Meet the MD: Phil Stephens, Socket Store

Meet the MD: Phil Stephens, Socket Store

After working in the telecoms industry, Phil set up Socket Store with his childhood friend, Andy. He tells BQ about the challenges of running an online business and the importance of constantly staying ahead of the competition.

What is it the company does?

We are a lighting, LED bulb and decorative socket and switch retailer, selling predominantly online but also from our showroom in Treforest.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

As well as looking after our team, I handle the business growth. That includes finding new suppliers and markets and also nurturing relationships with our current suppliers. I also work on business processes. They are critical to being lean, so we spend a great amount of time on trying to improve them wherever possible.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

After leaving university I worked for a large telecommunications company within their IT department. It was a great job and gave me excellent insight into large corporate business. Ten years ago I had the opportunity to leave to start my own company with my business partner and longtime friend, Andy. We have been friends since the age of three and had always talked about starting a business together. The opportunity was too great to refuse, and we’ve not looked back since!

What do you believe makes a great leader?

People have to believe in you. If they believe in you and the business it makes people a lot more likely to follow you or to work with you. Passion and enthusiasm really help. If you are talking about your business and you’re not excited about it, how can you expect others to be enthused?

What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?

We are an online business, and for some suppliers that can cause issues, especially the more traditional suppliers. We spend a lot of time building relations with our suppliers, they are so critical to our business. When we are talking to a potential new supplier, convincing them that we are here to stay can be hard. We’ve now been around long enough for most to realise we are not a fly-by-night business, but it can still be a challenge to persuade some brands that there is value to being online, and it’s not just about being the cheapest – customer service can still lead to huge brand loyalty. It is one of our primary goals within the business.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I am fortunate enough to have two children who occupy plenty of my time out of work, whether with bike rides or walks on the beach! I also try to get out running whenever I can. It’s great to put some music on and get away from it all.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Funnily enough, I always wanted to own my own business. I got my first part-time job at an early age. Whenever I was in a job I was always thinking about how the business ran (and, of course, how I thought I could do it better!). My parents ran a business, so I guess it was a normal thing to see.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Business improvement is a huge passion of mine, so the opposite is probably my pet hate. I don’t like to see people just ticking along. I like to see everyone trying to strive to make things better, including themselves. Just because you are doing it a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way. I encourage our team to constantly look for improvements, and to strive to be better. As a result, there is always a lot of change in our company, but I encourage everyone to embrace and enjoy the change. It also helps keep energy levels up.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We have some fantastic plans for the next few years. We expect to continue to see some big growth in the business and some great new products. Especially in the IoT (Internet of Things) area of home automation. We also expect to see major changes in the online shopping experience and customer behaviour is constantly changing. We have always invested heavily in keeping ahead of the competition, and we intend to keep doing that.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Whatever you do, do it with passion! It makes your job a lot more interesting and helps energise others around you.

Also, I often hear people say ‘work smarter, not harder’. I think you have to do both. You do need to make sure you are working as wisely as possible, but be prepared to put a shift in too. There are very few people that have been successful without putting a lot of graft and effort in along the way.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Don’t be afraid to turn business away. It can be the hardest thing to do, especially when you start out, but if that business or client is not right for you it will do nothing other than distract you.