In 1997, businessman Paul Sisson founded A1 Comms, which grew to become a group of 14 high-street shops selling mobile phones around market towns in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. In 1999 he launched A1comms.co.uk but because prices had to be competitive to encourage consumers to buy online, the website drew attention to the fact that his shop prices were more expensive. To get round this, he set up Buymobilephones.net in 2003 and this fundamentally altered the company’s direction. Initially, the offshoot company operated out of one of the A1 Comms shops, manned by only three to four members of staff. However, such was the website’s success that in 2006 he sold the high-street stores to focus exclusively on e-tailing, although he kept A1 Comms operating as a phone supplier to businesses in the Derbyshire area. The online outlet now employs more than 60 people and aims to reach a turnover of £100m in the next few years. Buymobilephones.net offers a wide range of handsets from leading manufacturers that include Sony, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Blackberry, Nokia and Apple. It claims to sell 80,000 mobile phones each year on contracts with all the leading networks. By dealing directly with Orange, T-Mobile, O2, Vodafone and 3, the company says it is able to offer a range of tariffs that are competitively priced. In addition, Buymobilephones.net spends £10m each year on promotional gifts, including laptops, televisions, games consoles, iPods and digital cameras, which form part of contract packages. The company also pays out £4m each year in cash-back deals, according to which Buymobilephones agrees to transfer a one-off sum directly into the customer’s account upon the uptake of a phone contract from a certain range. Word-of-mouth referrals, repeat custom, Google search optimisation and a hefty £200,000 a month spent on marketing on price-comparison sites have greatly boosted the company’s sales. As Sisson also acknowledges, the high volume of sales, coupled with the comparatively low overhead costs of the internet, gives online trading an edge over its unplugged counterpart, enabling new businesses to snowball. The company says that its website generates up to 17,000 unique visits a day and that it took its millionth order in the summer. To promote this achievement, it gave away a Mini Cooper to the lucky customer. The keys were presented by Derby County Football Club manager Nigel Clough at a match as the firm is the shirt sponsor of the Championship side. According to Buymobilephones.net, another reason for its success is the demise of the competition. At the start of 2007, says Sisson, 20 online companies dominated the market. By the end of that year there were only five, as a result of many of the other firms overextending themselves by offering cash-back deals they could not afford. This prompted Ofcom, the industry regulator, to review and regulate the sector to prevent more consumers being mis-sold mobile phones. Buymobilephones.net says that it profited from its unwillingness to offer such appealing, yet in many cases untenable, offers. The company suffered a minor setback in recent months when its website was attacked by cyber criminals who managed to immobilise it for 20 hours on the same weekend that they targeted a handful of competitor websites. In spite of this, Buymobilephones.net has continued to thrive, now claiming to offer more than 850,000 combinations of phone deals from which customers can choose. Custom seems set to increase, with future plans to include the introduction of Pay-As-You-Go deals, in addition to an environment-friendly phone-exchange programme. Buymobilephones.net’s sales grew an impressive 340% a year, from £288,000 in 2006 to £24.5m in 2009.
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