Celebrating 20 Years in the Industry

Celebrating 20 Years in the Industry


Annette Lees

This month, 2tech is officially celebrating 20 years in the industry. We are incredibly grateful to our wonderful customers and suppliers who have been integral in the growth of 2tech over the years. We are using this momentous occasion to take a look at 2 decades of 2tech with a post from Annette Lees...

I started 2tech with no experience of running a business, and equal and opposing large measures of confidence and naivety. I always tell people that was probably a good thing because if you knew how hard it was going to be at times, then you probably wouldn’t start a business.

I left university with a marketing degree, went home to my parents in North Wales to apply for jobs in London and was dumb enough to think I could do actual marketing. I even applied for (I’m so embarrassed to admit this) a Marketing Manager role at BA (yes, British Airways!). Unsurprisingly – although I was genuinely disappointed – I didn’t get the BA job.

I think that university can give students too much arrogance and not enough real-life experience. Who can blame them when they expect to find a high-paid job straight after? That rarely happens as they lack practical skills. (It is the same for schools – how about teaching kids business skills? Real-life interactions, like phone calls and meetings, veg gardening to feed yourself?).

So, I ‘lowered’ my sights on to sales roles and I was fortunate enough to start my career working for a small travel trade magazine. I sold advertising space and leaflets. They gave me 2 weeks of hard sales training: cold-calling, negotiating... the lot. This on-the-job training has stood me in good stead ever since.

In fact, the quality I’m most proud of is my sales ability. I can talk to anyone, call anyone and be what they need me to be to make the relationship work effectively and to everyone’s benefit. This means suppliers, customers, business opportunities and social. Again, this really should be part of the school curriculum. After climbing quickly through several similar roles with bigger magazines and more money, I was headhunted by a 5 Star Mauritius hotel chain. They asked me to set up their UK office which meant dealing with the press, airline, the tourist board and key travel agencies. I was based on the top floor of Ralph Lauren in Bond St with a French PA, thank you very much!

"..the quality I’m most proud of is my sales ability."

After a year I felt constricted (I was even told what to wear) and micromanaged from a distance. I decided to start out on my own. I didn’t have a plan, a business idea, or a nest egg of money. I guess this is where the naivety came in. However, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done - we’re here celebrating my 20th year in business together. I’m delighted I was naive.

I started 2tech Ltd in Feb 2003. I’d quit my flash job and helped a mate out over Christmas packing boxes for the courier to collect. He ran an online consumer electronics website selling in-car DVDs and the like - sales were good. In fact, he couldn’t get the stock out the door fast enough. To me, this looked like a license to print money so I found a consumer electronic of my own to sell. Now don’t laugh, remember this was TWENTY YEARS AGO...I sold Digital Frames! I’d heard about the product on tv, then I found the only manufacturer in the USA called Pacific Digital. I spoke to them and they agreed to sell me some product which I would, in turn, sell in the UK. A close friend worked with me to build a crap website and to start selling. I also started contacting retailers to sell the product at volume. Almost immediately, a major retailer I’d pitched the product to (I think Dixons) contacted the manufacturer to buy direct and they were good enough to notify me. I realised what I needed was some sort of legal document to prevent this circumnavigation of my efforts, so I blagged my first exclusivity contract by promising a specific number of sales and promotions in exchange for an exclusive supply of that brand in the territory of the UK market.

"Our key brands were selected by me because I like them, and use them at my home. I believe in them and what they stand for."

The reason I go into such detail is that 20 years on, this is EXACTLY what 2tech does, minus the blagging. We find an amazing new product (usually from the US) which fits our customer demographic and general product categories, we negotiate an exclusivity contract that protects our efforts and then we build and launch the website, handle their socials, PR, digital marketing, advertising and manage their Amazon store professionally. We’re one of a handful of Amazon’s Prime warehouses natch and sell to every part of the British retail industry from supermarkets down to fantastic local independent stores.

Our key brands were selected by me because I like them, use them at my home and believe in them and what they stand for. I am healthy and a bit of an adrenaline junkie (run a business for a few years in a recession and come back to me), largely plant-based and environmentally aware. I love growing my own food, cooking it and fermenting it. I can mostly be found wearing wellies or helmets - I guess I’m the director of the company.

To be honest, my sales super-power is less relevant in this changing landscape of communication. Communicating via email, phone calls and meetings IRL - this just doesn't resonate with millennial buyers; instead, we communicate via LinkedIn and attract them digitally to our B2B site. It feels a bit colder to me, but whatever works.

Milestones over the 20 years include...

- Receiving a faxed order for £350k from M&S in 2007

...losing a quarter of it instantly to “labelling errors”

- Turning over £1.25m in 2008 (back when a £million actually meant something!)

...promptly losing all of it in the recession which followed without ever having paid off my mortgage

- Borrowing from the bank of mum because banks never help when you actually need them to

...learning the oh-so-hard way, never to mix business and pleasure

And so on. No doubt many of you reading this have learned the same mistakes the hard way too.

I am incredibly proud of where we are now, the people I work with, the brands we distribute and the supplier relationships we have. Despite a recession and general austerity, we are super-excited for 2023 and onwards. There are many large opportunities presenting themselves and constant internal development. Over 20 years, 2tech and I have gone from stacking boxes by my front door and working in my spare room to a large warehouse in Denbigh with a great team working there, an HQ in Guildford, successful expansion into Europe and we are taking the US by storm as we speak.

So the future? I am constantly learning new tech and ways to improve the business and pitching them to my team, who are definitely not 'Yes' men. I'm always on the lookout for “the next big thing”. I have multiple side hustles and zero free time to enjoy the life I have created for myself. Perhaps that should be my goal for the next decade – a quality work-life balance.

Nowadays, our current top brand is the amazingly simple yet unique brand My Little DaVinci Frames which despite having worked with them for 15 years, continues to grow and grow as we hone our marketing skills. So in 20 years, we’ve gone full circle, backwards actually - digital frames to analogue frames.

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