Business person spotlight

James Harper – managing director at Walton Flooring Centre



James Harper

Job title and business:

Managing Director – Walton Flooring Centre

What does your business do?

Domestic and Commercial Flooring Retailer

Where is your business based?:

North West (Huyton, Walton, Wavertree, Burscough, Moreton)

When was your business established?

October 2011

What qualities are needed to start a business?

Most importantly tenacity and passion for the business you are starting. Then it is about confidence and a belief in your ability to deliver quality products and a high level of customer service.

You don’t always have the income to employ a sales team in the early days so a considerable amount of stamina to do everything the business requires to stay afloat.

Understanding the importance of investing profits back into the business to advertise your brand locally, to encourage trade, this takes an element of risk.

For our business, we must employ great fitters, who have good common sense and can communicate well with our customers. The fitters are a representation of our brand, at the end of the customer journey and will make or break a recommendation or return by the customer which ultimately increases our trade. This requires good emotional intelligence.

What is the key skill running / owning an independent business?

Communication – being completely clear about who your customer is how they need you to communicate with them. Building a team of people who can communicate effectively at all levels. Open communication with all of the team. Regularly listening to everyone’s views and opinions and keeping them involved in the decision making. Keeping everyone up to date with changes and developments as the business grows.

If you could go back to the day you decided to start a business and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?

Know your numbers and understand your key ratios. If you take your eye off the numbers you can easily lose everything, especially when you have a high wage bill or have taken money out of the business because all you see is the profit.

When we opened our third store in March 2015 we had virtually nothing left in the bank and could have easily had to close the business after paying the wage bill. This was a hard lesson to learn and one I will never make again.

How do you feel the growth of the independent business community has contributed to the economy of the Liverpool City Region?

The hotels and restaurants in the city are experiential and give tourists and visitors something different. The chains that are available to people UK-wide are the norm. Liverpool excels when it comes to independent and different.

Liverpool is now the second fastest growing city in the UK outside of London, with huge investments being made in the leisure and tourism sector. This brings people in to the city and can influence them in choosing to live, work or study here, which all impacts on the wider economy.

What are your goals for the next two years?

The flooring industry as a whole has seen a downturn in the retail sector. We have responded strategically to this by developing our commercial flooring department and our ecommerce businesses, offering all types of flooring and artificial grass on a national basis.

We will be opening three strategically placed warehouses to service our commercial customers across the UK in London, Birmingham and Newcastle.

We will grow our customer base by establishing our online presence by selling floor coverings and artificial grass via two e-commerce platforms.

We will become a regional trainer for fitters, housing our training academy on the third floor of our new 15,000 sqft head office in Huyton.

Are you a member of any business organisations / boards outside of your usual role?

  • Knowsley Chamber of Commerce (Member)
  • Liverpool & Sefton Chamber of Commerce (Strategic Partner)
  • Federation of small businesses (Member)

What do you do in your own time when you’re not working?

Since understanding the importance of working on my business rather than in it my mind very rarely stops thinking about how to grow the business. I have to be really conscious of taking time out. We visit lots of tourist attractions around the UK as a family, as I have two young daughters. We also go on holiday a couple of times a year so I can focus on spending time with my wife and children.

I am a keen cyclist and am also involved in mentoring young people, to give them guidance about business and career opportunities at a number of schools and colleges in the region.