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The founder of a flourishing glasses retailer reveals his top business tip: get a mentor

Tom Broughton kept working as a freelance consultant after setting up Cubitts.

Cubitts

  • Cubitts is a UK optician chain with 13 stores and annual sales of $12 million.
  • It was founded by Tom Broughton, a former consultant who initially juggled it with freelance work.
  • He told Insider about the obstacles he’s encountered launching his own business.

Tom Broughton admits he was “very naive” when starting his glasses business, Cubitts. He didn’t do much research and held just one focus group.

Instead, he built the business in his spare time while working as a freelance consultant, pooling his cash and developing Cubitts alongside a partner.

He’d spent five years as a full-time consultant, and though he didn’t have experience in the glasses industry, Cubitts was inspired by Broughton’s battle to find a pair he liked. 

“It felt to me that most opticians were for people that didn’t want to wear glasses,” Broughton told Insider. “My feeling was I want to have a spectacles company which is unashamedly a spectacles company.”

Cubitts Cheapside store interiorMany of Cubitts’ frames start at about $150.

Cubitts

However, his business partner dropped out and his reserves started to dwindle. Buying out his former partner for about £65,000 ($80,000) and launching the business “completely cleared me out financially,” Broughton said. 

Neither could he give up being a  consultant because “the company couldn’t afford to pay me.”

Juggling two jobs was pretty horrible, Broughton said: “All I was doing was working. There’s always more you can do. It took a good few years to get out of that.”

He finally stopped consulting after the first investor injected £100,000 ($124,000) into Cubitts in July 2014, two years after the company was incorporated in October 2012. The cash helped fund the first store and allowed Broughton to collect a salary.

Once Cubitts launched, the aim became simply surviving. “It was very, very tough to be honest that first year. We were nearly out of business many times,” he said.

Broughton has one overriding tip for founders struggling with the pressure of making big decisions: get a mentor.

“When you’re on your own, it’s very, very lonely. You’re just making these decisions in isolation – you have no idea if you’re making the right one,” he recalled.

Broughton’s mentor was Nick Wheeler, the founder of men’s shirt retailer Charles Tyrwhitt, which has about 25 stores in the UK as well as shops in the US and Paris. Other mentors included Cubitts investors Gary Clarke and Jonathan Heilbron.

Having a mentor “gives you an escape route and sense of perspective,” Broughton said.

Cubitts has grown steadily and now has 13 stores and about 120 staff, selling some 7,000 pairs of glasses a month. Customers have included Madonna, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, and Idris Elba, Broughton said.

Cubitts store in CheapsideCubitts’ 13th store opened in central London earlier this year.

Cubitts

Broughton said the pandemic was terrible for the business, given that 80% of sales had been made through its stores, but more people are now willing to buy glasses online. 

Cubitts posted sales of £4.6 million ($5.7 million) for the year to April 2021, which rose to £9.7 million ($12.1 million) for the following 12 months.

Broughton is still struggling with the demands of running the business, but he’s gradually learning to let go.

“I don’t even try to control my work-life balance,” he told Insider. “But what I would say now is my relationship was much more healthy than it was in the past … now I can have a life.”

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