Lead Forensics

OPINION

Ask the Leader – Tom Joule, Founder of Joules

16 Nov 2020

Joules, the British lifestyle brand inspired by family, fun and country living, launched on AIM in the summer of 2016. The company has gone from strength to strength as a listed company, driving sales across the UK and internationally.

Tom Joule founded the business in 1989, selling floral prints and trendy wellies at county fairs and agricultural events around the UK.

In 2014, he secured £22m of private equity investment from LDC to accelerate growth: “Working with LDC really professionalised the business and got us ready for IPO,” Tom explains.

“During the partnership, revenues rose by 50 per cent.” Taking Joules public was the “natural” next step, he says, noting that it is a testament to the strength of the brand that the listing was oversubscribed by three times. “You take people’s money on a promise to fulfil your potential,” he says. “We have done that. It feels amazing.”

orange quote mark
During the first few years, all I thought about was how to survive. Once we took on
investment, that was a turning point.”
Tom Joule, Founder
Joules

Did you always plan on listing your business?

Not at all. I started this company from a table in a field. During the first few years, all I thought about was how to survive, then how to differentiate the brand. But as the business evolved, I started to think bigger. Once we took on private equity, that was a turning point. I knew that I didn’t want to sell to another company down the line. An IPO made sense.

Was private equity a helpful stepping-stone to IPO? How?

It’s not impossible to go straight to IPO but I would say that private equity gives you an understanding of what to expect and better prepares you for the journey. Private equity professionalises the business for the next event, whatever that might be.

I didn’t want to lose the entrepreneurialism or what had made us successful. LDC brought additional rigour to the business and that’s a big part of getting ready for a listing. We fared much better thanks to the LDC team’s support.

Was the partnership with LDC as you expected it to be?

One of the best things about LDC was they let us continue to run the business our way, because we gave them no cause to worry. Some people think private equity means losing control of your business, but if you choose the right partner and deliver on your promises, it will always be a good relationship.

We partnered with LDC at an important point on Joules’ growth journey and they were a supportive partner. I’m still good friends with the LDC team today.

How important is it to be able to pivot in business?

Critical. Back in 2001, foot and mouth completely changed the way we did business. We only had ten employees and our sales were all through country events and shows which were cancelled overnight. We had to find different routes to market which helped us realise there was a broader audience for our products. In 2020, Covid has had a similar effect on many businesses – making leaders review their proposition. For me, it’s reaffirmed what Joules stands for – spending time with family and friends in our beautiful countryside.

What advice would you give to any business leader dreaming of an IPO in the current climate?

Make sure you have absolute clarity on your plans for the business over the next three years. Making a success of IPO is all about preparation and making sure there are no surprises for investors.

Being listed is a far stricter regime. As an entrepreneur, you have to make your peace with that. And you also need to make sure you have the resources to run the business while meeting all the obligations that come with being a listed company. I have always had a CEO running alongside me while I focus on creative strategy and that has worked well.

orange quote mark
It’s not impossible to go straight to IPO but I would say that private equity gives you an understanding of what to expect and better prepares you for the journey.”
Tom Joule, Founder
Joules

LDC is sharing inspirational stories from its current and past portfolio company leaders to mark 40 years of backing ambitious businesses across the UK.