Mike Clare is probably best known as the founder of bed retailer Dreams, which he launched in 1987 and grew to some 250 stores. In 2008 he sold the firm in a private equity deal for an undisclosed sum, but estimated to be over £200m
"Dreams is still my baby," says Mike, who almost bought the company back last year. "I still have a strong affinity with the company and know lots of people there. I still hope to buy it back and make it even more profitable one day, and there's also the sense of real responsibility and looking after the business I founded."
Having grown up watching both his parents running their own businesses, Mike realised he had an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. After leaving school Mike got a job in the furniture industry and spent his evenings running his own businesses from home.
"When I reached 30 I decided to leave my job and just go for it and I started the business which eventually became Dreams. It was a long and difficult journey and there were lots of challenges along the way."
Dancing in the rain
"While others might give up at the first or second set of problems, we persevered. All businesses have problems, but thanks to a good team and the right attitude we overcame them. Building a business is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain."
"In essence, retail is very simple," explains Mike. "You buy beds and sell them for more than you paid for them. But then you've got lots of things you need to juggle – HR, IT, distribution, leases, marketing, and so on. Against a lot of advice to the contrary, we went vertical and ended up manufacturing as well."
Mike puts much of his success down to perseverance and determination. Over time, his company perfected a formula, which they subsequently replicated across the country.
Waking up in another world
"After selling Dreams my wife Carol and I were suddenly catapulted into the world of the super wealthy," says Mike. "Yes, we'd had a nice lifestyle before, but this was something else. We went and paid off the mortgage the next day. For the next six months or so we didn't do much really – we travelled and so on." He also bought a Rolls Royce, which he says he now regrets and has since sold.
Realising he wasn't quite ready for retirement, Mike invested in a number of businesses, and set up a new venture, 'AmaZing Venues', which developed from a passion for iconic and unusual buildings. Together with Carol, he has built up an estimated £50m portfolio of "quirky and difficult to value" properties such as three Victorian sea forts, castles and even a former Benedictine monastery, which they renovate, refurbish and then hire out for weddings, parties and corporate events.
"They could have been hotels, but that would have been too easy!" says Mike. "This is trailblazing. The challenge is building another brand and trying to express that in marketing terms. This is more 'fun' than my Dreams job."
Mike also puts his time, wealth and business expertise into philanthropic activities through The Clare Foundation, which helps small and medium-sized charities to become more commercial, efficient and 'entrepreneurial'.
The 'Four Ps'
Mike advises those setting out in business to look at what's been done in other parts of the world and then to make your business do something special or unique. For example, Mike says that Dreams was the first company to take customers' old beds away and to provide slippers for use by drivers when delivering. He believes attention to this kind of detail really matters.
"You've also got to think about your 'Four P's'," says Mike. "Perseverance – specialise in something you enjoy. People – look after and inspire your staff and treat your customers well. Profit – remember that profit, not turnover is the name of the game. And last, but by no means least, Passion – you really have to have passion for what you're doing. Get out there, do it and be passionate."
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