Julian Richer says ethics is key to business success


Entrepreneurship has enabled Julian Richer to achieve the material trappings his family name suggests.

A regular on UK rich lists, he was 23 when he bought his first Rolls-Royce, and for many years has lived in a house with 40 acres of land — all thanks to the proceeds from Richer Sounds, his hi-fi and television chain.

This week, having recently turned 60, Mr Richer relinquished control, converting the company that he started in 1978 and last financial year generated a gross turnover of close to £200m into an employee-owned trust.

“I don’t have any kids, I love my colleagues and I didn’t want the business to get taken out by a VC house,” he said. “I also didn’t want it bought by another business that doesn’t understand our culture and could possibly wreck it.”

The company will pay Mr Richer £9.2m for his shares but he will give £3.5m of that back to 522 staff, who will receive £1,000 for every year they have worked for the retailer. The company’s nine board members — the newest of which has served for 25 years — will not share in the bonus.

“It is worth a lot more than that initial payment,” Mr Richer said, adding that he will receive more money if Richer Sounds hits certain performance targets.

“I am very relaxed about the sums of money involved because I have far more than I need,” he adds. “I did not want the company to gear up a load of money just to give me a big payment now.”

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Being ethical with your staff is key to success in business, according to Mr Richer.

“As a retailer, if you give great service alongside value then you are unassailable,” he said. “You can’t get staff giving great service if they are not happy.”

A key question for the new owners is whether Richer Sounds can survive much longer given the threat that Amazon and other online retailers pose to high street stores.

The arrival of online shopping did force Richer Sounds to refocus its strategy, Mr Richer admitted. But he insisted that a niche player like his company can prosper if it sticks to its principles of good value and excellent customer service.

“We saw that the internet was going to destroy us if we didn’t reinvent ourselves,” he said.

“So instead of offering pile-them-high, sell-them-cheap bargains, which people could get on Amazon, we moved into more specialist product areas that better suit the wonderful staff I have in store, who are both knowledgable and hopefully helpful.”

Richer Sounds is protected by the products it sells being both a high-end niche and popular, Mr Richer added. “Whatever happens with Brexit or the economy, customers will still want to buy stereos and tellies.”

It also helps that the company owns the freeholds on all but five of its 52 stores, keeping overheads down to about 12 per cent of sales, a level that Mr Richer said is on a par with online retailers.

Mr Richer, who wears his hair long and plays drums in a funk band called Ten Millennia, admitted to being a maverick character and does not expect his actions to lead to a flurry of new employee-owned companies. “I am not a cool person, so I don’t expect others to follow me,” he said.

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He attributed his ethical capitalism to his parents, who met as trainee managers at Marks and Spencer and would share stories with him as a child about how the chairman at the time was not beneath coming to check the quality of their staff toilets.

Mr Richer is a mentor to the current M&S chief executive, Steve Rowe, and is a longstanding friend of Archie Norman, the retailer’s chairman.

His business heroes are fellow retail entrepreneurs Anita Roddick and Charles Dunstone, co-founders of The Body Shop and Carphone Warehouse respectively.

Both Dame Anita and Sir Charles helped their businesses to grow by taking them to market through an initial public offering. But this was never a likelihood for his company, according to Mr Richer.

“Why would I would sell a small stake for money I don’t need and then be a hostage to fortune with shareholders demanding bigger and bigger dividends with the short-term view,” he said. “And they would make me get a hair cut, which would be a disaster.”



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