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Lofty ambitions lead to rags-to-riches story

By James Pugh | Telford | Business | Published:

Five years ago businessman Rob Stone couldn't afford to put money on the table and was selling DVDs at car boots just to make ends meet.

Rob Stone, with Tina Timmins-Brownsword and Howard Williams

He had just lost his business, split up from his partner, and was borrowing money from his dad to feed himself and his son.

"I was literally down and out and had lost a business through various means and my partner and I parted ways over the stress," Rob says.

"I couldn't even put food on the table and was borrowing money from my dad to help me scrape by.

"I went to car boots and sold my DVDs for a £1 and anything else I could think of just to put food on the table and pay maintenance for my other children."

It was at this point Rob had an idea for a new business which he started from his house with a £200 limit credit card.

Fast forward five years and his Telford-based loft boarding business, Instaloft, now has five depots across the country, employs more than 60 people, and is targeting £10 million turnover next year.

Rob says a twist of fate and some key people along the way have been key to transforming his fortunes.

"I saw an advert for someone doing loft ladders and I thought I could do that. I had been working in lofts for so many years it seemed a sensible option," he says.

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Rob Stone

"In those days people didn't want their lofts insulating because they didn't want to lose the storage space but I knew the insulation was important.

"I came across the LoftZone storefloor system which I thought would work really well."

The raised loft floor system creates access to equipment in a loft, or simply to generate storage space while keeping lofts insulated and protecting the insulation from being squashed.

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"I told all my friends about it, but they all said it was crazy and no one would want that.

"They said why would someone want a loft ladder just to put up a few Christmas decorations, 'no one will pay you for that'.

"I thought I would give it a go, put a few ads on Facebook and got a bit of a response from people saying they do want it."

With bookings starting to come in but with no money behind him, Rob phoned up supplier LoftZone and asked for some stock to carry out the work.

"They said 'no' so I said if they give me the stock I will pay them on the day I get paid for the job.

"Dave Raval, the MD of LoftZone who I know very well today, says to this day he does not know why he agreed to give me the stock.

"I still had no money so I saw an advert for people with poor credit and got a £200 credit card and that is literally what I started the business with.

Turning point

"I bought some boards and a few tools, did the job, paid the manufacturer, repeated it a few times, and put out a few more adverts."

A key turning point for Rob's business was when he sprained his wrists during a fall and he needed someone to carry out the work he had booked in.

"I fell down someone stairs and sprained both my wrists. I couldn't do the work as my hands were in splints," Rob says.

"I had a guy who had helped me on some of the bigger jobs called Scott who is still here to this day. I asked if he wanted to do the job full-time so he did.

"With him doing the work it meant I could answer the phones and I could do more marketing.

"I learnt more about marketing and business processes, everything which helps make a business tick.

"By the end of the first year, largely by me falling down someone's stairs, we turned over £125,000.

"We didn't make much profit but it wasn't too bad for the first year.

"If we fast-forward to this year we have done £5 million in sales, have five depots across the country and have over 60 employees. It has not been plain sailing but it has been a whirlwind of growth.

"I have had some good mentors along the way and have worked with some good people. Everyone who has worked here has contributed to the business success, it is not just me. I couldn't have done it alone."

Adversity

Rob believes the failure of his previous business has been key to the success of his new venture.

"I got involved with some wrong people who believed it was right not to pay people. I wasn't as wise in those days," he says.

"Adversity is what brings us through and acts as a motivator. I never want to go back to those days again."

Looking ahead, Rob plans to double the company's turnover next year to £10 million.

"We don't want to rush things, we want to make sure we are still here. I think people get growing pains and try and grow too quickly," he says.

"We have five depots with almost five vans per depot and are look to increase that and try and double that next year.

"We are also looking for some bigger premises. This unit in Telford is far too small.

"To get to £10 million will not be an easy task but we will try and replicate what we have done."

Amazingly, Rob has recently purchased an equal share in LoftZone – the supplier he begged for some products to help get his own business off the ground.

"It is amazing to think back to the days I couldn't feed myself, and now I am now feeding 60 plus families. It's what gets you up in the morning," he adds.

James Pugh

By James Pugh
@JamesP_Star

Shropshire Star Business and Farming Editor.

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