When Martin Preen was brought in by the founders of Buster + Punch his task was expressed simply, if a challenging one to deliver. As CEO, his mission was to help build the “world’s first home fashion label” and plot a path to international expansion.
Launched in an East London garage by industrial designer Massimo ‘Buster’ Minale, Buster + Punch creates cutting edge products, ranging from lighting and home hardware to custom motorcycles. Since 2013, it has become a “cult-favourite interior design brand.”
Critical acclaim was followed by financial success. Turnover has doubled every year and it now has operations in seven office locations across three continents. But growth hasn’t been straight forward. Like any start-up, it has to manage the multiple complexities that come with international expansion, an increase in personnel and a change in expectations.
Preen outlined the four key challenges to growth and how to tackle them:
1. Managing cash
Preen, a former investment banker, said: “Most people who do a start-up know that you’ve got to keep an eye on the cash or you’re screwed.” In other words, cash is king. But managing the cash is not just about reconciling the bank account – it’s about having a complete understanding of the supply chain, payment terms and many other aspects of business finance. Understanding requires visibility.
2. Reading the data
“If cash is king, data is, too,” said Preen. To manage cash requires reading the data. “One of the big challenges for us was that while in London we had a system that was just okay; in the US we had nothing; and in Asia we just had spreadsheets. Trying to pull something together to see where we were took an age,” explained Preen. “If you haven’t got that visibility about where you are, it’s exceptionally difficult to make really, really good decisions.”
Earlier this year, Preen and his team selected and implemented NetSuite OneWorld to give it a real-time view across its operations from manufacturing and warehouses to supply chain and customer service. The implementation of OneWorld – which supports 190 currencies, more than 20 languages, automated tax calculation and reporting in more than 100 countries, and customer transactions in more than 200 countries – means Buster + Punch can more accurately forecast international product demand, scaling its manufacturing and delivery processes accordingly.
3. People and operational control
As a start-up grows, the culture begins to change. “The core people at the beginning know each other, they do everything together and they know what they have got to do,” explained Preen. He calls those early recruits “X-Men of business,” people with a clear major talent but put in a position to multitask at a stage where getting the job done is more important than defining precise roles and responsibilities. As the business expands, however, this ad hoc approach becomes incompatible with long-term growth. While the founding members of the team try and hold on to the old way of doing things, “the new people don’t quite know what … their remit is.” It is adapting to this new “business-as-usual” that is most difficult for employees and business leaders alike.
Preen said NetSuite’s capabilities have the ability to “make us smarter.” It means using workflow features to define the team’s roles and responsibilities. It means being able to manage all operations on a single cloud platform. And it means being able to draw on data from manufacturing plants in Asia, physical locations in Sweden and the UK and retail channels across the world. Where lack of visibility made it difficult for the company to make the good decisions, this new found global clarity is game changing.
“We had a whole hairball infrastructure of systems and spreadsheets across various sites,” recalled Preen. “In order to bring that together we wanted to look at a technology that would run in all of our different locations and be able to consolidate that data across three legal entities as well. And we came across NetSuite. We loved the dashboard views and the workflow reporting.”
4. Keeping it fun
In pursuit of business discipline, organisations can lose the spark of ingenuity that made them successful in the first place. “The challenge for me,” said Preen, “is how do we put a level of control into the structure to allow the business to grow but also keep it fun?” For fun, read product innovation and what Preen called, “involving ourselves in things that are a little bit of rock and roll.” This includes motorcycle customisation, joining forces with Rolls Royce to create a contemporary version of the Edison light bulb and an association with the Q Awards, not just as a sponsor but as the maker of the awards themselves.
Learn more about NetSuite for the retail industry.