Deborah Rossington: It’s a woman’s world

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As a young woman of 29, living in London, Deborah Rossington took advantage of the lifestyle that the capital had to offer.

Having worked as a night club promoter and then moved on to replace Russell Brand selling toner cartridges for a company that recruited out of work actors, she realised that she wanted more in life. After seven years, her and a work colleague decided to make it alone and created an office supply company that now has a £3 million turnover.

At 46, the mother of two has never let anything hold her back, not even pregnancy. Having set up Bright Media in 1999 with her business partner Becky Humphreys-Elvis, Deborah wanted to really stand out of the crowd and make an impact on the industry.

“Our industry is very much a male dominated industry and when we first set up we wanted to do it completely differently to anyone else,” Deborah said. “We are bright and bubbly girls, the two of us, and we only employ bright and bubbly people.”

The dynamic duo started out doing what they did best, selling their own manufactured toner cartridges and servicing printers from a basement on Chiltern Street in the centre of London. But over the years, as the industry changed and more technology was being used in offices, Bright Media was given the opportunity to grow and incorporate a wide variety of services, including IT hardware, selling servers, PCs, laptops and more.

“It was a West 1 postcode and that was just like gold dust to us because we could just ring people up and we were close by and we could just deliver.”

The original plan had been to set up the business and run it for five years and then sell it on. Deborah had never intended to still be going strong 17 years later. “We wanted to do it on a five year plan and we were making lots of money before we moved into setting up on our own. It was a big risk.

“After five years we thought we would sell or we were going to open up an acting agency, which is what we wanted to do.”

2004 came and went and when Deborah and Becky sat down to discuss the future of the business, their priorities had changed. “Both of us were married by then. I didn’t want to sell, there was no way that I wanted to sell. I wanted to keep going on and we were doing really, really well.

Both business partners decided that they wanted a family, but they refused to let this affect the running of the business. “Little did I know that I was pregnant at the time and I had Isabel (11). Six months later Becky had her first child.

“It just so happened that two years later, I had Archie (9) and six months later she had her second child. So it worked out all perfectly well.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

A difficult move

It was the 2008 recession that really made Deborah rethink how she wanted to continue her career. She had moved to Lincoln to live with her husband and had been commuting nearly every day to London, catching a 6.15am train and not getting back until 10pm. Even whilst heavily pregnant she was still continuing the journey.

“At the time you don’t think about it, you just do it. I was so scared about taking any more time off with Isabel that I went back to work when she was six weeks old and my husband took a year off. But when they’re babies, although they do need you, it’s when they go through the schooling that they really need that support.”

She was proud of her career and her success with Bright Media, which at the time was providing a service to between 200 and 400 clients. But the recession made Deborah re-evaluate her commute as both suppliers and clients’ pursestrings tightened.

“When 2008 happened, all the credit went. We were dealing with corporate companies, like Saatchi and Saatchi, Formula One and online betting companies. We had 200 to 300 suppliers that had just suddenly taken our credit, so I spent a lot of our time on the phone, talking to insurance companies saying, ‘What’s happening?’

“There were a lot of balls in the air between 2008 and 2010. That’s what made me think that I can’t keep commuting all the time. It was just a bump in the road really. We had to sort it out.”

The time had come to set up a Lincoln office and expand the company’s reach but it was no easy task. At first the office was set up to support the London Branch but it wasn’t long before Becky realised that they should be tapping into the Lincolnshire potential.

“It’s been more difficult than it was in London, because if I was to sell in Lincoln we should have done the promotion right from the beginning. But I was used to us having word-of-mouth in London. Here, people were a bit more cautious.

“Five years here now and we’re doing really, really well and we’re taking off. The Lincolnshire Business Expo really helped.”

The company now has a turnover of £3 million after having been static at £2.5 million for the last few years.

With the company’s success and Deborah’s work/life balance in tow, she is proud of everything that her life has amounted to and regrets nothing.

“If we hadn’t had the children I think that we could have really invested in taking it to the next level, but we both wanted to enjoy our kids, both of us wanted to enjoy our lives and we are onto £3 million now and I’m hoping it will grow. We have had half a million more turnover than we did last year.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Unexpected challenges

It is unfortunate that there is still gender inequality in the world of business and Deborah had her share when she was first setting up Bright Media. Many people pinned her and her business partner as not having the ability to succeed, but she was determined to prove them wrong.

“There were a lot of people saying, ‘If they can do it, anyone can do it.’ A few people tried to follow suit and didn’t actually succeed, but it was so derogatory within itself. That was the mentality of people. We’ve had a lot of people who tried to really stir it up and tried to stop us in our tracks.

“We were only young. When we were setting up, I was going out, I was partying every night. It was a big thing to do. I didn’t have any family around me. I had to go and find the money to set up myself. I had to put in everything to start the business. I lived off baked beans for a couple of years and it paid off. We made money in the first year.

“But there were a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, they won’t do it.’ It’s terrible, isn’t it.”
Deborah responded to her pessimistic peers by keeping her chin held high and putting everything she had into the business.

“We were determined that we were going to do it. It made us more determined. Any time that there’s a bump in the road it actually brings us a bit closer together as a partnership. You just jump over the bump. It’s never plain sailing running a business, but no job is plain sailing, is it? It would be a boring life – and that’s something that I haven’t had,” Deborah laughed.

Now that the her eldest child is looking to start secondary school, Deborah’s focus turns to the possible expansion of the company with the hopes that the next city they can tick off on their list is Manchester.