From zero to £190m: How Nick Wheeler built Charles Tyrwhitt

Fans of the 28-year-old shirts business include Lord Sugar

Nick Wheeler started his business 28 years ago with £99 to print 5,000 leaflets and a £199 Amstrad word processor. Today, the up-market shirtmaker boasts a £190m turnover and 750 employees.

Charles Tyrwhitt has served over 1.5 million customers to date and one fan of the brand is the pointy-fingered Lord Sugar

How did he do it? We chat to him for answers:

Q. Tell us a bit about your background, how did you set up Charles Tyrwhitt?

I read geography at Bristol University, but knew I always wanted my own business. I had a shoe business, a photography business, a Christmas tree business, but then started the shirt business in 1986 – my second year at university.

Q. Why did you name the business Charles Tyrwhitt?

My full name is Nicholas Charles Tyrwhitt Wheeler. I thought Charles Tyrwhitt shirts sounded better than Nick Wheeler shirts!

Q. How did you fund the business?

I started the business on a shoestring. £99 for 5,000 leaflets. £199 for an Amstrad word processor. A few quid for a few shirts. Some years later, my great aunt died and left me £8,000. My bank manager lent me £17,000 and I bought an Aston Martin DB1 for £25,000. I sold it a year later for £100,000. Probably not to be recommended, but it got me going!

Q. How did you open the first store and manage getting customers in?

The first store (on Jermyn Street) did not come until 1997. I was selling Jermyn Street shirts to the world. I knew I needed a store. I just couldn’t afford one! It took 13 years and I got one in the end!

Q. What’s the turnover and profit of the business like? How do you plan to increase it?

This year we will turnover £190m and will make circa £19m. We are growing at 20-25% per annum through working very hard to be the best shirt business in the world.

Q. Ever plan to list on AIM or LSE?

No. I feel like I have done the difficult part. I am building a business for the long term. I don’t think the markets appreciate that and I am in no rush. I have been doing it for 28 years and hope to be doing it for another 28 years, at least!

Q. Where do you make the shirts?

We make in a number of different factories. We used to make all our shirts in England, but that became impossible. We now make them in India, Romania, Peru and other places.

Q. What are your biggest achievements in the business?

Firstly, to have started it and still be here - 28 years is a long time – and to have loved every minute of the journey. Also, to have 750 employees and over 1.5 million customers, who hopefully all love the business as much as I do!

Q. You’re married to Chrissie Rucker, the founder of The White Company – do you share advice? Give each other tips to run the business?

Not so much any more. We both have incredible teams of people running the businesses. They are all much better than us! Business can get very complicated. We both try to keep it simple. Focus on doing one thing and doing it damn well.

Q. What’s your stake in the business?

95%

Q. Ever considered selling the business? Why/why not?

No. Why would I do that? I always think there are two reasons for an entrepreneur to sell the business. Because he/she is getting bored or because he/she needs the money. Neither apply to me. My business is like my eldest child and I think it would be a little cruel to sell any of my children.

Q. Finally, what can the government do to help businesses like yourselves?

Encourage businesses to invest for the long term future of the business and therefore the country. There is too much short-termism. We don’t have enough private businesses in this country that have been built up over generations.

Nick Wheeler will be guest speaker at Bibby Financial Service’s Fit for the Future event at ZSL London Zoo on Thursday, November 13 2014. For more information and to register for this free event, visit http://www.bibbyfinancialservices.com/business_advisers/fit-for-the-future/fit-for-the-future-London-Zoo

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