Achieving a better work-life balance is a key motivation for many small business owners when they launch their venture. Having the flexibility to combine work and personal life was a motivator for 74% of founders or self-employed people, according to a survey of Entrepreneurial Britain by the Telegraph in 2015.
Turning a passion into a business can make work feel a lot less like work. When Johnny Robinson started his watersports company Offaxis on the LLyn Peninsula in North Wales, it was almost a total accident. During his teens, water-skiing and wakeboarding had been a hobby, and he’d enter competitions for the opportunity to ride behind bigger boats with bigger wakes.
‘When I was at university I used my student loan to buy a boat,’ he says. ‘But to justify the boat purchase, I had to start a wakeboard school. And that’s how it started. I teamed up with a local guy here. Between us we set up a company called Abersoch Ocean Adventures, where we did surfing, water-skiing, wakeboarding and were based down on the beach.’
Running a watersports business lends itself well to a relaxed work-life balance. In the early days, and before having children, Johnny would spend his summers running the academy and winters travelling and surfing around the world. ‘It worked well because of the seasonality of it. We could work the summer season and then close the doors and travel in the winter,’ he says. ‘And then the start of the season came round and we’d begin again.’
Some 20 years on, Offaxis has come a long way since the days of Johnny offering wakeboarding classes in his university holidays. As well as lessons in surfing, water-skiing and wakeboarding, other activities have been added to the menu over the years, including kite-surfing and stand-up paddleboarding, plus two physical retail stores and an online shop selling equipment and accessories for watersports.
The seasonality of the business brings with it challenges; it’s difficult to predict revenue or staff requirements when a business is so heavily weather-dependent. Offering a range of different water sports helps with that. Activities that rely on the conditions can be tricky to schedule; even in high summer, for example, if there are no waves, there’s no chance of surfing, so being able to offer an alternative helps ensure Offaxis doesn’t lose out because the conditions aren’t great.
‘The business evolved through my own personal involvement in the sports, and then when you’re running the business it’s logical that you have something complementary in terms of weather conditions,’ he says. ‘If you can’t run wakeboarding lessons because the conditions aren’t suitable, typically you can run a surf lesson. It works in terms of being able to get people out on the water.’
Offering retail was a natural progression of the coaching business, Johnny says. ‘Because we were getting people involved in the sport, we were then naturally the first point of call to advise on equipment purchases,’ he explains.
Because we were getting people involved in the sport, we were then naturally the first point of call to advise on equipment purchases
Expanding the retail side of the business, particularly e-commerce, has helped Johnny to keep cash flowing in during the off-season. Selling online as well as attending events such as the Boat Show in January creates revenue when there is little footfall to his two shops on the Llyn Peninsula.
‘Lessons aren’t a massive part of the business because it’s a relatively short season and there are only so many daylight hours and certain days that Mother Nature allows us to run them. These days it’s probably only 15-20% of our annual turnover. But that’s by virtue of our retail business growing significantly, through the two stores and online,’ Johnny explains.
The retail business is a ‘guessing game’ when it comes to ordering in stock, Johnny says, However it doesn’t require the staff numbers that the teaching side of the business does. Running the e-commerce site is all done inhouse by the Offaxis team.
‘Rightly or wrongly, we don’t outsource anything,’ he says. ‘We’ve just learned how to upload the products ourselves, and we do the best we can. It’s very difficult to justify the costs.’