Rob Halliday-Stein, founder of BullionByPost.
Whilst Brexit, Donald Trump’s election and global political uncertainty may have led to many businesses hitting the panic button, it has sparked a gold rush for Birmingham’s golden boy Rob Halliday-Stein, founder of BullionByPost.
“Donald Trump’s election was even bigger for us than Brexit, we sold a record £10m worth of gold and silver that day,” Rob Halliday-Stein says, whilst reflecting on the past few months.
“Economic and political uncertainty are both key drivers for our business. What might surprise people is that we tend to do very well when the price is going up as well as when the price is coming down. What we like is volatility.
“Quick changes in things, unexpected things happening – both positive and negative politically and economically are all great for our business."
BullionByPost is a business that thrives on economic uncertainty. As a leading gold e-commerce retailer, Rob and his team are bringing gold investing to the everyday consumer.
“Our business is about providing a service to people who are looking to invest in gold. What we have done is open up the ability for everyday people to buy physical gold.”
But how did the business come about? How did this 39-year-old Brummie entrepreneur born in Moseley launch one of the continent's top gold retailers?
“I was looking to buy some gold back in 2008 at the height of the banking crisis,” he added. “I looked online and the websites didn’t have any pricing.
“Even when I spoke to a few dealers on the phone they seemed disinterested in wanting to sell me anything.
“I then went to London and visited a bullion dealer and I must have picked the busiest day ever for them.
“They were in an office building with a reception area that was full of people queueing up – literally queueing up – to buy gold.
“That was the moment I thought that I was on to something.”
Setting up the business in the midst of the banking crisis was a risk in itself but as Rob was soon to find out – it was key economic events like this – that would drive his business forward.
He added: “Like in any business, the first year was tough. I started the company with just £10,000. It was part of the inheritance I got in 2008 when my mother passed away suddenly.
“However, I was fortunate in terms of timing that is was the height of the banking crisis so there was a rapidly increasing interest in people wanting to buy gold.
“The challenge in the first year was doing a lot of things that I had never done before. You’ve basically got to be a jack of all trades at the beginning especially when there are not many of you in the business.
“That can be anything from dealing with accountants and VAT rules to negotiating a lease on a new property and then you have got to get a decent stationary supplier and sort out things like employment contracts.
“There’s a lot of negotiating and doing a lot of things that you haven’t done before. Especially when you have worked in a bigger company.
“You sometimes underestimate how much the work involved in running a business is not directly related to what you see as the business itself.
“All the support functions fall on you and I think that is probably the hardest – but by the same token – probably one of the most enjoyable parts about running your own business.
“If you enjoy doing new things and negotiating new things it is all part of the journey. When you work for a big company, things that you think are beneath you, are not when you start your own business because there actually isn’t anyone beneath you.”
After mastering the basics of business, Rob’s next task was to begin scaling the business. As you can imagine, the industry is just as hard to crack as the material itself, so it was going to be quite a tough ask for Rob and his team.
“Interestingly we are principally an online driven business but most of our first-time customers phone up and speak to us,” Rob says when asked what the company's real USP is.
“We have a fantastic, knowledgeable team, who take the time with customers to explain all the options, who are not bonused or on commission for that.
“It’s about giving good service and honest advice. That, undoubtedly, has been one of the key things to the success of the business.
“The thing about the online element of the business – that’s my background – we’re good at helping people to find us.
“We let them explore the website at their own pace and then the customer can make his or her own decision.
“The decision cycle – when you’re talking about buying gold – can be very long from thinking about buying gold to actually buying it. The website is trusted and friendly and people can explore what options are available.
“That’s backed up by real people who answer the phones straight away and who are happy to take the time to talk things through. It’s not an online business like eBay – where they have no one you can phone and talk to – we are a very personal service but we use online to help that.
“I have a passion for customer service and am proud to have instilled this in the culture of our business. It really helped that I was a potential customer so I understood what motivates a lot of our investors.
“I also have strong technical online marketing expertise and I have a great, loyal team. Honesty and trust is critical to our success. I’m very straightforward, a trait that people pick up on and it gives them the confidence to invest with us.”
And his dedication to providing transparent and trustworthy customer service has certainly paid off. Rob now boasts a multi-million-pound business employing 35 people in Birmingham and has come a long way since dreaming up the idea back in 2008.
However, as the company continues to grow, Rob is eager to stay true to his roots and is confident that the company’s future lies in Birmingham. As a business destination, he believes the UK’s second city is vital to the company’s success.
“Birmingham is a fantastic place to do business,” he says, “we have so many young, talented people here. We also have great transport links especially as we are so close to New Street Station which means we are so well connected.
“You’ve got relatively sensible rents compared to London. You’ve got relatively affordable houses for people. I think a lot of people are increasingly choosing Birmingham as the place to build their career and their lives and there are not many people who have started their career in Birmingham and then think about moving to London.
“There are an awful lot of people however who have started their careers in London who are now considering a move to Birmingham. It’s all because the quality of life and space is a lot better. But it still has all the things that a big city has to offer.”
So what does the future hold for Birmingham’s golden boy? Rob concluded: “There are exciting plans ahead for the future of the business and we will be expanding. We have expanded at a huge rate in the last seven years.
“In 2010 we employed five people and today we’re turning over more than £150m a year and employing over 35 members of staff.
“In the next few years I see things getting bigger and better. Depending on the needs of the business going forward I think we could easily double the number of employees in the next few years.
“But whatever happens with the expansion of the business we will be staying in the Midlands and in Birmingham. It’s a great city in which to do business.”