Started in the mid-90s by two brothers on a market stall, a small, tight-knit core team remains key
“I was always into technology from a young age,” says Mr Mobile’s co-founder and managing director Bobby Singh. “I was into the gaming consoles. I had the Sega and Nintendo ones and then the PlayStation, and it grew from there once mobiles became available.”
As we sit in Singh’s cosy office nestled in a corner of his company’s 20,000 square-foot warehouse in Trafford Park, Manchester, it would be fair to say that it’s not just his enthusiasm for the mobile industry that has grown.
From humble beginnings on a Manchester market stall, Singh has built an accessories manufacturing and distribution company that services wholesalers and independent retailers not just in the UK, but also in 26 other countries.
“I was one of the first people in my college to have a mobile phone, and I have always had a drive and passion for it, so it was easy to go into that field,” he says.
Bobby and his brother Danny started their market stall in 1996, selling computer games and then mobile accessories as the mobile market grew while Bobby studied for an accounting and finance degree at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“We really got into it when people were customising phones like the Nokia 5110, 6110 and 3310 with designs and covers,” says Bobby. From there, the brothers opened two accessory retail stores in Manchester and Warrington, which lasted from 2000 to 2003, at which point they opted to change tack.
“We were struggling to get the product we wanted because there was only a limited number of suppliers due to the rising popularity of accessories – so then we decided to look into wholesale and distribution.” To get the ball rolling on that front, they travelled to the Far East, met up with factory suppliers and ordered their first stock shipment. This gave birth to Mr Mobile in 2003, with the company selling its products under the Advanced Accessories range.
Once the Singh brothers had outgrown their first warehouse unit in Manchester’s northern suburbs by 2007, they moved to a 5,000-square-foot facility near the city’s Northern Quarter, employing five staff.
The business later moved to a 20,000-square-foot facility in Salford in 2011 and increased its number of staff to 10, before relocating once more in 2016 to its current Trafford Park locale, in the shadow of Manchester United’s football stadium. Since then, it has maintained the same warehouse size and number of staff, although Danny has since departed the company to follow his fortunes in the property sector.
By 2014, Mr Mobile turned over £1.5 million and increased this to around £2.5 million last year, with the company’s current portfolio standing at more than 1,000 products.
“It just started as a hobby and a part-time weekend job to keep us occupied; I never once imagined it would grow as much as it has,” says Bobby.
But despite Mr Mobile’s intention to continue growing, Bobby is content with keeping his small team around him, helping maintain a democratic ethos.
“We’ve got a core team in which everybody’s input and feedback are valued, and everybody collectively puts in to help the business grow and the brands develop,” he says. “Everyone has bought into the overall goal.
“Three of us have been here since early in the journey and a lot have been here for a number of years, which is a good sign. We’re comparatively young and dynamic. Our clients like that we’re agile and can adapt and come to market quickly.”
As Mr Mobile pivots more towards manufacturing and developing its own brands, as well as partnering with more distributors to ship its products, Singh doesn’t therefore anticipate much hiring in the name of retaining simplicity.
The company’s impressive growth has, meanwhile, been recognised by the industry at large: the firm received two nominations at this year’s Mobile News Awards in March for Accessory Distributor (among companies with under 100 employees) and Accessory Manufacturer, going up against industry heavyweights such as Belkin and Genuine Solutions. And though Mr Mobile pulled up short in both categories, Bobby is immensely proud.
“Getting the nominations was a massive achievement for the company,” he says. “Given our size, to be in the same category as huge international brands showed that you don’t need to be as big as your competitors to compete against them. It’s a matter of working smart and differently.”
Nowhere is this smart working more evident than in Mr Mobile’s latest line-up of accessories, the Tech Energi range. These products comprise a range of wall chargers and cables with cylindrical packaging resembling that of energy drinks, colour coded for compatibility with different devices. The metal material also lends itself to reuse and being recycled.
The range launched on Mr Mobile’s website last November after an 18-month development period, and has since expanded to the company’s base of independent second-hand retailers. It has also garnered interest from high-street shops, the identity of which Singh did not disclose.
“The energy-drink market is so big with brands like Red Bull and Monster, and we felt it lent itself well [to the power market] because there is a nice synergy between energy drinks and power products,” says Singh.
“Other power brands didn’t really do anything exciting and different. They were all standard PVC cable products, and there was nothing great about the packaging. [Tech Energi] can be an accessory and part of your lifestyle by giving something unique.”
Singh also enthusiastically mentions endorsements from such leading industry figures as CCS Insight chief of research Ben Wood and Mobicode CEO Peter Kirby. He’s also looking at enhancing the range’s diversity by expanding it to include power banks and wireless charging stations, which are currently in the testing stage.
In addition, Singh is hoping to refocus on its international business now it has established Tech Energi in the UK. Although Mr Mobile distributes to 26 countries across the world, including Spain, Greece and Sweden, this only accounts for about five per cent of its business and the number has fallen from around 15 per cent in 2014.
“The decrease in international business has happened while we develop our brands in the UK a bit better,” says Singh. In addition to addressing this, he’s looking to expand to new markets: “We plan to export further afield. We’re having preliminary discussions with various distributors and retailers in the US, Asia and Australia.”
Meanwhile, although the smartphone market is seeing a decline in shipments according to most major analyst companies, Singh believes this will actually work in favour of those providing power accessories.
“The handset market is flatlining a bit and seeing a lack of innovation from the key players, but for us it has developed. People are keeping their handsets for longer because of the cost, so they are looking to invest in more quality accessories that will last them longer.” In addition, Singh highlights the rise of the refurbished phone market, the mobile sector’s fastest-growing segment last year according to Counterpoint Research, rising seven per cent on 2017.
“A lot of refurbished handsets are sold without basic accessories, so I think there is a great opportunity for us to serve people who have bought one,” says Singh.
“People are relying on their phones so much they’re not only using them at home, but using and charging them throughout the day. We feel that people could potentially buy cables for home, the office, the car and for various locations.”
He adds that he wants to give people appealing products at the right price: “We’ve always tried to provide the consumer with good value for money, whether it’s our standard Advanced Accessories range or Tech Energi.
“Our target this year is to start becoming a recognised brand within the power and charging market by consumers and high-street retailers, which we’re on the way to achieving.”
So while Mr Mobile’s operations might be more modest than those of some of its competitors, its founder’s love for the sector is clear – as well as his ambitions to not only grow, but also to stand out.