My Week: Stephen Roston of B.S. Clothing

Roston has been in the rag trade for three decades. Here, he reveals why he personally signs up each new customer, how he loves being his own boss, and why Facebook and Twitter are 'nonsense'.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

We are a supplier of baby and children’s clothing to major chain stores both in the UK and the Middle East. We do our own designs, but manufacture in China and India. I’ve been in this industry for about 30 years (since I was 15) so I know it inside out. I’ve had this business for about 20 years. 

I’m the managing director, so I’m managing our staff of 14, dealing with the bank, dealing with some of our customers and generally making sure everything is in check. We have a design team of six, but I’m older now and you have to know when your tenure is up in the design stakes so I have much less to do with that now. 

On Monday morning, the first thing I do is check our bank position - in fact I check this about three times a day anyway - and answer all my emails. I don’t believe in making people wait for an answer so I try to get back to everyone first thing in the morning. I then have a meeting with our finance team to see what the requirements are that week. This is a business where you do need a debt facility, so I’m often having discussions with the bank so that they know where we’re at. 

Whenever we open an account for a new customer, I do the talking. I don’t believe anyone can speak for my business better than I can. I also believe it has to be personal: I don’t like the whole Twitter and Facebook thing, it’s just nonsense. Being personal in business is probably one of the most important elements in the success we’ve had - it’s the best way to manage a business. I would say lack of it is one of the reasons retail is in such a diabolical state in the UK. Staff are not trained to say ‘how can I help you, sir?’ So my staff are all encouraged to be personable and professional with our customers and anyone else who we deal with.

In terms of other commitments, we have two factories and I go and visit them at least once or twice a year. They’re perfectly happy dealing with my staff, I’m sure, but they want to know that I’m involved. We share the problems, and we share the good times. 

There is a huge amount of planning in my role. In this business, we’re supplying goods now which will be on sale at the end of 2013. So in effect, this week has been taken care of many months ago - it’s the end of the year that we’re concentrating on strategically. 

Being successful in business has also allowed me to get involved in some community and charity work. I’m vice chairman of our local community synagogue, and I’m also involved in raising money for a charity for disabled children. It’s great, because you meet a lot of people - and in fact, through a connection with one person I’ve met, my company now supplies all the charity’s signature t-shirts, which is great.

The best thing about being in business is that I’m not answerable to anybody. I make my own mistakes and my own successes. And another great thing is the pride of sometimes finding myself in a shop, looking at my own products. I can turn to my wife and say, ‘That’s ours, that’s ours, that’s ours, that’s ours,’ and it feels good.

The most challenging thing is making sure the staff are properly cared for and are happy working for me. When times are hard I put them before me - you can’t run a business on your own so you have to treat them well. 

If I had to offer some advice to other would-be entrepreneurs, I would say ‘understand completely what you’re going to do, before you do it.’ You need to have a good grip on the financials and the business itself. If you don’t understand your own service or your market fully, you might as well not be in business. Also, never be greedy.

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