Features / If I Knew Then

If I knew then: Dan Danson

By aphra evans, Monday Mar 30, 2020

Dan Danson was challenged by ex-mayor George Ferguson to make something of a derelict factory on Raleigh Road that was due for demolition.

What Dan did was set up the Tobacco Factory Theatres we know and love today, before leaving to start The Bike Shed Company.

How did you start out in business?
By accident. I was the first artistic director of the Tobacco Factory Theatre, setting it up from 2000–2006. It was during my time there that I needed a bike shed. I couldn’t find anything, so I designed and built my own. Then people started knocking on my door asking where I bought it, so I was obliged to start making them – in my kitchen!

From there, I established The Bike Shed Company. We now have two workshops, 15 people, and export all over the world.

If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?
We started with a minimum set up, so as orders increased we were immediately under strain. It is so much harder to increase capacity from that position. For the first five years, we were constantly struggling to meet demand and, as a result, holding back on pushing sales – definitely a situation to avoid.

What advice would you have given yourself when starting out?
Find a mentor as soon as possible. Setting up and running a business is really tough. They don’t have to be experts to point out the obvious but that support is invaluable.

If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?
If you had asked me then if I wanted to start a manufacturing business, I would have said no. When I started, I was just enjoying just the designing and making. Turning that into a business has been challenging. But I’m incredibly proud of our company and our products, and excited for the future.

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
Looking back, I knew very little. The move from theatre to manufacturing is an odd one. But I don’t think there’s a huge difference between what I was doing then and now. I had a very firm belief in how theatre should be: the integrity and skills needed to make it, and the quality of experience for the audience. This is still at the heart of what I do now, at the heart of our success.

Robbie Williams is among The Bike Shed Company’s client base. Photo courtesy of The Bike Shed Company

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?
I think it was from an editor of a women’s fashion magazine. “The sooner you get back to someone, the less fabulous you need to be”. We don’t always stick by that but when we do, people always comment on how we got back to them quickly.

What is your business highlight?
Being featured on Alan Titchmarsh’s Love Your Garden and then discovering that one of our clients was Robbie Williams.

What is your business low point?
None other than the usual challenges that affect a young business, but these help shape the way you move forward if you learn from them.

What keeps you awake?
Right now, covid-19. Obviously people’s health is paramount and let’s hope containment measures are effective in preventing the spread of the virus, but this could also devastate the economy and destroy businesses that don’t have the reserves to withstand such measures.

What’s changed from when you started out?
We are now so established as a brand that developers come to us with architects plans stipulating our bike and bin stores. We’ve come a long way.

What’s still on your to-do list?
Lots. We’ve invested in increasing our production capacity, so this year is all about keeping that running smoothly. Also there are roles that I’m currently doing which I would like to give to someone else.

What’s next for you in business and personally?
Developing our products for an international market. I am looking at setting up operations elsewhere so we’re not transporting our goods thousands of miles, while generating jobs and using locally sourced materials.

Also, I’m developing a new product which is different but related to what we’re doing. It’s top secret and very exciting!

Main photo courtesy of Dan Danson

Read more: If I Knew Then: Arif Khan


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