Friday, 14 May 2021

Let's Get Down to Business: Michael Osborn, Touchstone2C

Let's Get Down to Business: Michael Osborn, Touchstone2C

MICHAEL OSBORN is the founder of Touchstone2C, a provider of quality stereo home audio equipment, and Air Audio Distribution, the UK distributor of Hana audio products. Born in Walthamstow and raised in Bedford, he was dyslexic as a child and failed his eleven-plus exam. At age 15, he went college to study art, then took a multi-disciplinary design degree course followed by an MA course in industrial design engineering. He and his wife Laura, who is professor of management studies at Cass Business School, moved from London to Hambleden 25 years ago and in 2008 to Shepherds Green, where now live with their dog Daisy. Michael is a vegetarian likes to cook. He and Laura have a narrowboat moored in Caversham and enjoy spending time on the River Thames and canals.

Describe your business

I am passionate about music and high-quality reproduction of it in the home, so I help people choose the best sound and best value audio component or system from a carefully selected range of brands.

How many people does it employ?

There’s just me. I outsource services like book-keeping.

What did you do before you started this business?

My first job after graduating was in Southampton as a product designer for a company manufacturing mobile ice cream “huts”. They asked me to design units for the National Trust, English Heritage and other prestige clients to sell teas, coffees, cakes etc. After two years this became their most successful product line but I didn’t think they were paying me enough, so I left to join a friend in London who offered me accommodation in return for helping to renovate his house. I started teaching design two days a week and established a design and build business. I then formed a partnership with another designer to manufacture commercial lighting for offices. We were first to design energy efficient uplighting and became very successful. By then I had married Laura, who was lecturing in Oxford. We moved to Hambleden and I began commuting to London by motorcycle. I didn’t plan to do long term, especially after having a bad accident, so I sold my share in the business, designed a range of hifi products and had them manufactured in China, selling under the brand name Astin Trew. Within eight years I had good sales in Europe but I never really made a lot of money so I sold the company. I was approached by a Japanese manufacturer to become their UK distributor and jumped at the opportunity. At that time lots of people around Henley were asking me for advice about setting up home audio systems. which led me to establishing Touchstone2C.

When did you start your business?

Five years ago.

What was your objective?

I love designing and selling my own products alongside quality products made by others.

Who influenced you?

I don’t think anybody did. My Dad was an accountant in local government and never really understood me but his advice was to “do what you’re best at”.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

Never had a mentor but Virgin founder Richard Branson was a great role model in his early days.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I wouldn’t have been so ambitious when I set up Astin Trew. My ambitions outgrew my funds.

What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having?

Last year was my best year ever so I’ve been very fortunate. So many people have been working from home and demand for my services shot up.

How do you market your business?

Mainly through word of mouth. I did the Henley Home and Garden Show and have exhibited at the Old Fire Station in Henley but recommendations are the main source of new clients.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

The satisfaction of doing it myself, the achievement and the enjoyment.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Time. I get distracted very easily, so when a big project comes in it can be tricky to manage my time.

How important are online sales?

I don’t sell online but I get enquiries through my websites. My business is about people, not “box-shifting”.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

To be honest with everybody. If you aren’t, it always will come back and bite you. And treat customers the way you would like to be treated.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Put a business plan in place and understand the financials or you will fail. Invest as little money as possible in “stuff” and as much money as you can in marketing.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Gosh, I’ve made so many! The biggest was underestimating the difficulty in raising equity capital for Astin Trew.

What three qualities are most important to success?

Enthusiasm, endurance, and financial savvy.

What’s the secret of your success?

According to my wife, it’s my overwhelming enthusiasm — I’m, a glass half full person. And hard work.

How organised are you?

As disorganised as I can get away with! Actually, when I’m on a project, I’m super-organised.

How do you dress for work?

Smart casual when meeting customers.

What can’t you do without every day?

A walk in the country with my dog and music.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

I take an hour out from my office to eat lunch and re-focus.

Do you continue to study?

Yes, I study what’s going on in the audio business. I’m also very interested in green issues and technology.

What do you read?

Mainly magazines, fiction books on holiday, but I listen to music mostly. I read the Henley Standard of course.

How are you planning for retirement?

To spend more time on the canal system in the UK.

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