In 2007, Ross Wilson made a business decision that would take him almost five years to recover from. With nine successful years as a business owner under his belt, he bought a joinery business. Why? Even today, he can’t really say.
“I can’t hammer a nail into a wall straight,” he says. “The business I have built since my ‘varisty days, urbantonic, is a premium event hire and services company. I know how to plan and manage events. But by 2007 I’d been doing that for almost a decade and the idea had formed that I should have three to four businesses within a group that I eventually just consulted to. My ego was sky-high. I’d done so well with urbantonic that I thought anything I touched would turn to gold.”
This would turn out to be a very expensive assumption. 20 months after buying the joinery business, Wilson managed to close it down. It would take a further three and a half years to pay off the debts associated with the business, heavily impacting urbantonic’s cash flow.
And yet, despite a blow to urbantonic’s financials and his own pride, Wilson has emerged a better entrepreneur, a more astute businessman, and at the helm of a company that continues to enjoy year-on-year growth.
“With urbantonic, the secret to our success has always been slow, steady and above-all organic growth. We’ve built up surplus cash until we could afford to invest more into the business and grow our eventing equipment so that we need to hire as little as possible from other suppliers. We focus on customer service to ensure customer retention, and don’t ignore our bread and butter clients during busier times of the year. Most of all, we’re passionate about the industry. If a client needs something, we will bend over backwards to accommodate. And yet, when I made the decision to buy the joinery business, I ignored all the reasons why urbantonic was so successful.
The result was that Wilson found himself heading up a business he knew nothing about, had no passion for, and that drew his attention away from eventing, which he knew inside out.
“I kept thinking about that Top Gun quote, ‘Son, your ego’s writing cheques your body can’t cash,” says Wilson with characteristic good humour. “It was tough admitting defeat and closing the business down, tougher still admitting I had made a mistake in the first place. But it also allowed me to refocus on what we do well and to put all of my attention where it was needed. Today we are a full-service eventing firm — and we are very, very good at what we do, without spreading ourselves too thin.”
- Player: Ross Wilson
- Company: urbantonic
- Est: 1998
- X-Factor: Staying focused on what they do best rather than spreading too thin has created an industry leader.
- Contact: www.urbantonic.co.za; +27 (0)21 706 0133