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Teen spirit

Jake Adams talks to Mark Ludmon about the growth of The Mina Group, which he founded while he was still at school

At 21, Jake Adams is a seasoned hand when it comes to running a business: he has been doing it for nearly eight years. He heads up successful Blackpool-based printing and marketing specialist The Mina Group but, when he started out in 2012 at the age of 14, his young age initially generated some scepticism.

“Being a young person, it can be very difficult to get people to take you seriously,” he says. “It’s a 50/50 split: some people absolutely love it and some people say, ‘He’s too young to do it, it must be his dad’s company’.”

Thanks to his talent for technology and outsourcing, he was able to service customers as if there was a larger team behind the scenes. “I was always good at making the business look bigger than it was. I had to for people to take a 14-year-old or 15-year-old seriously.”

The starting point for the business was Community Print, which Jake set up while still at high school. He raised enough cash to buy a mug printer off Ebay along with a sublimation printer and heatpress, and designed a website. Based at his local community centre in Dickson Road in Blackpool, he specialised in supplying business cards, flyers and personalised merchandise such as mugs and vinyl banners for the charity and voluntary sector. “That grew rapidly and turned into more of a business than a hobby, and that’s where I developed a passion for it,” he recalls. Before going to college to study computer programming, he relaunched the business as Creative Print to extend its customer base to the private sector.

After his 18th birthday, Jake was able to access some funding, gaining a £25,000 loan from start-up lender Business Finance. This allowed him to buy large-format equipment for printing and finishing to support his second business, Monkey Banners, which offers bespoke banners via an automated e-commerce website plus the option of a design service. Another part of The Mina Group provides marketing, website, social media and graphic design services to companies and other organisations, acting as “an outsourced marketing department”.

Moving into embroidery

With a strong customer base, Jake extended The Mina Group’s portfolio with the launch of Mina Workwear and Embroidery. Initially outsourcing to a local company, he brought production in-house last summer with the purchase of two embroidery machines (a single-head and a two-head) both from Tees R Us.

“The smaller one is for caps and badges, the other for larger runs. We were looking at six- and eight-heads and came to the conclusion that we would buy two heads at a time. With two heads, we have more flexibility rather than have to run all eight heads on one job. As it was something we hadn’t done in-house before, we could develop the business first and take over the world later.” Jake is now preparing to buy another two-head machine as the business is nearly at capacity.

With more than 2,000 items in its catalogue, Mina aims to be a “one-stop shop” for workwear for customers in sectors such as agriculture and logistics, while retaining its place in the charity and voluntary sector as well. Pro RTX, Russell, Gildan, AWDis and Fruit of the Loom are the five most popular workwear brands offered in the company’s catalogue.

“Throughout, we have always worked with the third sector,” Jake adds. “Because we have always understood how they work, the governance, how a charity is run, we have been able to talk to them on their level as it’s completely different from the commercial world. We want commercial clients but our USP is providing printing and marketing to the third sector as we are specialists.” For Jake, involvement in the voluntary sector predates his business career, having worked for local charities since he was seven, which earned him a place to carry the Olympic torch through Fleetwood, north of Blackpool in 2012.

European expansion

Bringing embroidery in-house has led to rapid growth. “It gives us more control,” Jake says. “We can offer quicker turnaround times and be more flexible on our pricing. Outsourcing is fabulous but you are relying on other companies. Most of the problems you have with outsourcing aren’t the company producing it but the companies delivering it. That has been tricky.”

Jake recruited a production manager, Kevin Dobson, who had nearly 10 years’ experience in garment printing, plus an apprentice, Bradley Turner. With a heat press and vinyl cutter already in the company’s arsenal, the plan for 2020 is to invest in a DTG printer. Jake also wants to introduce a white-label offering so other companies can outsource their embroidery to Mina and promote it as their own service.

More immediately, Jake has some tidying up to do. He is pulling together the four parts of the business under the branding of The Mina Group, to be united on a new website. There is also a pressing need for new premises as the business is outgrowing its original base. “We have grown from being in a tiny cupboard at the community centre to having five offices there,” Jake says.

Last July, the group took on another site nearby on a 12-month temporary lease, which is the base for the embroidery business. “This allows us a bit of time to find a much larger unit where we have room for our wider expansion plans,” Jake explains. “It’s not ideal to be split between the different locations. We would like to bring everything under one roof. When we move to bigger premises, we will have room for more equipment.”

The Mina Group also opened an office to cover mainland Europe in April 2019, based near Fuengirola in the south of Spain. It is only a print shop at present, with embroidery orders shipped from Blackpool, but it will also add an embroidery set-up in 2020. “In the last six months, a lot has happened,” Jake adds. “It went from being just me to three different offices and seven staff but we are still very small and person-focused. People do business with people rather than a big corporation, and that has worked in our favour. I think now, with everything being so available online, people are a little bit turning back to the roots of business and want a personal connection with a company and wanting to know that a company is not just there for the sale.”

Every day is a learning experience, says Jake

Support network

Apart from the initial £25,000, Jake has not had to borrow any money. “It’s growing very quickly and organically.” He admits that being responsible for staff for the first time was a worry but it has worked out well having a team around him. “I love it,” he adds. As well as having an experienced production manager on board, Jake has benefited from support from a network of business contacts.

“I’ve not had a mentoring programme but I have always been able to surround myself with people who have started businesses similar to mine and been fortunate to be very successful in those companies. If I have a situation or want to run something by someone for a second opinion, I can pick up the phone and get their insight. A lot of people starting out don’t have that support, formally or informally. I don’t think asking for help is a failure. If you are not able to ask for help, you are never going to be able to improve and get to the next step. There are people who want to see you succeed, who want to give back because they did not have a mentor when they started.”

His youthful flair for business has already been recognised with awards such as Most Inspiring Young Person of the Year at Lancashire’s Be Inspired Business Awards (BIBAs) in 2016 and finalist for the national young ‘micro entrepreneur’ award from Business Finance’s Citi Foundation. “It has been an experience so far, with no regrets,” Jake adds. “Every day is a learning day.”

To help The Mina Group punch above its weight, it achieved ISO 9001 certification for its management systems in 2018. “That was to show our customers and our competition that we are a small company but we are still committed to quality and can still produce the same quality as you would get if you went to a larger company than us,” Jake explains. ‘It was a challenging process in that it made us think about what we are doing. There was nothing we weren’t doing already, but it made us look at how we can improve and make it a more streamlined approach and deliver across all aspects of our business.”

Northern Powerhouse

Another boost for the business has come from it becoming a partner in the government-backed Northern Powerhouse initiative which is driving economic growth across the north. As well as plugging The Mina Group into a network of over 300 partners, including some of the region’s biggest companies, it also ensures that the importance of small and medium-sized ventures is recognised. “It was a partnership I wanted to be part of for a long time,” Jake explains.

“As a small company, we can benefit the Northern Powerhouse by being a young company with a young outlook on things. You hear a lot about big companies and you don’t really hear of smaller companies like ourselves. It also helps us as a business as we are a small company in terms of manpower but we can say we have a large footprint and a large customer base. We started in the north. It’s all about creating a workforce for the next generation.” It also links into The Mina Group’s emphasis on supporting local communities, with Jake still offering services for payment in kind or at a subsidised rate to third-sector organisations.

Alongside continued investment, The Mina Group is already set to recruit at least two or three more people in 2020. Embroidery currently makes up about 50% of decorating work and Jake says this is increasingly rapidly. As he has developed his businesses, he has always looked to the future. “I’m in it for the long term,” he says. “We are laying the foundations so that, as the company expands, we are able to already have the housekeeping and structure in place to facilitate that. Everything we do now, we are planning on how that will form part of our journey in the future.”

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