Friday, 14 May 2021

Let's Get Down to Business: Alan Mann, proprietor of Henley Sports

Let's Get Down to Business: Alan Mann, proprietor of Henley Sports

ALAN MANN is the proprietor of Henley Sports on the corner of Reading Road and Greys Road, Henley. He was born at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and grew up in Henley, attending Badgemore Primary School and then Gillotts School, leaving when he was 16. He now lives in Woodley with his wife Monika, a practitioner nurse, and their daughters, Abigail, 13, and Lizzie, nine. Alan coaches an under-13s girls’ football team at AFC Reading in Woodley and enjoys playing golf and tennis when he finds time.

Describe your business

We are a traditional sports shop stocking a wide range of equipment and clothing as well as offering customers advice.

How many people does it employ?

Primarily it’s just me but I often have part-time help from Simon, who used to be the manager at the Gerry Clarks sports shop that used to be in Duke Street. At weekends and school holidays my daughters occasionally help out.

What did you do before you started this business?

When I left school I was taken on by a Youth Training Scheme football academy in Oxford which resulted in me joining the playing staff at Watford FC. I played a number of games in their reserves but never made it to the first team and realised I needed a job. I was determined to stay in sport and got a job at Gerry Clarks. At the time Henley Sports and Gerry Clarks were owned by the same person. They were very good to me, allowing me to take Saturdays off in order to continue playing football as a semi-professional. The shop in Duke Street was destroyed in a major fire. Most of the staff there redeployed at two other shops in Oxford and Wallingford but I became manager of Henley Sports. After the fire, and the long process that followed, the owner decided to retire and sell the business by auction. I made a bid and fortunately it was accepted. This was in 2006.

What was your objective?

My passion for sport and being around sports people was the main driver. Nothing else appealed to me.

Who or what influenced you?

I just decided I wanted to do it. Fortunately, my wife encouraged me.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

It has all worked out quite well, thankfully. I’ve often thought I’d like a more central location, however.

How is your business doing?

At the moment we’re on a par with last year.

How do you market your business?

I don’t really.

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

Flexibility in the hours I work and being able to take the girls to school. Also being in control of what I buy in and what I sell. I get a good feeling when I know I’ve stocked the right stuff.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Trying to get the residents of Henley and the surrounding area to shop local. I get really upset when I see people who live in nice homes and drive good cars buying cheap trainers for their kids from big outlet retailers, for example. If we want to keep the independent shops in Henley they need to be supported.

Where is your business headed?

My aim for this year is to reach out to local sports clubs and provide them with their kit and to restore the ties we used to have with them.

How important are online sales?

I don’t sell online but probably need to pursue the idea.

Do you set any goals for your business?

I tend not to as, being a small business, we are so dependent on how many people walk through the door. If I set goals I may become disappointed.

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

That every sale counts and if money doesn’t go through the till the business would cease to exist.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Go for it. You’ll discover a lot of things about yourself.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

I’ve made lots of little mistakes but nothing major.

How organised are you?

Honestly? Organised enough.

What three qualities are most important to success?

Patience, being a good listener and providing good service.

What’s the secret of your success?

I think I am naturally a nice person and have a good way of connecting with customers.

How do you dress for work?

Fairly casually, as long as I’m comfortable.

What can’t you be without every day?


Lunch at your desk or going out?

If I do pop out it’s just to pick up something to eat back here. I like to shop locally.

Do you continue to study?

No, other than researching new fashion trends in sportswear. I just pester my kids to study.

What do you read?

When I do read it’s generally autobiographies, mainly of sports personalities.

How are you planning for retirement?

I’ve never really thought about retiring. If one of the girls wanted to run the business eventually I’d be okay with that but I’d like to see them doing something bigger and better.

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