Rich Hudson is a 33 year old entrepreneur in the Chemical Industry, who runs his own business, the rapidly growing, multi-million pound company called ReAgent. He runs a successful business which allows him to enjoy life, but it wasn’t easy getting to where he is.
While it can be incredibly rewarding, running a business is hard and can be very stressful at times. Over the years Rich as learnt many business lessons that have helped him grow the business. When he started managing ReAgent it originally had a turnover that was hovering around the same amount every year at £1 million. He has now grown it to the point were it has forecasted sales of between £5 – £6 million.
Rich is passionate about marketing (specifically B2B and Digital Marketing) and has launched a number of websites to promote his products and services, including Chemicals.co.uk and ReAgent.co.uk.
Easyspace recently caught up with Rich for a chat:
Q1. Rich, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to running your own business
I grew up near Chester. After school I went to college and did A Levels, then I went to University in Sheffield where I studied Business and Marketing. When that finished I took a year out and worked in a ski resort, then joined the family business. I wish I could give you an heroic story about how I came into running the business but the simple fact is I was born into it.
The business was started by my grandparents in 1977. I took over from my father at the end of 2009. I was 27 at the time. Under different circumstances I would have probably waited a few more years but my father suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and he was struggling running the company. Meanwhile, I had a boundless amount of energy and a long list of ideas I was eager to implement, so it felt like a natural progression for me to take the reins. It’s worked out really well – for the business, my father and myself – albeit something that probably happened a little before its time because of external factors. Such is life!
Q2. Tell us about your business ReAgent
ReAgent is a chemical manufacturing company. We have two product offerings. Firstly, we supply a range of off-the-shelf chemicals like acids, solvents and standard solutions. Secondly, we provide chemical processing services where we manufacture products to exact customer requirements including formula, specification, pack size and grade.
Our factory contains quite a number of large mixing vessels, the biggest of which is 7,000 litres. We have automated packing equipment which enable us to offer services like contract packing, ampoule filling and sachet filling. We also have 20,000 square feet of warehousing, a number of laboratories and a Class 7 clean room. We are geared up to handle hazardous substances safely.
We employ around 40 people right now but are adding to this all the time. At our last staff meeting we welcomed 5 new people to the company. The chemical industry is, by and large, full of really big, old companies. They are huge and inefficient, like dinosaurs.
ReAgent is a young, dynamic company. I like to think we are a breath of fresh air in what is otherwise a very traditional industry. My long-term vision for ReAgent is to have a manufacturing facility on every major continent. We are currently looking into setting up a second factory in the USA.
Q3. When you first started running ReAgent what problems did you have and what changes did you make, in order to improve your business?
Where to begin! When I first took over we needed to update our business plan. The key to successfully running any company is to create one of these. You should think about where you want to be in the future and work backwards from it – imagine what your ideal scenario for the company would look like in 3 years’ time and work your way back from there – figure out exactly what you have to put in place to realise that vision. Then share that vision with everyone. Communicating this with everyone helps people understand the role they play in realising your goal.
For ReAgent, we wanted serious growth. To facilitate this growth, we put extra resource into sales and marketing, as well as investing in the company’s infrastructure to handle bigger throughput. We bought another warehouse which gave us extra production capacity. I also managed to create an amazing office for myself. I had always worked in shared offices in the past, which was sociable, but as MD I really needed more privacy – I would literally have to run out of the office when I received a sensitive phone call. You’re dealing with all sorts, not just sensitive company information but personal issues as well.
I’ve had employees go through critical illnesses, bereavements, divorce, bankruptcy and more. I had an image in my mind of what my dream office would look like. My new office is amazing . I have my own kitchen, a sofa, meeting table and a huge projector. It’s ideal. My point here is that you should spend time considering your working environment to ensure it has everything you need to do your job effectively. I see my office as my sanctuary – it’s somewhere I feel completely at peace.
Another problem was our average order value – we used to process a lot of small orders – so we took the decision as a company to stop selling to private individuals. We are now 100% B2B. My only regret with this is not doing it sooner. I wrote a post about this on my personal blog where I explain the rationale behind this decision called Why I’ve Stopped Selling B2C. We also introduced a minimum order value on the website which acted as a catalyst (excuse the chemistry pun).
Q4. How has the business grown since you took over?
The year prior to me taking over (2008/9) our turnover was £1m. This year we are forecasting sales of between £5m and £6m, so the growth has been pretty epic. Gets a bit crazy at times but that’s all part of the fun!
Q5. You have a website for your business ReAgent, plus you have also set up an additional website: Chemicals.co.uk – tell us about this and why did you decide more than one website was necessary?
As I mentioned earlier, our product offering is split into two: off-the-shelf chemicals and bespoke manufacturing services. We used to use one website to promote both of these but it became apparent that they were different offerings. It made sense for us to build an e-commerce chemical website for the off-the-shelf products and a separate brochure site promoting our chemical processing services.
I’ve bought a few domains over the years (I own chloroform.co.uk, acetone.co.uk and isopropanol.co.uk, among others). I always wanted chemicals.co.uk; it’s the ultimate domain for a UK based chemical company. It was previously registered by a domain investment company called Giraffe.
Every year I would contact Giraffe and ask if I could buy the domain. Every year they would tell me that it wasn’t for sale but I could lease it if I wanted. I wasn’t interested in this (I’m very much an ‘all or nothing’ kind of guy) so I would politely decline and say I would contact them again in 12 months. After 5 or 6 years, I called them up one day expecting their usual response when, somewhat to my surprise, they said it was for sale! I was delighted.
They originally asked for £15,000 but I managed to haggle them down to half this amount. I felt like I got a good deal. Most people wouldn’t think twice about spending £7,500 on a car. And a car will only depreciate in value, unlike a domain (not that I have any intention of selling this). I also bought reagent.com for $5,000 from an American gentleman.
Coming back to the question, chemicals.co.uk was just the natural place to host our e-commerce chemical store and ReAgent.co.uk was the natural place for us to promote our chemical processing services. These just ‘fitted’. We are currently rebuilding chemicals.co.uk in WordPress (WooCommerce, to be specific). It will be good when both sites are on the same platform. I really like WordPress.
Q6. A domain name like Chemicals.co.uk is a great name for your type of business – what’s your strategy for choosing a domain name when you start a new website?
I would always recommend that you buy the .co.uk and the .com variants if they are available for your brand name and for your own name. It hardly costs anything and you’d kick yourself in the future if you ever needed to register one of these and it wasn’t available.
You may also want to consider registering the ccTLD’s (country code top-level domains) for any countries you may be considering doing business in. We have registered some of these for ReAgent, like reagent.fr and reagent.es, for example.
Consider adding a hyphen in place of spaces, so if thewidgetcompany.com isn’t available, consider registering the-widget-company.com. Obviously be sure to check any intellectual property before you do this.
If you want to buy a premium domain like we have done with chemicals.co.uk, that’s up to you. I think it’s worth it myself. It gives you instant kudos when you tell someone you own a domain like this.
Q7. For ReAgent where are most of your customers based, and what type of people/businesses do you sell to?
Our customers are predominantly UK based but we are doing an ever-increasing amount of export. Our second biggest customer, for example, is in China. You won’t believe this but it’s actually cheaper for us to send goods to China than Scotland! This is because lots of ships come here from China full of Chinese products but have to go back empty, so they offer incredibly cheap rates if you’re shipping things the other way. We do a small amount of air freight but it’s astronomically expensive because a lot of our products are either very heavy and/or very hazardous.
We supply customers in every industry imaginable; aerospace, bioscience, engineering, petrochemicals – you name it. Chemicals are used by everyone. If you think of any big name company we will almost certainly have supplied them; everyone from F1 teams and hospitals to energy companies and universities.
One of the most exciting customers we are working with right now is Bloodhound SSC – the guys who are aiming to break the land speed record. It’s such an amazing project to be involved in. They invited me down to the factory which was probably the best day I’ve ever had in work. I had a good look at the car and spoke to rocket scientists about how they are using our products. I was bursting with pride when I saw ReAgent products being used there. The guys at Bloodhound are also really cool, they’re so friendly and just a dream to work with. Definitely one of my favourite customers.
Q8. How important are your websites as a shop front for your business?
We don’t have a shop front. We’re just a factory in the middle of an industrial estate. The internet is our shop front, quite literally.
Q9. How do you promote your business?
Online, obviously. Digital marketing is my area of expertise – I built my first website in 1999 and I’ve been messing around with them ever since, both commercially and personally. We do a lot offline promotion, too. We frequently attend industry events, exhibitions and seminars. This year we exhibited at Making Cosmetics in Nottingham and Chemspec in Cologne. Cologne was fantastic.
We also attend other events throughout the year as visitors, mostly chemical related although I attend the odd marketing conference as well. We have a really awesome Sales Team who are very proactive when it comes to promoting our business. And word of mouth and referrals are just as important as they ever were. So a bit of everything, really. It’s not just online by any means.
Q10. Do you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc, to promote your websites? How successful has it been for you? Any advice on how people can use social media to promote their website?
It’s difficult mixing social media with B2B but we try our best. ReAgent is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. They don’t generate business directly but people get to see the human side of the company through these channels which I think is important. My advice on Social Media would be to use photos – photos do really well on social media – and automate as much as you can.
Use something like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule posts across the different platforms. You can use services like Twitterfeed to push RSS updates to Twitter and LinkedIn. Use Manage Flitter to keep on top of your Twitter account. When you can’t automate something, see if you can create a recipe with IFTTT to bridge the gap.
Q11. What’s involved with managing your business? Describe your typical day.
I manage the people who in turn manage the departments of our company – sales, operations, quality, finance, marketing and so on. I have meetings with these colleagues most days. My favourite area of the business is marketing – I absolutely love marketing – so I spend a disproportionately large amount of time working with the guys in this department. It’s my background and my passion. I feel it’s the area where I add most value. I chair other meetings like board meetings, finance meetings and have meetings with external parties like banks, solicitors, accountants and so on. I’m not customer-facing, so I don’t have much direct contact with customers.
Q12. You have also set up your own personal website RichHudson.co.uk. What’s you plan for this site?
RichHudson.co.uk is my personal blog where I write about my experiences of running my business. There is no direct commercial motive to this website. I’m like a guy who spends his weekends doing DIY in his shed, or tinkering with a car in the garage; I like blogging and tinkering with websites. I’m not sure why, I just find it therapeutic. The blogging element helps me remember experiences and serves as something for me to look back on.
It also acts as a bit of a testing ground for my other sites, for example, when I wanted to start doing an email newsletter (using AWeber) I tested it out on my personal website before rolling it out on the company’s. I enjoyed creating the auto responders – you can see these if you sign up to my blog. I get lovely messages from people all around the world who read what I write, many of whom work in the chemical industry.
I think it’s very important nowadays for business owners to give some consideration to personal branding. Your personal brand can give you an extra amount of reach beyond what your company can achieve by itself. Also, an increasing number of business leaders are becoming associated with their companies. When you think of Microsoft you immediately think of Bill Gates. Virgin and Richard Branson. Yet a lot of companies (B2B especially) still appear faceless, like they’re just a corporate entity, when the reality is all businesses are run by real people like you and me.
People hide in the shadows but I would encourage everyone to step into the limelight and join a public platform, even if it’s just Twitter. Admittedly I’m probably at the more extreme end of this – I use social media a lot (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Disqus and a few others) and I have a personal blog. I have customers, suppliers, colleagues and competitors on my mailing list. Contacting these people periodically helps keep your brand ‘evoked’, be it a business brand or a personal brand.
Q13. Which entrepreneurs or people have inspired you the most & why?
My Dad. He’s my hero. He ran the business for 20 years with Multiple Sclerosis. We didn’t always see eye to eye but he has the hardest work ethic of anyone I have ever met and I know that’s had a huge influence on me.
My other hero is my Granddad. He put everything he owned on the line when he started the company (his pension, his house, literally everything). I don’t know if I could do that – to risk it all. What’s strange is that my Granddad is actually quite risk-averse. I asked him once why he started the company when there was so much at stake. He told me that if he missed the opportunity to start our business it would have bugged him for the rest of his life! I’m glad he saw it like that.
My grandparents are still going by the way (at 90 and 92 respectively). They love hearing about ReAgent’s success and my Granddad reads our blogs which I find incredibly sweet. I’ll be sending him a link to this interview when it’s live – Hi Granddad if you’re reading this!
Looking slightly further afield, I enjoy reading business books. The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris was one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. I got loads of ideas for improving productivity from that. Screw It Let’s Do It by Richard Branson is another good one. It got me thinking about the business without boundaries, which is where the dream for ReAgent being a global company came from.
I also mingle a bit with people online. I’ve got a number of digital friends who inspire me like Chris Ducker, Navid Moazzez and Jan Koch. I know each of these guys and I enjoy watching their own entrepreneurial journeys unfold. And I have a couple of real-world friends who are entrepreneurs. Being MD can be a very lonely sometimes; it’s good to have people who can relate to you. Hat tip to my friend Matthew Darlington.
Oh and my Mum. I have to give a shout out to my Mum. She is the strongest person I know.
Q14. What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting their own business?
Business isn’t rocket science. It’s just common sense.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t take things to heart. Don’t worry. Don’t rush. Don’t work too hard.
Do have a business plan. Do marketing, lots of it. Do listen to your gut; it’s your natural compass and you’ll find it’s pretty accurate most of the time.
Q15. What are your plans/goals for the next 6 months?
I am actually planning to take a bit of time out next year. I took a couple of months off in 2010 to visit Australia and New Zealand – I would like to do the same again if I can. We have an amazing Management Team who run ReAgent day-to-day and I can keep in touch via Skype and Email, even if I’m on the other side of the world. I’d also like to go on a Trade Mission to the USA to do some groundwork on setting up a factory over there. Other than that, just business as usual. There’s never a dull moment running a company – it’s a bit like spinning plates – there is always something which requires your attention!
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview. And thank you to all my wonderful colleagues who work at ReAgent!
Thanks Rich, from everyone at Easyspace.
If you want to find out more about Rich Hudson, then click on the links below for more info:
- Twitter: @reagent_uk
- Facebook: facebook.com/ReAgentChemicals
- YouTube: ReAgent
- Twitter: @RichHudsonUK
- Facebook: facebook.com/richardsnowboard
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