Michael Oszmann, Founder of online marketplace Buy Britain, discusses the idea behind his business and how plans to help other small businesses from within the UK.
In March 2020, Michael Oszmann lost his contract with Shell due to the pandemic and oil price crash. This left him with a decision to try and seek more work during the crisis, or to try something different. He decided to try and turn the negative situation into a positive and start something of his own.
The ensuing economic chaos, caused by the lockdowns, made him think that setting up an online marketplace with exclusively British-made products was an idea that could help to make a difference. Here, he tells us all about his business:
Tell us all about your business?
Buy Britain is a marketplace to discover goods made by local UK businesses. The company began in July 2020 and was officially launched in the November. Since then, we have had 140 local businesses register with us with sales growing every month.
Our current tagline is “The Home of British Made Products.” Our mission is to support local businesses, jobs and skills by growing their online sales in the UK and worldwide.
I’m the Founder and CEO of the company, but as a start-up that means doing a bit of everything and getting your hands dirty. I’m lucky to have an excellent small team who support the business, particularly on the technology and marketing.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The genesis of the idea to support local business was growing up seeing my grandfather’s 100+ year old oak furniture business. They make an extremely high-quality product with very skilled craftspeople, all employed locally. However, they have struggled to adapt to the digital and e-commerce world we now live in. It’s already a barrier for them to set up an e-commerce website, it’s then a whole other thing for them to market it well online.
I’ve also spent some time working abroad in Asia and seen the high regard with which other markets view products ‘made in Britain’ / ‘Brand Britain’ so I felt that longer-term I might be able to create something which starts as ‘local people supporting local businesses’ and evolves into ‘Britain’s shop window to the World’
The idea then grew and evolved last year as I realised several trends, such as Covid driving online sales and the desire to shop more locally, were converging to make it the right time for this.
In your opinion, what makes British products so special?
For me, variety is the spice of life. Many people say “nothing is made in Britain anymore” and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We have everything from brands with great heritage to very modern, innovative businesses with stunning designs and engineering prowess. I think it’s important to support local businesses, wherever you live, to keep that variety and innovation alive. Otherwise, things risk becoming overly homogenised, mass-produced and a bit boring.
Did you have any reservations about starting a business during a pandemic?
Clearly it’s a massive risk to start a business at any time, let alone in a pandemic. There’s an opportunity cost versus working in a corporate job and earning a solid income. I didn’t really hesitate – I’m passionate about this business and had been building up to taking a leap for a while. The pandemic just gave me an extra push to take the leap earlier than planned as I lost the consulting contract I was on at a major FTSE company.
How have you found life in the food and beverage industry?
As a bit of a foody, I love it. We have amazing products in this country and it’s great to be able to do my part to showcase them. We have amazing kinds of honey, gins, game meats, chocolates and more, on the site right now. There are more great products coming soon. Then there’s the Buy Britain Wine Club – it has been a real pleasure to start discovering some of the amazing hidden gem vineyards in the UK and the stunning – award-winning – wines they produce.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Tough one! I’ve been lucky to get great advice and learn from many top people. I’d say one key thing I learned in my consulting time (from the other strategists) is to understand your business model and ‘own the data’. That doesn’t mean drawing a line, and saying you’re going to make however many millions in 5 years’ time, but it means understanding what are the important levers that drive your business, setting goals around those and then focusing on them as you experiment.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I’d say the biggest challenge right now is building our organic traffic. The major platforms like Google and Facebook constantly adapt their algorithms to make it trickier for businesses to get organic reach, forcing you to pay for ads. However, that’s not very sustainable for a small, self-funded start-up business when you’re bidding against very large players like Amazon. We will get there but it does take time, effort and persistence!
What’s the best decision you’ve made so far?
We made a conscious choice to try and be hands-on and personal in our approach to supporting the businesses that join our platform and engage with us. Everything from giving them ideas (from our data) through to helping them set up their products. It’s a lot of time and effort from us, but it sets us apart from other platforms. Our small business partners tell us that how much they value our support and approach, which they simply cannot get from the major platforms. We see it as an investment in the long-term success of the platform and the small businesses that are on it.
Do you have any regrets?
Not so far. There are lots of things that we try or spend some money on and sometimes they don’t work out or disappoint. But it’s about learning lessons from those very quickly rather than worrying about the sunk cost. That normally then steers us in the right direction. That’s the advantage we have of being small and nimble right now.
What is one thing that would make running your business a lot easier?
I suppose everyone wants more time and more resources. If I had to say one specific thing it would be an easier way to consistently create great content marketing. It’s essential for us to grow our organic reach, but it is also a huge time/cost investment versus the other prioritise we have on our plate like developing and improving the tech platform and developing new business lines.
What’s next for your business?
We’re in discussions with some really interesting potential partners who could bring some really exciting new product lines and even new business models to the site. In the short term we’re looking to keep expanding the range we have available for consumers, whilst expanding our revenue streams. Once we have reached a sustainable level of scale domestically, we have bold ambitions for overseas expansion, helping our businesses to export, providing business support services and possibly expanding into B2B business models.
Business Matters Profile – Online marketplace ‘Buy Britain’