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Hooper drive helps Uplands hit 40 with lots left in the tank

Manny Pham
August 27, 2019

As Uplands turns 40, managing director Paul Hooper reflects on the dealer’s past and future

Uplands Mobiles managing director Paul Hooper (pictured) is a man who exudes quiet confidence crafted from decades of experience.

Next month, the company will celebrate its 40th birthday as one of the country’s largest independent mobile phone dealers.

Founders Tony Parker and Elwyn Jones began Uplands in 1979 selling in-car entertainment systems such as radios, cassette players and speakers – with the company’s name coming from its first location in Uplands, Swansea.

Hooper joined the company 26 years ago from Halfords. In his interview with Jones for a position as branch manager, the two sat on a couple of dusty boxes in a dark stock room – and it set “alarm bells ringing” for Hooper when the founder admitted the store might close within six months.

But this honesty and the potential that Hooper nevertheless saw in Uplands intrigued him, and he became the standout candidate for the job. He saw an opportunity to fulfil his ambitions rather than continue to be a cog in a larger corporate machine.

“Elwyn told me, ‘if you want success here, then it’ll be down to you and we will back you and help you. But the work ethic is down to you’. That inspired me, says Hooper.”

And things certainly turned out well. Not only did the company very much carry on going, but Hooper was promoted to area manager after two years of running the Exeter store. Running six stores nationwide in the new role, he eventually became managing director.

Hooper’s clever call was to sell prepaid phones into department stores. This was a big deal at a time when having a mobile instead of a fixed phone was the exception rather than the rule.

Uplands started selling prepaid mobiles in Co-Op department stores in 1998, followed by bigger outlets such as Debenhams and House of Fraser. But the retail side of the business would eventually slump as consumers started buying direct.

Hooper responded by focusing on corporate clients such as Benetton and Liverpool FC, as well as Wembley Stadium and the French Open tennis tournament.

40 years young and going strong: gearing up for the big birthday celebrations

With Hooper working wonders at the helm, Uplands founders Jones and Parker agreed to sell him the company in 2013. To help afford this, he remortgaged the family home – a decision that Hooper admits was a massive gamble at the time, but he now regards as one of the defining moments of his life.

Hooper credits much of Uplands’ success to the company being an O2 Direct Partner, having originally teamed up with the operator in 1985 when it was known as Cellnet.

Uplands now has 1,800 business customers connected to O2 and was one of the few dealers able to sell the iPhone at a time when distribution was tightly controlled by Apple a decade ago.

Hooper is particularly proud of Uplands’s customer retention levels, with the company seeing a churn rate of just eight per cent last year – meaning the number has now been in single figures for 15 years in a row.

“A single-digit churn adds incredible value to our business,” he says. “We focus on retention and the numbers show how hard we work on that. On average, we keep a customer for nine-and-a-half years.”

On this strategy, he adds: “We spotted that dealers were not taking customer service seriously. After they made a connection, they wouldn’t think about the customer again. For us, the journey begins when we get the connection.”

This focus on customer service has helped Uplands manage its way through a tough time for the mobile industry, in which smaller dealers have been struggling, retailers posting losses and operators cutting bonuses. In this climate, Hooper maintains that Uplands is a business with positive aspirations this year.

In 2017, the company notched up a gross profit of £500,000 from £3 million of turnover. Hooper now wants to expand the business further through acquisitions of companies in the IT sector, a segment in which Uplands saw massive growth of 70 per cent last year. Discussions with one firm are at an advanced stage.

Enterprise focus
Uplands will be also be chasing new customers that employ more than 250 people. The company’s own staff numbers are up to 29, set to rise to 34 by the end of the year.

“I am forming a team designed to win the enterprise-sized businesses,” says Hooper. “We are really invested in our communications portfolio, and have the right products and solutions; we’re going to see some good growth in that.

He adds that the company can confidently supply businesses of any size: “Butcher, baker, candlestick maker? We have something for you. But enterprise is the main target.”

Meanwhile, it will this year open a new office in Bristol, adding to those in Swansea and Somerset.

“There is much more to come; lasting 40 years doesn’t happen by accident. We’re a debt-free, cash-positive business. We’re in business for another 40 years.”

“In an industry where your reputation is everything, Paul Hooper sets an example to many of us. Running a business and, in Paul’s case, the same business for so long is a stunning achievement.”
“I’ve known Paul for more than a decade, which is a long time in our fast-moving market but still significantly less than the time he has been at the helm of Uplands. During this time, Paul has had to evolve his business many times over in order to stay ahead, including the launch of mobile email and catering for the data tsunami, BlackBerry, smartphones and much more.
In my opinion, this ability to almost see the future and position his business to capitalise as new markets emerge has been critical to his success.

Paul has always been a colourful chap and fun person to be around who’s always playing pranks. I found this out when I first met him in 1997 in Dubai on a Cellnet [now O2] trip where he was the life of the party.
He has come a long way and has a great business mind on his shoulders.
Paul is one of the best characters in the industry and has served it with passion. I wish Uplands a happy 40th anniversary and all the best going forward. I truly believe they’re a force to be reckoned with. 

Paul is one of the very first people I met in the industry back in 1998.
We met on a BT Cellnet trip in Northern France when I was only weeks into my role with Nokia and we instantly struck up a lasting relationship.
He’s straightforward, full of integrity and very open, and he’s one of those people who just want to do the right thing.
My perception is that Paul was the driving force behind Uplands’ success and he has taken it to a whole new level since acquiring the business. He’s positively hands-on, both with customers and staff, and he realises that his success is achieved by helping those around him to achieve their full potential.

I have had the pleasure of working with Paul over the last seven years.
He has a refreshing and proactive approach to business, great enthusiasm and a wealth of industry knowledge. Paul has built a fabulous business and, under his leadership, the company has won numerous industry awards.
The success of Uplands is based on his commitment to and focus on the customer. We look forward to continuing to support the growth and development of his business.

Paul has been a friend as much as a business colleague for many years, and I’ve always admired his drive with the business. Paul’s one of the original crew in this industry and never cuts corners, hence his long-standing healthy reputation.
The business has gone from strength to strength in recent years with the introduction of new and exciting products to compliment his long-standing mobile base of customers. We wish him all the very best with his 40th celebrations!

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