Entrepreneur Q&A: Mark Gurtler, CEO of Greenbrokers

Mark Gurtler is a 42-year-old father of two who has grown a £1 million garden retail supply business from scratch. We ask him how he did it.

Tell us more about Greenbrokers and how it came about.

I started my career as a management consultant which paid incredibly well and gave me an opportunity to work with some fascinating companies and people at the top of their game. However, it didn’t provide the freedom or flexibility I needed.  I wanted to work for myself, which is why I ended up quitting my job to travel the world.

During my travels, I spotted an opportunity in the horticultural sector. This eventually led me to launch Greenbrokers, a company which sells artificial trees and flowers as well as living plants and other gardening products to consumers and large retail chains. We also have a growing celebrity fanbase, which is nice.

What’s its USP?

Our USP is product development and sourcing. I fly to the far east and all over Europe to source high quality products at the cheapest prices.  We are constantly looking to improve and develop our products both in terms of quality and manufacturing. The savings are then passed down to our consumers.

How did the closing of Focus DIY change your business model?

In the early days, our business was primarily offline and focused on several large key clients, Focus DIY being one of them. In 2011, they folded, shutting 178 stores and leaving us with a huge debt. It was a massive lesson learned and it quickly made me realise that it’s dangerous to be so exposed with one customer.

That’s why I made the decision to take Greenbrokers online. We still sell to many of the big retailers, but we are not over-reliant on them for trade anymore. Instead, we have a strong stream of business thanks to selling directly to customers on Amazon.

Before Focus DIY went bust, I would never have considered selling online. However, for a small business owner like me, it’s a much safer option, especially given the current UK economic climate.

Amazon offers an opportunity to innovate and test out new products, so we can grow with much less exposure to risk. Sales are good and further international expansion is there for the taking.

How does your business change from season to season?

Like any business, we have peaks and troughs, but I am very focused on business development and ensuring we have a product range that stretches across the year. We have diversified our product range to ensure we are the go-to supplier for everything horticultural all year round, from festive wreaths for December and beautiful bulbs for spring.

Greenbrokers has a range which is suitable for any time of the year

Beyond the traditional horticultural offering, there is an increasing demand for artificial plants such as spiral topiary trees, hanging baskets, bay and olive trees.

What sacrifices did you have to make to get the business going?

No business can be successful without sheer hard graft so for me, I think the biggest sacrifice I made was time. Giving up time with friends and family, working round the clock to ensure my business proposition was strong and I could deliver on everything I set out to achieve.

I’m definitely making up for that now though.  With my business selling well on Amazon, I can spend more time with my wife and two daughters. In fact, the local soft-play centre has never seen so much of me!

What are your goals as a business?

Our products are selling well in Spain and France, but I am hoping to expand our international presence. Like most businesses, the aim is to crack America, which we can hopefully do with Amazon’s help. Establishing more of a presence in Germany would also be good as it’s one of the biggest markets in Europe.

Aside from taking the business global, I will be working to expand and improve the product range.

We are on course to make around £1.5 million this year but naturally, I want to see that figure double or triple in the next couple of years.

What tips do you have for readers on achieving work-life balance?

I remember, when growing up in Denmark, how busy my own dad was and how he spent so much time in the office – I didn’t want to be like that.

So for me, one of the best decisions I ever made was to move my business online and set up on Amazon. Not only did this allow me to engage with millions of potential customers, but it allowed us to access their warehousing and logistics network. This means I can focus on driving the business forward, rather than getting bogged down in hiring storage space, trucks and employees to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Greenbrokers also sells wood boxes

In turn I get to spend more time with my family and the work-life balance is fantastic.  If I want to take my daughters to a café or playground, I can do so without worrying about ‘being in the office’.

Logistically everything is taken care of, so all I need to do is monitor emails, which I can do remotely from anywhere in the world. In fact, when I was on holiday in May, the business sold 1800 units which generated a fair bit of revenue.  I could really relax and enjoy time with my family, knowing the business was ticking over.

If anyone has the opportunity to take their business online, just go for it!

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