Internet retailer The Hut Group has won the Bank of Scotland Corporate’s £35m Entrepreneur Challenge, beating six other regional finalists to the fiercely contested prize.
In addition to the £5m of interest-free funding for up to three years, The Hut Group won four days of mentoring with famed entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter.
Peter Cummings, chief executive of Bank of Scotland Corporate, paid tribute to the firm, which has grown from its foundation in 2004 to sales of £27m this year. “ The judges were all impressed by The Hut. They have a unique and highly cash-generative business model and have significant growth potential,” said Cummings.
The Cheshire-based company’s co-founders, John Gallemore and Matthew John Moulding, expressed their surprise at winning the overall final just two weeks after picking up the regional prize.
“I feel numb. I’m so shocked I’m shaking,” said Moulding. “It’s quite an emotional thing. My dad flew in from Canada, so it’s great he could be here to see it.”
Gallemore said The Hut team had not been counting on success after seeing the quality of the other finalists.
“Everyone on our table was going through the finalists and agreed that almost every one of them could win it. It was pretty depressing.”
The mentoring prize would make a big difference to the company, said Moulding.
“It’s a very special thing to get four days with Sir Tom Hunter. He has a wealth of experience which will be a huge help to us. Winning the award also gives us credibility that will really help us win new business and attract more good employees.”
The group’s success was also down to its ability to demonstrate its “sheer determination and a never-say-die attitude,” added Gallemore.
“We went through difficult times in the early years. We’ve experienced stress so bad it hurts, that sense of worry about whether you’re going to survive and the feeling of losing £1m of the money we had put in during the first years.”
Their success was also down to the work of The Hut Group’s staff and the loyalty of its customers, said Moulding.
“The dedication of the team in the office has been exceptional. I have to congratulate Bank of Scotland Corporate, too. This is a truly innovative competition, there’s nothing like this out there and they’ve stuck through it in very difficult circumstances.”
The company, which sells consumer products such as DVDs, books, computer games, lingerie, fragrance and electronics through its own website TheHut.com will use the prize to continue its rapid product expansion, said Moulding.
“We’ve recently moved into three new categories – perfume, lingerie and swimwear; and outdoor and leisure goods – and we will continue to expand the product range.
“That takes us up to 10 categories and we have five more categories planned for early next year. We’re also looking at acquisitions; bolt-on small businesses such as an acquisition in the pet market.”
Moulding said the group would be able to make good use of the mentoring from Hunter. “I’d like to know when we get Sir Tom’s mobile-phone number because we’ve got an awful lot to get on with,” he said.
Matthew Riley, chief executive of Daisy Communications, last year’s national winner and a judge in this year’s final, said: “TheHut.com is a worthy winner. They have a brilliant management team and a clear vision of where to take the product.
“Winning the challenge will help to develop the business further and allow Matthew and his team to network with high-profile entrepreneurs and achieve what they want for the future of the organisation.”
Cummings also commended the quality of all the regional winners: “Listening to the presentations today has been truly inspirational.
“Every business displayed traits of true entrepreneurialism, good unique selling propositions, focus and capability.”