'If you don't know your staff's dog's name, you don't know them well enough' - Mike Clare

YOU LIVE AND YOU LEARN: The first thing Dreams founder Mike Clare did after selling his business for £222m was pay off his mortgage.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 20 May 2015

I went to the University of Life; my brother went to Cambridge. He was academically brilliant, but couldn't have been less entrepreneurial if he tried. It's one of the reasons I started my own business, wanting to beat him in some way. He died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in 1999.

I tried starting businesses from home when I was an area manager at a Wycombe furniture chain, but you can't make a success working out of your bedroom in the evenings. There comes a point when you've got to commit, and if you have a safety net there's no reason to go the extra mile.

My accountant wanted me to call my business Clare's Beds. That's why he's an accountant. I wanted a brand with hundreds of stores that would still be there in 20 years. Dreams said it all.

There are some setbacks you just can't write into your business plan. Warehouse fires, leaking roofs and gypsies camping in the car park come to mind. We used to call our stores stars or dogs, depending on their sales. I regret the dogs.

I've always meddled in every aspect of my businesses and it drives my staff mad. It can be a fault not to trust them, but they need to earn trust. Besides, it's healthy to take a view on things. It means I care.

It's hugely important to know what makes your staff tick. Is it money, security, flexible hours? If you don't know their dog's name, you don't know them well enough.

After 21 straight years of growth, we had 200 stores. My job was chairing board meetings and dealing with banks. I had hardly anything to do with beds. All my money was in one company, and I started to doubt I was up to it.

The week after selling Dreams for £222m, we paid off our mortgage. We'd never lived a wealthy lifestyle before. I had bucket loads of money but no idea what to do. That business was a big part of me. I doubt anyone's going to get the violins out for me, but it was like a bereavement.

I was retired for nine months, but you can't just play golf every day. My current business AmaZing Venues came from property investments. We do up unusual venues for events - we've got a castle, sea forts and a monastery. It's more exciting than beds, if truth be told.

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