From humble beginnings at weekend car boot sales to becoming one of the UK's leading wholesale gift companies, Something Different Wholesale is a genuinely entrepreneurial success story.
The Swansea based firm designs, develops and distributes thousands of fast-selling giftware products and bestselling lines to retailers of all sizes in the UK and Worldwide. The company's success reflects the hard work and leadership of its founder, Jane Wallace-Jones, and its staff's pride in the business, which has been operating for more than two decades.
Something Different Wholesale has been supported through Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP). The AGP provides targeted support for ambitious growing firms. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.
Jane Wallace-Jones tells us about her business journey and how her passion has motivated her to develop and grow her brand.
Tell us about Something Different Wholesale
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say I'm a born entrepreneur. Before starting Something Different Wholesale, I would trade at car boot sales and later in markets. Now my business has a turnover which exceeds £10 million – a far cry from long, wet afternoons selling things from the boot of my car! Nevertheless, it has been a thrilling experience. I love running a business, setting myself goals and overcoming challenges along the way. Being a business leader is about constant problem-solving, and while you can do that on your own, I think building a solid team around you is essential.
My drive and determination prove that anything is possible. Overcoming dyslexia has been one of my most significant personal accomplishments, but I refuse to view it as a limitation. Instead, I consider it as one of my strengths because it has taught me to be adaptable and open to learning different skills to leverage opportunities.
I've always had an eye for giftware and a passion for sales, and at the end of the 1990s, I saw an opportunity in the wholesale end of the gift sector.
I took on a 5,000 sq ft warehouse in Baglan in Neath Port Talbot with a simple model. I bought stock in bulk from other importers and manufacturers, held it in the warehouse and used it to supply my chain of market stalls while offering cash and carry to local customers.
This was during the early era of the web and I am proud to be a very early adopter, launching our first online B2B ecommerce website, Somethingdifferentwholesale.co.uk, in 1999.
We quickly became a sector leader and somewhat of an overnight success, which meant we experienced rapid growth.
We now design and develop products for retailers of all sizes across the UK, Europe and worldwide. We have over 3,000 items available for next-day delivery and work closely with our trusted supply chain to offer unique products at competitive prices.
I don't think, as a business, you can ever stand still; you have to be ready for change. So we're constantly evolving and have invested in technology to automate the ordering and dispatch processes, ensuring maximum efficiency.
As I said, we've come a long way since starting. But it doesn't feel that long ago that I worked hard in car boot sales and on market stalls on cold winter afternoons! Today, we're recognised as one of the largest giftware importers in the UK, supplying more than 25,000 customers worldwide.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
Being in business is about hard work, and there are plenty of rewards. On the financial side, breaking the £1 million turnover barrier was a huge moment for me, especially after years when we struggled to get beyond the £750,000 mark.
Seeing the business develop has provided me with such a sense of pride. I have alongside me a brilliant team of talented individuals. There is an emotional side to being a success too, because you are bringing people with you. People think of entrepreneurs as individuals, but the great ones know that excellence is a team sport.
What challenges have you faced in business
The pandemic threw up a range of challenges for us as a wholesaler. The global economy shutting down virtually overnight did not come without its shocks.
However, we have built resilience into the company. We understand we have responsibilities as an employer too, so building that underlying strength in the business was vital for unforeseen economic events. A crucial part of that resilience is understanding our place in the world and recognising our environmental responsibilities.
Since the pandemic, growth has been rapid, and in 2022 we completed an expansion into a 150,000 sq ft warehouse. In addition, we're now installing an extensive array of solar panels, which will generate our own energy needs and become an income-generating stream in its own right. By summer 2023, it is estimated this will generate 1,000,000 KW.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
I would have looked for business mentors earlier to develop my business skills. That would have meant overcoming early hurdles in our business so much faster.
Being humble when it's a personal project can sometimes be challenging. However, you have to be open to external expertise and help, which can provide new perspectives to help you grow. And that brings me to our work with the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
When we joined Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme, I was sceptical about the value of external advice, but the programme has proved its worth.
We have benefited enormously from working with relationship managers and specialist coaches to provide solutions to evolving challenges as we have grown. But, of course, this support has changed over the years as the business and trading environment has changed.
We've benefited from a wide range of support from Business Wales AGP. The programme has helped us with warehouse organisation and logistics for efficiency, productivity, planning, and measurement. There has also been support in marketing, e-commerce, IT and using Amazon to protect the brand while not competing with customers.
Business Wales AGP also helped us secure a Brexit Resilience Grant, which meant we could move into drop shipping and order fulfilment on behalf of our customers.
All this has been critical to our recent growth and development.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
- Look for a trusted source of advice, such as the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme, early on in your journey.
- Rigorous planning is essential.
- Self-discipline is a quality which I think is key for business leaders and the team around you.
- You have to be able to walk the walk with your team, so others follow suit.
To learn more about Something Different Wholesale, visit here.
Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme
The Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme is a pan-Wales programme part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.