Nicky Story, CEO of the Nicky Story Holdings group and Founder of the multi-million pound business Supplies for Candles, the market leader in the distribution of both candle and soap making supplies in the UK and Europe. In this interview with The Industry Leaders, they share their top advice for business professionals, namely the 3 things they wish they'd known when starting out.
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
As success continues to surge across all brands of the Nicky Story Holdings group, Mexborough-based Supplies for Candles continues to invest in onsite infrastructure as it further expands its warehouse to accommodate for its growth, hires and acquisitions, but success didn’t come easy. At school I was an A-grade student, but with little effort put in — I got the grades, but I didn’t push myself. My sister was super academic and went on to study law, I, on the contrary — did the bare minimum and was more interested in technology, playing games and learning basic coding, excel, image editing etc — which, in the long run helped greatly when I was setting up my businesses. I went on to study Business and Management at Leeds University and when I graduated in 2012, I set up Soap Suppliers Limited from my dad’s garage. However, four years in this business, I was getting nowhere — in those years I had made a loss of £3,000, I had no idea about e-commerce or marketing and made a ton of mistakes.
It had taken me 4 years to build a business that was making no money at all. I was on my own, working in the freezing cold every day, with no support, I was just failing and I was so miserable because I thought, I’m meant to be successful and I felt like I had no purpose. Doctors gave me anti-depressants as I couldn’t even get out of bed, I couldn’t eat, my parents were so worried about me and I just felt like a failure.
Eventually, I had to get a job because he had no money, or motivation, and realised that my business, as it was then, wasn’t going anywhere so I ended up working as a Buyer for a manufacturing company in Leeds. Longing for my business to be a success, I still tried to run it on an evening and weekend whilst working full time. This job enabled me to save up £10,000 from my salary and I decided I had the confidence to take another shot at running my own business full time. Even after 4 years of failure, I knew I didn’t want to work for somebody else, I wanted to make a success of myself. So, the money that I had saved, which was originally for a deposit on a house, I invested into Supplies For Candles. I quit my job, bought some wax, glass and fragrance and I set that up company officially in February 2016. Only six months later things just started changing, sales started coming through and the next thing I know I needed a helping hand so I employed my best friend and everything just started going crazy.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
I think it is vitally important to use people who have got similar experiences to you. So, when I met John Leech, who had many successful business ventures from an early age, including running a jewellery making and craft suppliers, I asked if he would be my Business Adviser - he’s guided me from a small business to where we are today.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
“Your network is your net worth” - I have surrounded myself with people who have the correct skillset — and that only comes with time, investing in others and growing your network.
I am passionate about ensuring staff are happy and that they have opportunities to feedback and to personally progress and grow. I spend a lot of my time and focus on building the team, ensuring everyone has opportunity to get the most out of the business — team spirit and culture is crucially important to me.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
Business can be tough, but it can also be incredible — I lost £3K in 4 years with my first business and I’m on track to turnover £20 million this year with my second business!
My most important lesson is ensuring you are connected to what drives you – daily! Even after 4 years of failure, I knew I didn’t want to work for somebody else, I wanted to make a success of myself. Everything I learnt in the 4 years of a failing business and also within employment for that one year, I applied to my business, and see that experience not as wasted time, but as lessons learnt that are now enabling me to reach my full potential.
I kept visualising what I wanted and still do as we continually grow and grow and that keeps me motivated.
We often forget about the ‘why’ in pursuit of the ‘what’.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
It is fine to make mistakes, Take your time & Stay resilient.
It is fine to make mistakes – We are all human – we all make mistakes – learn from them – but don’t let them define you. Everything I learnt in the 4 years of a failing business and also within employment for that one year, I applied to my business, and see that experience not as wasted time, but as lessons learnt that are now enabling me to reach my full potential.
Take your time – Take your time to learn, grow and develop. Success is never over night. Take your time to understand your market — the market I initially went into wasn’t big enough and that’s why it didn’t make money. Also, take you time to generate good quality content — top tips, how to guides, blogs, videos… focus on your content — it all helps with customer interaction. We aim to make it easy too — so once our customers have viewed the content they can click and add everything to the cart in one go. We know that the more quality content we produce the more sales we get on the back of it.
Stay resilient. I love the quote from Muhammad Ali - “don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” I have this quote in my gym and I think it’s a great motto to live by in life but also in business. My message to other entrepreneurs is it’s ok to make mistakes, learn from them and then keep going!
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Attend your industry events, join the official associations of your niche.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
When you are not getting the results, you desire. Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome will never happen.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
Truth be told I’m not always motivated, but I am always persistent. Showing up every day and making difficult decisions quickly is my best advice to riding the waves of business.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
I was quick to hire externally for senior positions as the company rapidly expanded. In hindsight, the talent was already present within the team.