Northampton couple's £10 million pound business booms with helping hand from online auction website

A Northampton couple's online business which began by selling a family member's unwanted items on eBay will celebrate surpassing a total turnover of £10 million in the coming days.

Monday, 4th December 2017, 5:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 9:05 am
Barry and Kate
Barry and Kate

Barry Tong, 40, and his wife Katy, 39, have been selling online since December 2010 and have been so successful they have never had to apply for a loan or borrow money to grow their business.

The couple's company, Stephensons Online Ltd, primarily sells beauty products and will even launch its own men's grooming brand, Raw Supremo, next month.

With their total turnover since 2010 set to surpass the £10 million mark in the next few days, the couple has set themselves an annual turnover target of £10 million by 2021.

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The Stephensons Online warehouse team (L to R): Linda, Maddison, Amber, Taylor, Kaysha, Alan, Keith, Liz, Barry and Monika.

"We want to be able to say that in 10 years we've gone from £10 to £10 million," said Barry, whose first expenditure on his and his wife's company was the tenner it cost to help set the business up.

"We started off with bits and bobs, then we moved on to other brands, and now we have our own brand."

Stephensons Online was established in December 2010 following the loss of Barry's maternal grandmother.

Already facing redundancy and a three-month council notice period for rent on his grandmother’s bungalow, his wife Katy suggested using eBay to sell the items and when they started to move quickly, the seed of a business was planted.

Barry and Kate are launching their own range brand of men's grooming products in January, produced locally in Northampton.

The watershed moment came for Barry when he saw that a bath ornament belonging to his grandmother resembling a duck had sold for more than expected. "It sold for £8 and I thought 'who is buying this stuff?!'" said Barry.

In early 2011 Barry and Katy, who have two children together, continued to list second-hand items while researching the wider opportunities that eBay could offer. January yielded £1,000 of profit, increasing to a profit of £2,605 in February.

When they moved in together in March their surplus of belongings created a much-needed stock increase that had only one inevitable destination – returning £6,000 in profit by the end of April.

By this time Barry had found a new job, however, it was now Katy’s turn to be confronted with redundancy. This became the catalyst for evolving their eBay sales into a part-time business that Katy could operate from home.

The Stephensons Online warehouse team (L to R): Linda, Maddison, Amber, Taylor, Kaysha, Alan, Keith, Liz, Barry and Monika.

Car boot sales became hunting grounds for inventory, which in turn evolved into buying new items from wholesalers. By the Christmas season, their sales were generating around £20k a month.

In March 2012 the company went from sole trader to a fully limited company because they could no longer operate from home.

"There's only a certain amount of time before you have to stop going to the post office with hundreds of packages," said Barry.

The company moved out of the family home in Sixfields and into a small business unit where they hired their first employee.

Barry and Kate are launching their own range brand of men's grooming products in January, produced locally in Northampton.

In the first financial year as a limited company, Stephensons Online Ltd turned over £750,000. Aspiring to reach a million in turnover, Barry and Katy reinvested all the profits back into the business.

Increasing their inventory and adding more lines they actually overshot and took their turnover to just short of £1.5 million by the beginning of 2014. Barry had since taken the risk to quit his new job and join the company full time, making it their sole source of income.

The gamble paid off as annual sales continued to grow and currently stand in excess of £2 million. Barry and Katy now aspire to grow the company's annual turnover to £10 million by 2021.

Today, Stephensons Online Ltd represent over 60 brands - many of whom work exclusively with the Northampton company - are active on 20 of eBay’s international platforms and continue to operate in-house only now from a 7,500 sq ft warehouse in Northampton. The company receives an order every 20 seconds.

Barry says the reason for the business' success lies in convenience because people can order their preferred item online rather than visiting the shop, and in most cases the product will arrive on their doorstep the following day.

But although it may seem like an easy way to make money, Barry and Katy would not have arrived at this point without putting in the hours.

"Kate was working some days from 7am until 3am the next day," explained Barry.

"It's really hard graft to make it happen.

"When we first started I think the only people who believed in it were me and Kate."