From city trader to being a mum of three and then going on to set up Rush UK – one of the UK’s leading trampoline parks – we just had to find out how Sam Williams has done it all. And to think it could have been another story entirely had BA accepted her application to become a pilot!
Why we think Sam rocks:
Came top in her year as a Maths graduate from Bath University. In 1994 had a graduate role at Arthur Anderson, but decided accountancy was not for her. Won a scholarship to do a Masters in Mathematics at Oxford University. In 1996 applied to train as a Pilot at BA and got turned down. Went on to work for JP Morgan and for the next 8 years also worked for Credit Suisse and Deutsche as a hedge fund derivatives structurer and marketer. In 2005 stopped work to have a family and during this time trained as a freelance personal trainer! In 2014 partnered with a US manufacturer of trampoline parks to set up Rush. Launched Rush UK:High Wycombe in 2015 and Rush UK:Birmingham in November 2016.
Sanzen Digital’s interview with Sam Williams, Rush UK
SD: You first learnt about trampoline parks watching an episode of E-entertainment! What spurred you to think this would be a great business idea for you?
SW: My friends will tell you that I’m always coming up with ideas for a business, which are often hare-brained in their opinion! And for a long while, my priority had been to do something around my kids. I knew I wanted to do something that was similar to a family member club; as I got tired of spending time with my kids in cold village halls drinking nasty coffee. I wanted a place that was a heaven for the kids and a haven for the parents (which subsequently has been my personal motto for Rush). There were places like that popping up in London but these were expensive and I just knew there was a potential market out here in Bucks.
SD: So how does a mum of three from a corporate banking background launch a trampoline park?
SW: I did tonnes of research, and put together a business plan. I talked to potential investors, which was a real learning curve for me. But I eventually partnered with a leading US manufacturer of trampoline parks who was looking to get into the UK market. I literally did everything from my kitchen table. I looked for ideal locations, negotiated lease terms with landlords, applied for planning consent, worked on the planning of the layout; basically all the project management, recruitment, and marketing. I also knew I had to be willing to invest and hire someone to help with communications and PR which has paid off tremendously.
“I want other women, especially other mums, to know it is possible to achieve running a business on this scale if they want to – you just need to stick with it. Whenever I felt guilty about the kids, my mum would remind me that the kids will survive; that it’s a small sacrifice and we would come out the other end – and we have”
SD: What has been your biggest challenge as an SME and how have you met that challenge?
SW: The challenge has been catching up on ourselves in terms of the systems, process and people. We had to move quickly to secure locations and as a result grown from zero to two sites within a year. We’re now in the process of making the business more efficient. And having my husband Tim, an experienced hedge fund investment manager and previously trained as an accountant come on board, has helped me meet this challenge.
Also as a mother of three young children I had the added challenge of needing to be around for them. I have a fantastic au pair, but I still had to do as much as I could. I often started my day around 5am to fit the work on the project. During that first year, I may have been there in body for my kids but not in mind and that was difficult. But now things are more settled I’m able to give more of my time again. Weekends have become family time once more.
SD: Your husband Tim joined Rush full time last year, how has that been for the two of you?!
SW: Tim decided to leave his job in the city to join me and to be honest the first few months working together were challenging because we are quite different. When you look at his desk it’s pristine and ordered and mine is chaotic. Both of us had to learn how to work alongside each other in a complementary way. Admittedly, I was slightly territorial as High Wycombe was my baby; everything and everyone was coming to me, and it was hard for me to let go. He made me realise that we need to put processes and proper systems in place so that everything wasn’t coming to me, and I could think more clearly.
It’s totally different now because we are so complementary and I’ve learned so much about myself in terms of what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. Building the park in Birmingham is down to Tim really. I found the site and got the planning consent, designed the interiors, and still did all the marketing, the creative bit, but as for all the rest, it was Tim.
We can’t help but ask a few questions about digital marketing…
SD: What role does digital marketing play in the success of your business?
SW: It plays a huge role. It’s the quickest and easiest way we can get messages out to our customers and to get bookings. It allows us to send out messages about events and for us to engage with our customers and the community who follow us. The challenge with marketing Rush is that it is for everyone – so how do you target it for teenagers and young adults without putting off mummies with toddlers? And our peak audience is 8-12 year olds. So we have to use different mediums to reach those different groups and digital marketing enables us to do that.
Facebook for instance, is very much for families and mums because it’s typically our generation who are on Facebook. Instagram and snapchat for young adults and teenagers. We’re looking to increase our 12 and 18 years old audience – and YouTube is a great channel for this group. I’ve recently started working with a cool and edgy YouTuber called Ryan Taylor to do some stuff for Rush
SD: How much of the digital marketing do you outsource or do in house?
SW: I use a marketing contractor for 30 hours a week and digital communications is around £3,500 a month across both parks. I could bring this in-house but rather than having someone on the payroll it just works out better for me. And we use a small agency to manage our SEO and write blog content for £1000 a month.
SD: What’s the most exciting thing in the horizon for Rush UK? A Rush 3 perhaps?
SW: That would be great! But I would rather run two parks really well than expand too quickly and run them badly. I know it sounds really boring but the exciting thing has been finishing all the building work and just looking forward to try and run both parks more efficiently. To actually drive costs down, push sales up and pay down debt. And because we have grown so quickly and invested so much to get to where we are – it would be great just to have a year of consolidation. Our turnover is great, but it’s now about improving our margins and seeing our returns that way.
SD: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and what do you wish someone told you when you were starting out?
SW: If you believe in something strongly enough you should take the risk and go for it. But sometimes the voice of reason stops you from taking certain financial risks. If it’s possible, make sure you are the majority stakeholder in your own business. Also I want other women, especially other mums, to know it is possible to achieve running a business on this scale; you just need to stick with it. Whenever I felt guilty about the kids, my mum would remind me that the kids will survive; that it’s a small sacrifice and we would come out the other end – and we have!
SD: What can you tell us about yourself that we wouldn’t get from your resume?
SW: If you look at my resume – I’m a high flying city trader type who has travelled the world – so someone who doesn’t know me would think I was probably a hard-nosed careerist. Nothing could be further than that. I love flying and my first career ambition was to be a pilot. But my main priority since being a mum is having my kids around me, and not to spend my time commuting to a job in the city. Also having material things has never been my thing. I’ve just always had an internal drive to prove to myself and want to do something that’s both cerebral and challenging.
End of Interview.
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