JUST over a decade ago Reginald Larry-Cole had a successful business, a loving family and expensive cars on the driveway to his dream home.
But just a few months later in December 2008, he lost it all when his car finance business Creditlab went bust during the height of the financial crisis.
Reginald, now 48, ended up on benefits and feeling suicidal.
“You’re massively affected when you’re used to running a business that is turning over a couple of million pounds, and then you suddenly go down to £64 a week worth of benefits,” Reg from Surrey told The Sun.
“I lost my personal self-belief, I lost my family – as well as the cars and the luxury that go with them.
“On January 1 in 2009, I found myself going to the dole queue for the first time in my life.
“I was suicidal. But I’m thankful that I’m here to see this day.”
But fast forward just over 10 years and Reginald has turned it around as his new businesses’ Wheels4Sure and Buy2LetCars achieved a total turnover of £4.3million in the 12 months to the end of 2018.
Reg, who came to the UK from Sierra Leone at 16, had set up the first company in 2003 after working in the car industry – most recently as a business manager for Audi.
The idea behind Creditlab was to help motorists get a car finance deal suitable to their credit rating.
Banks would accept the person looking for a car, and Creditlab would source the vehicles to be repaid by the banks.
Reg set-up the company with the help of two aunts and a friend, who collectively gave him a whopping £23,000 of their own savings.
Within four years, while also completing a degree in business studies at London Metropolitan University, Reg had grown the business to 15 members of staff, of which eight were full-time.
But when the financial crisis hit in 2008, the banks stopped lending money and overnight, the main supplier for his customers also pulled out of the market.
“The machinery behind it had gone. It basically stopped when the credit crunch happened,” Reg said.
The money started drying up from April 2008, and by the end of that year he had to let go of his last three employees and file for voluntary insolvency.
I had just £64 a week to live on
For the first time ever, Reg found himself with no income, and was forced to turn to benefits, being given just £64 a week to live on.
At the time he had one child, a daughter about to turn three, but his partner struggled with the sudden shift in lifestyle, so she left Reg and took the little girl with her.
Reg’s top tips for other wannabe entrepreneurs
KEEN to be your own boss? Here are some tips from Reg on how to make it happen
- Figure out why you’re starting the business: If the first answer is that you want to make money, then you’re wrongfooted already. What I do right now it’s not work for me, it’s a joy to go. You have to find your passion.
- Think about what you want to do with this: Once you’ve found your passion, you should figure out what you want to do with this. You need to have a clear vision.
- Decide how and when you want to achieve it: The last thing you need to ask yourself is how to make your dream happen and when you want it to. A lot of people hold themselves back because they think they have to have every answer before they start, but that’s silly. As long as you know your why, your road map and where you’re going, you’ll figure out the rest along the way.
After a year out of work, the turning point came during the election of Barack Obama as the US President in 2009.
Reg said: “I thought to myself, if he can go through what he’s been through and still contest to become the President of the United States, I can deal with losing my business and losing my family.”
Later on Reg and his partner got back together and had a son, now aged nine years old.
I got a job at Range Rover and got back on track
In 2010 Reg, who’s now engaged to his new partner, who’s also the mum of his six-year-old son, managed to secure a role at Range Rover in Battersea, London.
It was here he met Scott Martin, 40, who would later become Reg’s business partner.
The pair believed the returns for investors were too low on many products while some Brits also struggled with bad credit ratings, so they came up with the idea of Buy2LetCars and Wheels4Sure.
“Range Rover was a source of inspiration where I would check my bank account to see if I could meet the electricity bill this month but then had someone buying one or two Range Rovers in cash,” said Reg.
“It gave me the evidence I needed that people are going about their business and that the world hasn’t ended.”
So in his spare time, Reg started to reach out to business angels – investors willing to take a chance by funding small businesses – and investment capitalists. Over four years, Reg had 150 such meetings.
In March the same year, Reg put an advert in a national newspaper to advertise for investors.
One retired business owner, Chris Hughes from Rugby in Warwickshire, responded and liked the idea, so he agreed to invest £100,000 for a 25 per cent share of the new business – as long as Reg paid him back over three years – and Chris would then return his shares of the business.
Chris, 73, had sold off his own business – vending machine supplier ToyVend – prior to the financial crash so he had cash to invest, and he was also looking for a new way to make money for him and his wife Alma in their retirement.
With the cash from Chris, Reg and Scott founded Wheels4Sure and Buy2LetCars in June 2012 from what Reg describes as a “broom cupboard” in Victoria, London.
Buy2LetCars raises money from people with cash to invest, and Wheels4Sure then uses that to buy new cars and lease them out to people with poor credit ratings.
Luckily, the initial investment was a success, so after three years they had paid Chris off in full – while he had also got monthly payments at a rate of 11 per cent – and they got their shares back.
Reg today owns 90 per cent of the business while Scott owns 10 per cent.
The business has boomed in recent years, and Wheels4Sure has become number 46 of the country’s biggest leasing companies with 1,262 vehicles leased out as of November last year.
Car finance firms that specialise in helping people with poor credit ratings are usually more expensive than others, yet the reviews of Wheels4Sure are overwhelmingly positive on Trustpilot.
Buy2LetCars has also raised over £25million from around 1,000 people since its foundation.
Investors in Buy2LetCars get between seven and 11 per cent as a return on their investment over three years, but it’s an unregulated business, meaning their money is at risk and they could lose all of it.
In total, the businesses has grown to five sites, including a headquarters in Surrey, a showroom in West Wickham, a distribution centre for the cars in Kent and two retail branches where they do business and sell the cars.
In July 2017 Reg set up PayGoCars, which allows him to sell the vehicles after the three-year period has ended.
Last year, the group achieved a turnover of £4.3million, but they say they invest most of the cash back into the business. They now also employ 32 people.
Looking to the future, Reg has also launched another business called Lifestyle Bids.
The website allows people to bid for luxury products at the price they can afford, and the lowest bidder automatically wins.
The business makes its money by charging customers fees ranging from £1.99 to £4.99 to enter an auction.
“I’m thankful that everything works in my body so I can do this,” Reg said.
“I can leave my kids an example, that’s very important to me.”
He says the worry that the business will go under again is always around, but says he’s doing everything he can to avoid it.
“I think every responsible business owner should be constantly thinking of how to keep the wheels of business moving forward and how to ensure the organs of business alive,” Reg said.
“It is a responsibility we have to our investors, stakeholders, staff and family.”
Keen to start your own business but could do with some inspiration?
Recently, The Sun chatted with mum-of-two who turned painful bunions into £250k sho business after getting laid off while pregnant.
Earlier this month, we revealed how two school friends have built a cash machine empire that’s now aiming for a £1million turnover all while studying for their degrees.
We’ve also spoken to a young entrepreneur about how he started a million-pound video business with just £50 after his parents lost £150,000 in the Northern Rock crisis.