineering graduate learned the commercial value of IT early in his career, when he developed applications and computer- aided design packages for Stokesley-based Burdon Engineering. …

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