Bankrupt and with £300 of stock to fastest growing chain of outdoor retail stores in the UK and £110m+ turnover business.
A good entrepreneur is always alive to opportunities. Paul Caplan, owner of Go Outdoors, the UK outdoor goods chain, picked up one of the biggest bargains of his life – not the barbecue he went out to buy, but the shop where he bought it.
His description of entering Sheffield’s Camping and Caravanning Centre in 1996 and falling in love with what he saw. CCC was a huge emporium selling everything from tents to enamel mugs. “I was intrigued about all the different products they sold. I had never really seen them sold under one roof.” When he got home, he told his wife: ‘One day, I’d like to buy that business’.”
Within two years, Mr Caplan had his wish. A contact told him the owner was selling the outlet, near the Bramall Lane stadium of Sheffield United football club. The store’s manager, John Graham, wanted to buy it but had neither the money nor the right experience. Mr Caplan, however, had just sold his jeans store chain, Bankrupt Clothing Company, for £4.6m in a management buy-out backed by 3i, the private equity firm. He backed Mr Graham with £100,000, for a 60 per cent stake. YFM, a fund manager, and other investors put up about £700,000 in loans and equity while banks lent £800,000. Mr Graham received 20 per cent in recognition of his operational nous. In 2004, the store was rebranded Go Outdoors, and it is now a chain of 27 stores with outlets in England, Scotland and Wales.
Go Outdoors is the third stage of a business career during which Mr Caplan has moved between shopping arcade pitch and boardroom suite – and during which he has also gone bankrupt and lost two homes (one to creditors; one, an Elizabethan manor, to divorce).
He still buzzes with energy and seems to have the instinctive retailer’s knack of knowing what the customer wants before he or she does. “I’ve had the advantage of running a business from top to bottom, even driving the van when I started,” he says.
“I’ve had plenty of experience of having to pick myself up from the bottom and build an empire from scratch. This first-hand experience will allow me to offer invaluable insights into the challenges that entrepreneurs face, and how you can overcome the numerous hurdles put in your way. The Yorkshire Mafia is all about bringing together businesses from across the region and helping each other by sharing knowledge and trading with each other, and I’m really excited to be a part of this great community.”
Paul Caplan, President and Founder, GO Outdoors