My Week: Robert Stiff of RBYG

Stiff runs two retail operations with his (grown up) children and is effectively their VC and mentor. Here he explains how making his money in another business allowed him to get his children on the ladder.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
I started a healthcare recruitment company back in 2005 called Team 24, which grew very quickly to achieve a turnover of £33m in 2011, at which point I sold it to Capita, and as part of the deal, they paid me £25m in cash, which has given me the freedom to pursue all sorts of other avenues.

I now no longer have any connection with Team 24, as the deal meant that they wanted me to hand over the company entirely. I'm not a golfer or anything so I couldn't sit around doing nothing, and I had this idea that I wanted to help my children set up their own businesses.

My daughter had been interested for a long time in setting up some sort of fashion boutique, so this was the first thing I set my mind to. I have helped her launch an actual brand called RBYG, which we can buy clothes in for and 'convert' to our brand. The first store is open, and it is in Bansted in Surrey. It's only been open since last September and it is already profitable, so we're hoping to open another one in Wimbledon soon.

What's good about it is that we're having to learn about retail on the job - I haven't got any experience working in or running shops, so diving straight in is a good way to learn. It's just lucky that we're profitable with it already!

I've also invested in a business for my son, He set up an e-commerce site selling pre-folded hankies. It's an innovation on the pocket square - in the city there are a lot of people not wearing ties, but they are going for a dandy look. It's a bit like using a clip-on bow tie instead of a self-tying one - a hanky will not hold its shape so the design innovation is to shape the hanky with a card that holds the hanky up in the pocket.

We launched that website in November, and it had a good launch with a lot of early interest. That business is not breaking even yet, you have to have a lot of stock which is expensive, and there has been a lot of advertising. But nonetheless I'm really pleased with how its doing and I think we will get somewhere with it. I've got retailers who are interested in labelling some of the hankies under their own brands.

So with both of those businesses on the go, my timetable is pretty varied. The 'teaching' side of it is done: my involvement now is working with manufacturers to come up with some items of clothing that we can brand with the RBYG - we've been talking to designers about the possibility of them coming up with some unique designs for us to sell.

Outside of those two businesses, I do have other things on the go. When I was bought out of Team24, I started an investment company. This is what I've used to invest in my children's businesses, but I have also got fingers in other pies. I've got a stake in a small recruitment business that is just getting started, and I have at least two meetings a week with other people looking for investment to start their business.

What I've learnt from running my own outfit and helping my kids with theirs, is you get to follow your own vision in your own company. The problem with working for someone else is you don't have much power to change things: within your own business, though, you do.

If I had to give advice to other would-be entrepreneurs, I would say 'talk to somebody'. Being an investor now, I get a lot of people that come to me wanting to raise capital to set up. But there is nothing like experience so get some adivce from the right people. A lot of things are presented to me by hopefules which just do not make sense. The other bit of advice is pay your tax bill on time!

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