The Poundland co-founder is back to shake up the variety sector with Hub, a mid-market chain with potential for 200 stores. He tells Nicola Harrison what inspired the return
Dave Dodd does not let much stand in the way of his ambitions. In his quest to deliver the broadest range of £1 products possible, the Poundland co-founder scaled peaks to visit suppliers in the Far East.
“We’d go to factories that no other Westerner had been to,” recalls Dodd. “We’d be climbing mountains to get to a truck on the other side that would take us to a factory. It was the only way to get there.”
Such determination has stood Dodd in good stead over the years. After founding Poundland in 1990 he is now masterminding a new variety chain, Hub. And his ambitions for it are no less lofty - he wants to build a 200-store chain.
Dodd says he is making a move back into retailing to “keep occupied”, but he also wants to shake up the variety sector, which he says has “lost its way”. Hub will serve the mid-market, and is designed to create a similar emotional experience to shopping in TK Maxx, through “contemporary” stores.
The 49 year old began his retail life as a market trader aged 20, after leaving school halfway through his A-Levels because he was “unable to find a proper career path”.
Selling household goods, he soon developed a passion for product and moved on to wholesaling and then importing, which involved visits to retailers. “That was when I decided retail was the place I could put all I had learned together,” Dodd recalls.
After a chance meeting with Steven Smith, a former colleague at the wholesaler he worked at, the two decided to go into business together. “We decided £1 is the volume price point,” recalls Dodd.
In April 1990 the concept was born, and by Christmas that year they had opened their first store. “The world was full of sceptics,” says Dodd. “There were negative comments: ‘How can you pay the bills? What do you do in two years time when you can’t afford to sell at £1?’ But when people saw the concept they quickly became converted.”
Dodd says the first store went “phenomenally well”. Like his ambitions for Hub today, Dodd always believed that Poundland could do big business, even at its embryonic stages.
At that point there was no other single-price-point national chain in the UK, so where did Dodd draw his inspiration from? Not from the US, says Dodd, where single price retailers were thriving. “We were completely oblivious as to what was going on in America,” says Dodd. “We were just two Black Country lads - we thought we needed a passport to get to London.”
Dodd eventually led a management buyout of Poundland in 2002, backed by private equity house Advent. He went on to double the business within a couple of years, and left in 2006. “It was the right time,” explains Dodd. “I’d probably done the best I could do.”
He used the next few years to take stock. “I was able to do things I hadn’t done for 20 years,” he says, including following Formula 1, travelling and sailing, as well as going to rock gigs.
Dodd sees himself as a nice guy. “I don’t believe people who bully get anywhere. Nice guys can be successful,” he says.
And how does he account for his own success? “I’m not a genius but I am perceptive,” he says. “I’m a business builder, that’s what I do. But you have to get your hands dirty too. I’m a team player but I like to be the captain.”