A 14-year-old entrepreneur has built up an online toy shop from his family’s milking parlour – and now turns over £15,000 a year.
Schoolboy Tommy Howard officially launched shop Dog In A Box on eBay last year – named after his pet pooch Oreo.
Stocking 1,000 products that he ships all over the world when he gets home from school, he never takes a day off.
And the youngster even works over the school holidays to fulfil around 70 orders a week.
He got the idea when his little brother put a £35 Nerf gun on his birthday list two years ago, and Tommy realised you could buy a whole bundle second hand for less.
The savvy schoolboy sold eggs from the family farm to buy his first batch of toy weapons, then reinvested the money with his pocket money to buy new stock.
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After selling more than 1,000 of the foam guns, he officially launched shop Dog In A Box on eBay last year and branched out to other toys.
The pint-sized businessman does all the work himself – phoning manufacturers, liaising with wholesalers, and even cycling on his bike after school every day to meet the postie.
Last year he tucked away an impressive £6,000 profit, helped by a festive surge of his best-selling product Top Trumps and paddling pools he flogged during the heatwave.
Tommy, from Hawkchurch, Devon, who dreams of warehouse shops all over the country, said: “People may question my age but to that I would say ‘Why not?’
“I’m passionate and capable and that’s what you need in business. I’m probably more capable than some adults.
“I used to find people didn’t take me seriously when I first started out.
“People shouldn’t think because I’m young I can be taken advantage of. I know my stuff.”
The Year 10 student first came up with the idea of launching his own business when younger brother Jamie, now 12, put a £35 Nerf Gun on his birthday list two years ago.
Noticing how expensive and popular they were, Tommy started researching prices online and found a second-hand bundle on Gumtree for £19.
With money earned from selling his chicken eggs across his village, the teen bought them, scrubbed them up, and listed each one individually on eBay for £20-£30.
He sold out within a week and, in true entrepreneurial spirit, Tommy decided to use the £10 profit to buy ten more of the toy from Gumtree.
He said: “I was just watching a normal YouTube video where at the end they showed a tour of their warehouse, where they kept their merchandise and I was just thinking ‘wow imagine owning a company that can warrant a warehouse like that’.
“I was then on a mission to make my very own business.
“When Jamie put it on his birthday list I was shocked at how expensive they were.
“For a 12-year-old £35 is a lot of money.
“I did a bit of research online and found brand new were so expensive and you could buy big second hand Nerf bundles for the amount you could buy one new gun.
“I was buzzing to make my first sale.
“They had a couple of scratches on so I gave them a clean up before I took pictures and listed them online.
“The price was a pound or two cheaper than what they were retailing at all the big stores so I could still have the edge.”
He added: “I bought another bundle with my profit and my pocket money and they sold out within days too.
“I loved the whole process of deciding which products to go for, seeing how customers react.
“Demand was growing and I found myself selling quite a few Nerf Guns to Portugal which I had to use a courier for.
“I found if I started misspelling keywords I’d find a tonne of cheap Nerf Guns.
“I did this until I rinsed Gumtree and eBay of all their cheap guns.”
The schoolboy sold more than 1,000 in a year until he noticed his margins were shrinking – and looked for a solution.
“I remember thinking to myself if I don’t expand I’ll never grow at this rate,” he said.
“The Nerf guns were popular and I would often find myself out of stock.”
Despite a teacher telling him it wasn’t worth the hassle, he phoned Hasbro – who make Nerf guns – and the toy giant provided him with a list of suppliers.
He tried to find a wholesaler but was told he needed to be a registered business in order to buy in bulk.
Tommy said: “I mentioned it to my business teacher and he said there was no point contacting them as they would only sell to big companies directly.
“I said to dad “Let’s just do it, what’s the worst that can happen anyway?”
“So that day after school I rang up Hasbro and it had the best possible outcome I imagined.
“Of course, they couldn’t supply us directly but they gave us a list of their biggest wholesale distributors who stock their products and with that we got ringing and account making.”
He registered as a business on eBay in March 2018 and ordered in 200 different kinds of products from wholesalers.
He got his engineer dad Charlie, 43, to put up shelves in one of their converted milking parlours at their farm to store his products, and toys started flying off the shelves.
He now stocks more than 1,000 products, selling an average of 10 a day and shipping to more than 70 countries.
Every day, the savvy teenager gets home from school at 4pm with only 35 minutes packaging and labelling time before meeting local postman Leo at the village postbox half a mile away.
Best-sellers include Glove-a-Bubbles, Nerf Guns and fun-sand and he has recently added a £249 touch screen as his top-ticket item.
Tommy has managed to make thousands of pounds while his peers begin their GCSEs, making his dad and 43-year-old mum, Claire, a nanny, proud.
He has his own sales manager at a suppliers in Cambridgeshire who he said “took me under his wing”.
Tommy said: “When we phoned up it really started to feel like I was becoming a proper business.
“I was helped around by a guy called Jimmy Singh who was the nicest sales manager ever.
“He took me under his wing and would help me find things that had good margins and were selling.
“Unfortunately Nerf Guns just didn’t have margins that could make me any money.
“So, with that I decided I would sell toys as a whole and my sales manager helped me do just that.
“He gave me a heads up on this new product Glove-A-Bubbles.
“They were just releasing TV campaigns going out with it which was going to boost the sales.”
Tommy placed his first wholesale order with 72 units of Glove-A-Bubbles as well as some other arts and crafts toys.
He said: “It was my first taste of what it was like to be a big seller on eBay.
“I had already bought a £70 second-hand industrial label maker which really helped with the growing orders.
“I noticed my sales go up almost instantly.
“In the first couple of weeks I sold eight units of Glove-A-Bubbles.
“Then one day I turned my phone after school and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“It read ‘paid post now 34 items’. I showed my dad and we thought it was a glitch.
“But it wasn’t I had actually sold 34 items in a day.
“I got home and instantly ordered another 122 units.”
But after a three-month high as Dog In A Box’s best-selling product, Tommy saw his orders plummet to zero when manufacturer Zing ceased advertising.
The youngster, who named the business after his dog Oreo, said: “My sales were going up and up and up and then all of a sudden I had nothing.
“I had no idea what happened.
“I phoned up Jimmy and he said that the company pulled the TV advertisement.
“He didn’t know why but my sales were flat after that.
“I’ve still got 60 units of them as I’ve only managed to sell 20 in the past year.
“But it taught me a hard lesson about dead stock.
“There’s no guarantee in business.”
Keeping an eye on customer trends, Tommy made a splash of money selling paddling pools during last year’s summer heatwave.
He said: “I thought there must have been demand for swimming pools and it complimented all my other products.
“To test the water I bought four, listed them in the morning and by the end of the day they were gone.
“I was shocked but that confirmed to me they were a winner.
“I’d buy them for as low as £1.50 and sell them for around £8.
“I think I sold about 300 in total.
“I was really happy with that.”
He added: “I’ve got the best postman ever who collects from the post-box at the top of our lane and every day at 4:45pm.
“I either walk, cycle or if the weather is really nasty or the sacks are too heavy I get my dad to drive me up.”
With his business growing by the day Tommy is planning a trip to a Birmingham trade show next week.
Tommy hopes to roll-out Dog In A Box across the UK, making it the go-to destination for shoppers.
Tommy said: “I don’t want to be held back or restricted to toys.
“I’m always looking to what else I can add.
“I’m looking to get more technology products listed as everyone could be a potential customer.
“I want to have warehouses across the country similar to Screwfix and Travis Perkins where you have a warehouse in the back and the counter at the front.
“I don’t think Brexit will affect me doing that as the majority of my sales are from within the UK.”