How I Made It: Rob Halliday-Stein, Founder of BullionByPost

The Sunday Times By Ki ki Loizou, Sunday 30th September, 2012

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Rob Halliday-Stein, Founder & Managing Director of BullionByPost
As he waited outside the office of a London bullion dealer, Rob Halliday-Stein had his big idea.

Four years ago, after his mother died, he had travelled from Birmingham to find out how he could turn his inheritance into something he could keep hold of — GOLD .

The banking crisis was raging, and waiting with him were others wanting the safety of gold rather than money in a bank that might go bust. All were happy to pay a 5% fee for the metal. Halliday-Stein thought he could do it better — and cheaper.

In November 2008, he set up BullionByPost, an online gold and silver dealer. The business, which buys bullion from traditional dealers and delivers it to customers the next day, has gone from sales of £6m and a profit of £20,000 in its first year to a profit of £1.5m last year on sales of £55m. It is based in Birmingham and has 12 staff.

The company has handled more than 35,000 deliveries in Britain, from a £30 silver coin to a £500,000 gold shipment. The average order is worth about £3,000.

Halliday-Stein says recession and fears about the safety of banks have made investors look to gold. Also, there is no Vat on a gold investment, and British coins are exempt from capital gains tax as they are classed as legal tender.

Halliday-Stein was born in Moseley, Birmingham, the middle of three sons. His mother trained teachers and his father was a research scientist with British Gas. His parents divorced when he was two and Halliday-Stein and his siblings stayed in the family home with their mother.

He attended St John’s primary in Sparkhill and then King Edward VI Five Ways, a grammar school in Bartley Green. There he discovered his love of economics, and after A-levels he studied the subject at Sheffield University.

“In 1999, our third year, a friend and I wanted to give the online thing a go,” he said. “We built a website aimed at students looking for properties to rent during their studies.” But then the dotcom bubble burst and investors “didn’t want to go anywhere near it”, said Halliday-Stein.

Halliday-Stein got his first job at Dollond & Aitchison, the optician, where he had worked during holidays. He was with the firm seven years, ending up in marketing. “I was doing a lot online and loved it,” he said. Then, in September 2007, Asda, the supermarket chain, wanted someone to develop online sales of George, its clothing label.

He was there for 10 months before his mother’s death prompted a change. “She had left me some money and I didn’t feel the pressure of a salary cheque every month. I knew I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder.”

Halliday-Stein wanted to buy something he could keep control of — gold, “bars I could store away”. Online searches for a good dealer drew a blank, so he took to the Birmingham streets. “I found one place and bought a bar worth £300. I loved the feeling of holding it and wanted more,” he said.

The aim in setting up his business was simple: “To offer what was missing when I was looking to buy gold: straightforward pricing, easy access and good customer service.” His first call was to Umicore, the Belgian materials technology company that had made his £300 bar.

A meeting with Umicore led to an agreement: “I would get the deals and they would dispatch them under their insurance.” He spent £10,000 building his website and rented offices in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

When the business started in May 2009, it grew quickly. “I wasn’t surprised at the response,” said Halliday-Stein, who charges fees of 1.5%-2%. But there were challenges. “The biggest was getting people to trust us. It’s tough but you must invest the time.”

Today, the company stocks a range of gold and silver coins. Orders, sent via Royal Mail special delivery in discreet packaging, are insured through Lloyd’s of London up to a value of £50,000. There are plans to move into the Spanish market next year.

Halliday-Stein, 35, who lives in Solihull with his girlfriend, Angela, owns 90% of BullionByPost (10% is owned by Anthony Smiley, the finance director). He emphasises the importance of good personal relationships when starting a business. “Have confidence that if you’re providing a good service the sales will come. Spend time getting to know good contacts and gaining their respect.”

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