Nicholas Wheeler: “I lost more money in three months than I’d made in the past three years”

The Founder of Charles Tyrwhitt tells us all about his biggest mistake...

Even as a schoolboy, Nick Wheeler was a natural entrepreneur — he ran a photography business, made bespoke shoes, and flogged Christmas trees to his friends’ parents. In his second year at university, Nick founded Charles Tyrwhitt, a mail-order shirt business. His friends and family thought he was mad.

Thirty years later, the company is a bastion of British menswear and a heroic success — but at one point, it very nearly folded. Here, Nick tells us how a single lapse in focus almost cost him everything he’d worked for.

One danger of running your own business is that as soon as you get good, you get bored...

As an entrepreneur, it’s important to focus on what you’re doing and try to do it well. My biggest mistake was forgetting that and losing focus.

At the start of Charles Tyrwhitt, I was plodding along, part time, while I was at university. Everyone thought I was mad for trying to do mail-order menswear. I was turning over about £12,000 a year, and it wasn’t growing.

But by 1994, after running Charles Tyrwhitt for about eight years, I had a business that was doing £2.5m in sales and making £250,000 in profit. I was still just doing menswear mail order. I thought: “I’ve cracked this!”— and I was bored. It suddenly felt easy.

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