Simon Viney speaks to workingwise.co.uk about how he moved from management consultancy to managing his own guitar business during the pandemic.
After years of working in the corporate world, a new business opportunity presented itself to management consultant Simon Viney during the height of the pandemic. Taking the chance to monetise his childhood passion of guitar-playing and bring family members in on the journey with him, he jumped at the chance of purchasing guitar effects pedal retailer, Guitar FX Direct. Workingwise.co.uk asked him what it’s like to add another (guitar) string to his business endeavours at a challenging time for any business in a post-Covid environment.
Workingwise.co.uk: What prompted your move to entrepreneurship?
Simon Viney: It was really about taking an opportunity as it presented itself. I was looking to buy a small business to turn around before lockdown and it just so happened that an enterprise selling musical equipment, guitarfxdirect.com*, came up for sale.
I’d finished a major contract in Q4 2019 and then the pandemic hit. For the first half of 2020, I had family-related issues to attend to before being ready to turn my full attention to the next project. So, in the end, the timing worked perfectly!
For most of my working life, I have been a management consultant and programme manager, working on a project-by-project basis. So, working on Guitar FX Direct wasn’t a great leap. It was rather like starting another contract, only this time becoming the business owner at the same time!
ww: Why this particular business?
SV: Music and guitar-playing has been a lifelong passion and hobby of mine. I first picked up a bass guitar at the age of seven and gigged in a number of bands in and around the Salisbury area. Also, before becoming an accountant and consultant, one of my first jobs after leaving college was as an electronics engineer. As such, this particular business seemed like the perfect fit for me, both from a professional and personal standpoint.
ww: What has been the greatest Covid challenge you have faced business-wise?
SV: The supply of some of the rarer pedals has been a problem. Many suppliers are small businesses or “one-man bands” who are very vulnerable to Covid disruption, particularly with the worldwide chip shortage that has impacted global manufacturing across all sectors.
As a result, we have had to very carefully manage pedal supply and order placements in order to maintain a consistent stock level for customers, especially from our further afield suppliers in Brazil, for example! I wanted to strengthen the business’s identity as being the go-to UK online store for the rarer, more ‘exotic’ guitar effects pedals from around the globe.
ww: How did you use your financial background to turn the business around?
SV: The business has required experience across a number of different skillsets, not just my transferable skills from previous projects. As my main area of expertise, of course the finances have been high on my list, getting to the nitty gritty of identifying the most popular stock, areas for growth improvement and new stock lines to implement from emerging manufacturers.
However, the key focus has been on customer service and being “number 1” in this area. Investment has also been made in digital marketing and SEO for improved visibility. My management consultancy experience has proved invaluable – enabling me to stand back and look at the business as a whole, not just the finances.
ww: Are you running the business full time?
SV: Absolutely, the business has required a huge amount of ‘people power’ to get it to a point of digitally functioning in the manner in which we want it to run, providing a seamless customer journey from the moment they hit our homepage to after-sales care. The business is quite “virtual”. Working in this way means that I have the freedom to appoint complementary business partners and suppliers who are just as passionate about growing the business as I am.
There was a clear business need for someone to look after the social media side of things, in the first instance, and now as the business moves forward, to keep pushing on the PR front. So, on this occasion, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to bring my eldest daughter’s firm Sycamore Communications into the mix, benefitting from over a decade’s worth of her digital marketing and public relations experience.
ww: What has it been like working with your daughter? Has it changed your relationship?
SV: We were conscious from the start that we didn’t want it to change our relationship and I don’t think it has at all. It’s lovely to have the business in common as well as the obvious family connection. A concerted effort has been made on both sides to keep the business relationship the same as any other of our valued clients, plus both of us are careful not to let work conversations encroach on family time, and vice versa.
Both of us over the first year of working together have had valuable take-aways and learnings from the experience. Coming from a very process-driven working style previously, I’m becoming more accepting of creative ideas and open to trying new tactics of reaching our audiences, especially on social media channels not previously familiar to me. In return, I’ve taught my daughter to hone a laser-focus on specific topics and tasks we need to deliver on, rather than trying to tackle everything at the same time!
*Guitar FX Direct is an online retailer of globally-sourced, boutique effects pedals, priding itself in its wide and eclectic stock from the world’s most notable and high-quality manufacturers. The independent company was originally established in 2011 with both an online and high-street presence, before an ownership change in 2020 saw new MD Simon Viney move the business solely online.