Our culture is to grow people from within
After a short spell at a major consulting group, Robert Ginsberg decided he wanted to make a big difference to a small company rather than a small difference to a big company. He joined his father’s bathroom mirror company, HiB. Today, he is majority owner and MD. He tells Smith & Williamson's Hall of Fame his story.
As a teenager, Robert and his father Warren didn’t chat about bathroom mirrors, focusing more closely on the usual father/son subjects of football or cricket. At the time, he had few plans to join the company business. He did his degree and went to work for Accenture, travelling the country working on large-scale outsourcing projects.
This experience fired his enthusiasm: “At the same time, my father was trying to grow the business by expanding the sales side. I realised I could make a difference in a smaller business rather than the huge businesses I was dealing with at Accenture. I joined in 2002 and built up my role over time. I became MD in 2012 and took over majority ownership in 2017.”
Together, they super-charged the business, with Robert bringing new strategic oversight and direction: “We looked at where we could position the business to really grow it over the next 5-10 years. When we started, we were buying products from German manufacturers. We then started designing and supplying a few key pieces. For us to really grow and stand out, we needed to move on from just ‘me too’ products.”
The group established its own brand, HiB, and sought to move the concept of the bathroom mirror from being simply an accessory, to a ‘must have’ with key design elements. It became an innovator, introducing entirely new concepts such as stream-free mirrors, LED illumination, Bluetooth speakers and built-in charging. The group has expanded into bathroom lighting, ventilation, furniture and cabinets. It leads the UK market today.
In general, he has found working with his father a positive experience: “It has definitely brought us closer together and, although mirrors and cabinets now take up a lot of our conversations, football, cricket and all other sports still retain their rightful place! Of course, we have differences of opinion, but we both have the best interests of the business at heart. He’s been very good at giving his opinion without being prescriptive about what should happen. He has always allowed me space. It is a good structure, we can discuss things honestly.”
This relationship has helped HiB navigate a number of challenges over the years. The group has seen strong growth – it featured in the Sunday Times profit track 2018 with 20%+ year on year growth. However, this has created its own problems. Initially, the group didn’t have the infrastructure in place to cope with the growth, which put pressure on the team and on the operation. HiB is now drawing to the end of a multi-year plan to get ahead of the curve operationally, upgrading technology and distribution, including moving to a new 85,000 sq ft distribution centre in Tamworth. They have recently celebrated growing their team to 100 people.
Robert has worked hard to build the right team in the business. He says: “Our culture is to grow people from within; to reward those who have shown commitment to the business. We have never made a senior appointment from outside the business: the marketing director has been with us for 27 years: the customer services manager started out as my PA. This means that when we’re going through difficult periods, we have got people who we know will be there and be supportive.” Robert has never looked to bring in external financing, which has helped sustain this culture.
Having overseen a rise in profits to £4.2m last year, he believes there is a lot more growth to come: “We are in a great position within the market, with 4,000 customers across retailers in the UK, supplying everyone from the largest bathroom showrooms, to plumbers merchants, to industrial retailers. We are exporting to the Middle East, to Europe and have a strong customer base. We want to expand our distribution. There are plans to move into the ‘project’ sector, with hotels and new-builds.”
HiB will also continue to grow its range of products. The group will only bring out a new product when it really makes a difference. For example, until recently, anyone buying a new bathroom would be forced to have a noisy, ugly fan. Now customers can choose from a range of design-led ventilation systems, which do the job without compromising on style. HiB “created something fantastic”, says Robert: “If we find the right product, there’s a lot of opportunity to grow sales from here.”
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