Business journey: Rob Stone – Instaloft
Following the closure of his business in 2014, Rob Stone found himself in a difficult situation. With his income stream removed, Rob struggled to pay his mortgage and provide for his nine children, and quickly his debt began to spiral. Determined to make things work, Rob scoured the market for an opportunity he could pursue.
After approaching a loft installation company and convincing them to support his venture, Rob began building his own business, Instaloft. Today, Instaloft is the largest installer of loft storage solutions in the UK, employing 127 people and turning over millions of pounds a year. This is Rob’s story.
Tell us about Instaloft and how it was founded.
The business started in October 2014 on what can only be described as a shoestring budget. At the time, I was facing some difficulties in my life, and was struggling to see a way forward.
I’d had to close a business, which left me with no income, and I was borrowing money from my parents to pay my mortgage. I was going to car boot sales at weekends, selling everything I had simply to put food on the table for my nine children. The biggest problem was that I couldn’t afford to pay my bills and my debt was spiralling. I was on my last legs and then my dad told me he could no longer help me financially.
Hoping to give running a business one last go, I searched for franchise opportunities and eventually stumbled across one for loft ladders. Looking into it, I realised I couldn’t afford a franchise, but I knew it was something that I could do.
Despite having no tools, no materials, and no prior experience in the industry, I spoke to a company called LoftZone and they were keen to work with me… until I told them I couldn’t pay. I talked them into sending me some materials and after a customer accepted my quote, I asked LoftZone if they could give me the kit to do the job.
I promised to pay them back the day the customer paid me. They agreed, and it all started from there.
What made you want to own your own business?
Desperation. I had nine children and no money – I was in a difficult position. In my previous business, I’d been involved in loft installation, and I wanted to do something similar but with a unique selling point to differentiate my services from others. I found out about LoftZone and I thought it was something I’d really like to do, but I didn't have £10,000 to buy a franchise.
I found a way to get started but I knew this was my last shot at owning and running my own business, so I had to give it my all, otherwise I would find myself back to square one.
Was starting your own business what you expected?
I don’t really know what I expected, I just needed it to work. The start-up was very much a beg and borrow situation, scraping together the few basic materials I needed - even down to borrowing a screwdriver from my dad. Once I had completed my first installation, I just had to get on with it.
As the process consumed me, I pressed forward. But just as things seemed to be coming together, I fell down someone’s stairs while doing a quote and sprained one of my wrists. I couldn’t work, meaning once again I wasn’t able to earn.
This setback could have cost me the business, but from it I learned the value of paying someone else to do the work. I realised that I could work on more quotes and used the time to start to grow the business. It was a lightbulb moment for me.
Where does the company find itself today?
Instaloft is now the UK’s largest installer of loft storage solutions. We install loft ladders, flooring, and insulation in 900 to 1,000 homes per month across the UK, via six different depots and 127 experienced employees.
We create storage space so our customer can enjoy their living space. We are the leading installer of the award-winning Loftzone Storefloor Raised Loft Boarding - the only BBA approved system that will protect your insulation. We work mainly in the private housing sector.
If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would have introduced systems and processes a lot sooner, and I would have invested in learning more about the financial side of the business.
Getting a business coach as soon as possible is something I would definitely have done as well. You need to set up your business with an end goal in mind and not just pay yourself a wage.
If I'd known some of these things at the beginning, I could have saved myself a lot of stress.
You’ve grown your business without external investment – can you tell us what this experience has been like?
Seven years ago, we had a £200 bad debt credit card so I could get started and the company has been self-funding ever since. I have learned so much on this journey.
I’ve made mistakes, realised that I needed to understand the numbers, built a strong team around me, and steered my ‘ship’ with conviction, believing in my team and myself.
What are the short- and long-term plans for the business?
Getting through the pandemic has been the main priority of late. There were a couple of shaky months at the start of the pandemic, but then business boomed as people were stuck at home and started to spend money on home improvements.
Fortunately, Instaloft was still able to function. I could have taken on more staff to meet the demand, but I knew that the ‘boom’ we were experiencing might not last once life returned to some sort of normality, so I was cautious not to over expand.
We are on target to turnover more than £14m and generate £2m in profit by the year ending 2021. Long-term plans are to double revenue to £30m within the next three years.
Tell us about how you became a shareholder in LoftZone.
In a nutshell, there was a very real risk that LoftZone might see what I was achieving and try to do the same, and in fact they did try. I approached them about buying and after some persuading, three of the five shareholders agreed to sell to me.
It was somewhat overpriced at the start of the negotiations and almost fell through more than once, but the deal went through, and it was a great move for Instaloft in securing supply of our core product.
What has been your proudest moment since founding Instaloft?
There have been so many over the years, but overall, it’s how the team rallied around during the first lockdown last year and how they pulled together through those times to help us fight our way through the challenges. It really made me realise what a fantastic group of people we have working with us.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business?
Don't underestimate the importance of numbers. People often go in and offer the best price guarantees and the cheapest prices, but it’s important to think about business growth.
Don’t just think about giving yourself an income, look at how you can grow and always have a plan.
- Rob Stone founded loft instillation provider Instaloft after contacting LoftZone and convincing them to support him by loaning the materials needed to complete his first instillation.
- After an accident left Rob unable to work, he revaluated his business strategy and realised the importance of taking on staff to facilitate the growth of Instaloft.
- If he could go back and begin his journey again, Rob says he would focus on systems and processes, and work with a business coach to better understand the financial elements of running a business.
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