Driving forward on rough roads

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At the Autosport International Show at the NEC Arena earlier this month, a passing reporter with a strong Welsh accent calls over: “Hey Damian, I saw another one of your shops the other day. You’re popping up all over the place.”

Damian Cole (pictured) is something of a local celebrity in Wales, known for his rapidly-expanding retail chain, Get Connected, and his endeavours on the world rally circuit behind the wheel of a Hyundai Accent Evo. Which is why we meet at a motor show in Birmingham to discuss the good fortunes of his mobile phone dealership.

“We want to be the biggest independent retailer in the UK by the end of the year,” says Cole. “That means surpassing JAG and opening another 35 stores. It may seem ambitious but I’m supremely confident we can achieve that target.”

At present, Get Connected has 49 stores, having just this month opened up in a busy shopping centre in Cwmbran, near Newport, and in Maesteg, in Bridgend.

Most Get Connected stores are in Wales, but Cole is increasingly looking across the border. He runs premises in Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, Hereford and Ludlow already, and stores in Worcester and Stroud, in Gloucestershire, will open before the end of the month and take the chain past 50 sites.

Turnover topped £8 million for the first time in 2008, just as the ‘credit crunch’ hit and swathes of the high street looked inwards or collapsed altogether.

Even southwest independent JAG, which runs around 78 stores, has cancelled a pre-order of 57 shops from Midlands-based Go Mobile and consolidated its long term portfolio significantly over the past six months (and, lately, faced administration after bank Lloyds withdrew its £2.3 million overdraft).

Cole, however, is unafraid of recession for his burgeoning retail empire. He does not consider it time to consolidate, or to take an uncharacteristically conservative line.

His expansionist ploy is measured, anyway, and Get Connected runs on minimal capital expenditure.

Full article in Mobile News issue 431 (January 26, 2009).

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