With his business in peril after the premature birth of his son, Gareth Mitchell and his team found the determination and finances to turn around the company's fortunes. He talks to BQ about overcoming adversity, the value of automation and learning curves.
What is it the company does?
Tree2mydoor.com is a gift company that supplies trees and plants for sustainable, long-lasting and meaningful gifts.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I founded the company in 2003 after I struggled to find a fruit tree gift that I could order online for my parents. Over the years, I’ve developed the business from an initial concept into a high growth consumer brand. Today, my role is concentrated on business development, growing our team and developing new products that our customers are looking for.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
2000 - Graduated from the University of Teesside, moved back to my family home in Northern Ireland and then got a one-way flight to London.
2000/2001 - Intent on starting a career in advertising for one of the big London agencies, I worked in various temp positions, including a design role in publishing for Pearson Education.
2001/2002 – I moved to Manchester and worked for environmental regeneration charity, Groundwork, in marketing roles across two of the Trusts.
November 2002 – I left full-time employment to set up the Tree2mydoor website. The business started by offering a mail-order Christmas tree and recycling service. I put all my savings into setting up the business, but only managed to sell 34 trees initially. Turns out that people living in central London flats and apartments wasn’t the best target audience for the Christmas tree delivery service.
2003 – I enrolled in a new business setup course ran by Manchester Metropolitan University called the New Entrepreneurs Scholarship. This taught me all the basics of running a business and accessing finance. Tree2mydoor Ltd was formed in September 2003 and officially launched in November 2003.
2004 - Tree2mydoor got nominated for and won a Gift of The Year Award - the UK gift industry's version of the Oscars!
2005 - 2011 - After failing to raise funds from the bank, the key focus turned to growing the business on a shoestring, which included creating and improving systems, building a brand from a concept and adding value through packaging innovation.
2012 - 2013 - A strong period of growth, with business all going in the right direction.
2014 - 2015 - My wife and I were hit with an unexpected personal trauma when our son was born four months early. The financial knock-on effect was that the business almost collapsed after two years of losses.
2016 - 2018 - At the start of 2016, Tree2mydoor came close to closing, but with a huge amount of hard work and determination by the whole team we managed to turn our losses around.
2019 – Fast-forward to today and the business has now posted its strongest year-to-date profits after achieving a 38% year-on-year growth. Looking ahead to the next year, our aim is to turnover £1m within the next 12 months.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who is driven, charismatic with the ability to empower the team with the vision of the future.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Five years ago, I faced a really big challenge with my business after my son was born four months early. A year of personal trauma and difficulty with endless trips in and out of hospital, operations and medical treatment for our baby boy understandably had a huge impact on me and my wife.
My wife also works in the business and having to pay two salaries out of the business, while neither of us had the emotional, mental or physical capacity to work on the business, meant the business came drastically close to collapse. After a lot of thought and consideration, I knew I wanted to give it another go and that the business still had a lot of potential. So, we got funding and managed to turn our losses around and we’re now in the strongest position we’ve ever been in.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I find that manual work such as gardening helps, as well as going for walks in the countryside. I guess plants and nature aren’t just important for my business, they’re important for my health and wellbeing too. Recently, I have been practising mindfulness techniques, which I also find beneficial.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a forest ranger, so again I seem to have a natural pull towards plants, trees and nature. When I was younger, I had a natural entrepreneurial spirit. While my friends made extra pocket money doing paper rounds and helping the milkman, I made and sold jewellery, bought antiques at auction and then sold them at car boot sales or via the free ads in the paper.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
My main pet hate in the workplace is around tidy desks. If desks aren’t tidied up after a busy day, it’s just lazy and it affects the whole team. I usually let a bit of mess or clutter go for a day or two, but if it’s still not tidied up I have to say something.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
A top-ranking gift company, within the top three gift companies in the UK. I also want Tree2mydoor to expand internationally and operate globally.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be prepared to go above and beyond. Serve your customer, serve your business and give everything that you need to give. Record everything as you go and look at setting up processes and procedures so that every time you repeat the job or task, it’s 50% quicker and at least 90% less cost.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
To automate any repeat business tasks you can, and to focus on running the business by not getting too caught up in the technical infrastructure of websites. Less is often more.
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