Being an entrepreneur from the get-go, Zak Patel, 50, from Dewsbury began earning his keep in his first year of secondary school, buying dinner tickets and selling them for a profit to boys in the years above him.
By the time he was thirteen, he spent most weekends at markets across West Yorkshire selling jackets, before moving to Blackburn at seventeen to work at his aunt’s newsagents and opening a slew of convenience stores just a few years later.
Today, he is the founder and managing director of Talk Direct, a business that owns sixteen O2 franchise branches in the north of England, employing over 200 people with a multi-million-pound yearly turnover. He opened his first shop in Leeds Merrion Centre in 2006, followed by shops in Sheffield, Dewsbury and Castleford, among others.
Mr Patel said: “As a child, we always had to make ends meet.
“It wasn’t a bad thing; it was just circumstance and I think the circumstances you experienced as a child makes you into the person you are today.
“In school, I was always trying to make some money by selling dinner tickets. I knew a lot of kids who were given free school meals who would eat out and so had dinner tickets left.
“I would buy it off them and sell it to people who had to pay for their meals. Lunch would cost about £1.50 so I would charge them £1, so they would save 50p.
“I can remember every Monday after school, I would go to the bank to deposit the money I made. I was the only person in school who would go, I didn’t think anything of it, at the time.”
After spending six years working with his aunt and learning all the tricks of the trade, Mr Patel saved up enough money to open his own shop in the area, with Mr Patel and his two siblings going on to open 22 convenience stores between them.
“I think the circumstances you experienced as a child makes you into the person you are today.”
The entrepreneur said: “After a few years of learning the business, I decided to take the plunge and open my own convenience store. We went on a bit of an expansion plan. I eventually owned nine newsagents in West Yorkshire and Lancashire and my brother, sister and I, had 22 stores between us.”
As mobile phones were becoming more commonplace, Mr Patel began selling top-up cards at his shops which was an almost immediate success.
He said: “As a newsagent, you are selling multiple items, not just one product. We began to sell mobile phone top-up cards which was really successful. We introduced a single mobile phone to see how it would sell, and it went almost straight away.
“We expanded the mobile phone section in the convenience store as we found this side was doing more turnover than the whole store. We soon found out that this was phenomenally successful, and I decided to open my first independent mobile phone shop in Doncaster, quickly followed by a store in Bradford, Pontefract, and Dewsbury.”
In 2005, he sold the convenience stores and phone shops to open his first O2 franchise under his brand Talk Direct in the Merrion Centre a few months later. “I became the first person to own an O2 franchise around 16 years ago in 2006”, he said.
The award-winning entrepreneur’s thirst for business didn’t end with convenience and mobile stores. He and his wife decided to put their heads and passion together to open a luxury bespoke jewellery line catering predominantly to the bridal market.
The businessman added: “About six years ago, my wife, Nazmeen, who is really into her jewellery, came up with the idea of opening a bespoke jewellery business.
“We did our due diligence on the market and competition, and we found that people wanted a personal service and custom design.
“The Pugata showroom is in Batley, a small town in Yorkshire, yet we have clients coming from all over including, London, Scotland and abroad.
“Things slowed down during the pandemic when weddings were put on hold, but the business has exploded over the past twelve months, with the business being inundated with wedding clients.
“I still feel as if we’re in our infancy with Pugata. My wife, who is a local woman from Bradford, runs the majority of the business and is always out networking. We had serious enquiries about licensing the brand in Canada, but we are not quite ready just yet.”
Giving advice to future entrepreneurs, Mr Patel, said: “Things take time, you need a lot of patience when opening a business.
“You need honesty, integrity and just be persistent. In business, there is always a failure, something inevitably goes wrong or happens in a way that you didn’t want it to or expect, but it is about keeping on going until your idea works.”