QUIDS IN ; He started with an old desk and a fax machine then sold it for Pounds 50M. Meet the man who's EXCLUSIVE [People, The (England)]
(People, The (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) AT just two years old, Steve Smith would be taken to his dad's market stall at 6am on freezing mornings.
Money was tight but selling was clearly in the blood - and the family venture was to prove a powerful influence in the little boy's life.
Now a multi-millionaire, the founder of Poundland looks back fondly on his childhood learning to be a "real Del Boy".
Once his dad accidentally nearly sold HIM when someone tried to buy a cardboard box he was hiding in under the stall.
Poundland - the store chain that sells everything for a quid - turns over nearly Pounds 1billion a year and 80 per cent of the UK population has shopped there. Even Britney Spears has been a customer. And Steve, who sold his interest in the firm for Pounds 50million, lives in a 13-bedroom mansion.
But his is a real-life rags-toriches story. His childhood home was a tiny flat in Willenhall, West Midlands and his dad Keith was a draughtsman at a factory.
Before Steve was born, Keith launched a new enterprise to provide for his expected family.
Steve, who is now planning an online version of Poundland called poundshop.com, told the Sunday People: "When my mum Maureen got pregnant with me, Dad decided to sell boxes of pens to workmates and around houses.
"He bought a gross of pens and went knocking on doors.
"He soon found he was making more money as a trader, so he quit his job. Not that it was a fortune. We weren't well off at all."
Keith's next step was to start a local market stall. Steve went on: "Eventually I followed in his footsteps and worked on Bilston market. My father started taking me there from when I was two. Other kids were at the park on the swings, but the market was my playground. I used to hide in the boxes under the stalls and nearly got sold.
"A customer picked a box up, thinking there was something inside worth buying - but Dad realised it was me.
"I used to be straight out of school and on to the stall, loading vans, going round houses knocking on doors to try to sell things.
"It was a way of making pocket money. I was always interested in making cash. I'd get round to doing my homework later.
"I was more interested in getting into business than school. I ended up leaving with four CSEs."
By then his father had progressed to owning his own cash and carry.
Steve, 51, said: "I used to help out, sweeping the floor, making sure the stock was up to date and learning the ropes. I liked dealing with customers and I went on to run my own stalls."
The tycoon-in-waiting opened his own discount business in West Bromwich at the age of 16.
He recalled: "I sold everything from radios to soap, real Del Boy stuff. People used to come to us with job lots of stock that we'd buy and sell on. That's where the idea for Poundland came from. We had a box where we put things that fell out of the packaging.
"We would sell it for 10p an item. It was really popular. The box always sold out."
Dad Keith sold his successful cash and carry in 1988, and retired to Majorca. And while Steve was visiting his parents with wife Tracy, 50, Poundland was born. He said: "We discussed the box where we sold everything for 10p. The pound coin had quite recently come out. We linked that with the 10p box idea and came up with Poundland.
"I opened a little office with a second-hand desk and fax machine. Just my wife and myself.
"I would spend all day trying to convince landlords to let me open a shop where I sold everything for a pound.
"I didn't believe it would be so difficult. There was much opposition and I had many knockbacks, but I believed in the concept.
"That wasn't the only thing I had to deal with. I also had to make sure I had enough stock to put in the shops. Convincing suppliers was difficult.
"Eventually I found a shopping centre in Burton upon Trent that was struggling to rent out units. I convinced them to let me try and make it work at the beginning of December 1990. It was frantic trying to convince suppliers to give me stock in the run up to Christmas. And I had to scrape enough money to pay them.
"We opened that first shop on December 13 - and it sold out.
"People were waiting outside and we sold close to Pounds 13,000 of stock that first day.
"Then we had to work through the night to get the shelves stocked again." Steve soon set about expanding his business.
He said: "Our big breakthrough came when we got into Meadowhall in Sheffield, one of the UK's best shopping centres.
"We had snooty people saying they didn't want us but Eddie Healey, the owner, let us have a stall. I always remember my father coming from Majorca to see the grand opening. We had gone 54 hours without sleep."
Steve, Tracey and their colleagues had their work cut out because their margins were so tight. He recalled: "We'd be waiting at the wholesalers when they opened - which meant driving across the country or even sleeping in the van overnight.
"We wanted to be first there so we could reserve products.
"My wife and I travelled night and day to find products. But it was all worth it. I really loved it when I picked up a bargain I could pass on to the customers.
"I remember getting computer desks that retailed for Pounds 80 and I sold them for Pounds 1.
"We sold 30,000 golf clubs for Pounds 1 each. I'd managed to source them in less than an hour and they went in 40 minutes. I used to love it when that happened.
"At one time we had car radios for sale at Pounds 1." He sold his interest in Poundland in 2002, by then a million customers a week were going into his stores and 6,000 people were employed.
Steve said: "I didn't want to sell but one night one of my suppliers put a cheque for Pounds 10million in my top pocket. I didn't actually sell it for six months - and then I got close to Pounds 50million."
Steve now has a luxury lifestyle, with a mansion in Shropshire and homes in Florida and Majorca.
But he could not bring himself to retire and has since launched numerous businesses.
One provides investment loans to help dreams come true for other would-be entrepreneurs.
And he is looking forward to passing on more good deals to his customers with poundshop.com - as well as making a few quid himself of course.
Voice of the People: Page 14
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