Jigthings/Education Quizzes

The world of business finance can often seem puzzling but Colin King pieced together the solution with a little help from Pension-led funding.

His company Jigthings has taken America by storm, supplying jigsaw tables, boards, cases, frames and safes under the banner “keeping it all together”.

But the more successful the company has become, the greater the need for funds to buy stock to keep up with demand.

The need to keep the business well financed was heightened still further when co-directors Colin and his wife Lisa launched a second business, Education Quizzes, a subscription website for pupils who want to revise subjects they are studying at school.

“The global jigsaw market in total is worth £100 million,” Colin said. “In the UK alone the education market is worth £100 billion. We only need to capture a tiny, tiny portion of the market to have a good business.”

Which is just what they have with Jigthings which has captured the imagination across the pond. Turnover in America this year is expected to be somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 million dollars with a further £150,000 in the UK, the majority of the business through Amazon.

Initial funding for Jigthings came from Colin’s own pension with £80,000 secured through Pension-led funding at a time when the company turnover was £250,000 in total on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The business would never have taken off without help from Alex [Pension-led funding consultant Alex Stavri],” said Colin.

“Were it not for him, Jigthings would have either folded or been in a much worse position than it is now.”

With profits unable to keep pace with growth, Colin approached Pension-led funding again and was introduced to fellow Alternative Business Funding portal partner Funding Circle, securing £120,000 finance.

A desire to invest the profits in the fledgling Education Quizzes dictated a further round of funding and Colin approached Pension-led funding again. On this occasion, he was introduced to the ABF’s Funding Finder engine.

Following the registration process, the ABF SME customer journey took Colin to a familiar place, helping to secure further finance from Funding Circle, increasing his total funding to £210,000.

Education Quizzes now has three full-time and four part-time staff in additional to Colin, with a further 20 teachers employed to provide content and is well on the way to successfully completing the profitability puzzle like Jigthings.

“When I needed initial funding Pension-led funding came up with a solution – easy and painless.”

For more visit
Jigthings website
Education Quizzes website

(Pension-led funding carries financial risk to the borrower like any other commercial credit facility)

PS Golf Ltd

Risk goes with the territory when running a business and pumping significant funding into the operation can take that to a new level.

Phil Smith was the last man standing, running the only remaining Nevada Bob golf store in England and mainland Europe, and believed after 23 years of selling clubs, balls, shoes and clothing, he knew a thing or two about his business.

The Nevada Bob’s Golf franchise, which had 60 stores across the continent by the year 2000, had retreated from its out of town presence, leaving just an online-only operation. However, Phil believed he possessed the experience to make a success of his Colchester store, PS Golf Ltd.

The problem was “the banks didn’t agree”, said Phil, 60. “My only option was to look for alternative sources of funding.”

That came from an unlikely source, himself. Phil had never heard of Pension-led funding or the option to borrow from your own pension when our letter dropped through his door, but he needed finance and decided to invest some of his pot into PS Golf – twice.

Phil said: “It was not something you really like to do but it was a choice of pulling the plug on the business or getting through difficult times.” Phil said he and partner Sue were taking a risk but how that has paid off.

With help from Pension-led funding, part of his existing pension was transferred to a Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS) and, first up, he secured a £70,000 loan against his stock. A further top up was consolidated with a loan of £75,000 loan the following year to be paid back over four-and-a-half years, although Phil intends to clear that early.

“The first deal was not enough, so we did it again,” he said.

“Over the last three years the business has started to turn around. In 2015 and 2016 there was a reasonable increase in trade. The industry had been suffering but was getting cleaner.

“In 2017 business has gone through the roof. Our performance is up 45 per cent on last year to date.”

The mild and relatively dry winter is one of the reasons for the stellar start to the year as well as a change of marketing strategy to focus on social media which has altered the profile and lowered the average age of his customers. PS Golf have responded by reviewing their product range.

The introduction of an in-store simulator has “dramatically increased” the number of clubs sold. Customers can now see the improvement a new set makes to their game without leaving the store, which is a conveniently placed just off the main A12 outside south of Colchester in Essex.

PS Golf also specialise in lady’s golf with a mezzanine floor dedicated to women’s equipment and clothing, boasting the second highest turnover of Lady’s Footjoy shoes in the South East.

Phil, who plays off a six handicap, said: “Using Pension-led funding meant I had an opportunity to carry on the business. It was down to myself and Sue to decide it was an opportunity worth taking.

“The process was fine, it did the job. It was quite clear how it was operating and what it was about. There is no reason why I would not recommend it to other business owners.”

(Pension-led funding carries financial risk to the borrower like any other commercial credit facility)

Shambles Tavern

A generation of successful people are reaching retirement and asking the question: What do I do next?

Keith McLean’s mind was made up for him. After just six weeks his partner Sue Woodward said to him: “How do you feel about an investment in a retail unit.”

When it came to funding their unexpected alternative to retirement Keith was in for another surprise. He was later to discover that he could have avoided dipping into his pension pot and paying “stupid rates of tax”, he could have borrowed from it instead.

Keith and Sue joined the new generation of start-ups on one of the oldest streets in York, launching a business on the historic Shambles in York, a medieval street mentioned in the Doomsday Book with overhanging timber-frame buildings dating back to the 14th century and a magnet for tourists.

The early years running a souvenir gift shop and coffee lounge were challenging through the recession and Keith and Sue have pumped a significant amount of money into the business to keep it running.

“If you hadn’t been in our position the business would have gone to the wall,” said Keith, an accountant by profession.

But reacting to customer demand proved the spark they needed and for the past few years business has been booming, as a bar and restaurant. The Shambles Tavern now serves food and around 120 different Yorkshire beers seven days a week.

The opportunity to use Keith’s pension pot to build on that success – and boost his pension – came at the perfect time for Keith. He was about to take more cash from his pension.

“I had worn my pension away significantly by taking money at stupid rates of tax,” he said.

The business needed a cash injection to upgrade the kitchen, beer dispensing system and to further develop their popular outside space in the marketplace at the rear of the building, as well as working capital and paying off their overdraft.

With help from Pension-led funding Keith’s existing pension was transferred to a SIPP (Self-Invested Personal Pension) and he accessed 50 per cent of the SIPP’s value with a coupon of 15% preference shares over five years.

The coupon is paid once a year and at the end of five years the business buys the shares back from the pension scheme.

Keith said: “Ok, we had a bad start, we chucked money away but we are moving forward in a way that I think will pay dividends down the track.

“One, we will be into significant profit. Two, we are building a business that is saleable and three, my pension fund is doing very nicely thank you.”

Would he recommend Pension-led funding? He has, to Sue!

“It felt to me to be a well-balanced risk on my side when we were going through the process. I’m more convinced now that we are through the process,” Keith said.

“I thought the concept seemed absolutely spot on.

“The fact that you could use a vehicle to release funds that were earning not a lot to help grow our business, pay back to my pension fund a much better return that I was getting elsewhere, and by using that money we could grow the income stream of our own business, our own profitability, and pay back some of our directors’ loans as well as pay the coupon, just felt to me like it was a good idea.”

Looking back, Keith and Sue were stepping into the unknown. “The last job I did, I ran the health service for the Trent region, which is a huge area. To go from Chief Executive of a big public organisation to running a small independent outfit like this we have reinvented ourselves.”

Both had impressive CVs. Following a long career as a public servant Keith was at the forefront of an operation to re-introduce general management into the Kosovo health system after the war and had taken an academic post Sheffield University.

Sue was a deputy regional nursing director when Keith invited her to help him out in Kosovo. A “couple of weeks’ holiday” in the war-torn country ended with Sue becoming head of mission for the World Health Organisation and spearheading the introduction of primary care into Kosovo.

They also faced a number of unique challenges closer to home as they transformed the struggling gift shop and café into the popular tavern it is today, although this was not their first customer-led business having owned a small boutique hotel in York.

What started with a desire to provide the option of wine with lunch has become the renowned Shambles Tavern boasting a professional chef, a wall of Yorkshire ales in the bar, their own label brews, Shambles Stumbler, a light ale and Shambles Dark and Shambles Cider, and ambitious plans to develop further.

“We pride ourselves that every time someone walks through the door they should be greeted with a smile and a happy face,” Keith said.

Now Sue is semi-retired enjoying the fruits of their labour but not Keith. “I just find it difficult to stop working. I’m 69 now, I don’t want to retire.”

A fear of becoming boring is driving Keith to continue working. The last few years have been anything but boring.

(Pension-led funding carries the same risks to the borrower as other commercial credit facilities)

Felbrigg Lodge

DeeDee Lomax found herself on a rollercoaster when she started running her Norfolk hotel.

The ride took her from “six months of hell” to the “strongest position” she could remember and occupancy rates of 73 per cent.

Along the way she was hit by the financial crash and a fire but also saved herself “shedloads of tax” by using Pension-led funding to develop Felbrigg Lodge rather than drawing a lump sum from her pension, an investment she has forecast would add £100,000 turnover in the first year alone.

DeeDee bought Felbrigg Lodge, near Cromer, in 2007. The following year, in the middle of renovation work, came the banking crisis. Everything was thrown up in the air as the “mortgage people suddenly changed the rules” and refused to lend all the money she was banking on.

“That was our introduction to being here,” said DeeDee, who has spent most of her working life in the hotel and catering industry.

Fightback No1 came with the rise of the staycation.

“People, for all sorts of reasons, were not going abroad,” remembers DeeDee. Light at the end of the tunnel perhaps? But just as her business began to thrive again, she was hit by another hammer blow.

“Four years ago we had a fire in the restaurant. We thought that would be the end of us. It came right at the end of the recession and was six months of hell.”

DeeDee was determined not to be beaten and launched fightback No2.

She had already raised initial funding to finance a family-friendly unit sleeping six aimed at those who wanted a break with elderly or infirm relatives or somewhere offering the attraction of teenagers having their own room.

Now she had to find a new home for her restaurant and planning permission for a second family unit was about to run out.

The solution was to move the restaurant into her own house but that didn’t come cheap. “I thought I’m not going to spend all that money to comply with regulations and then move it back again.”

The market was also changing. The wellness sector was booming and Dee Dee was desperate to add a second identical 800 sq ft unit to be able to offer spa-style breaks as well.

“I looked at conventional routes for funding but you had to jump through too many hoops and I didn’t want a second charge on my property,” she said.

“My pension was sitting there and I thought who knows what is going to happen to it? I wanted a bit more control over my pension.”

An email from Pension-led funding arrived at an opportune time to stop her using pension freedoms to cash in her whole pot.

DeeDee and her husband, Philip, transferred their existing person pensions into a Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS). The funds were then used to lend 50 per cent of the fund value, £75,000, secured on the company’s balance sheet assets.

The couple also drew down their 25 per cent personal tax-free cash entitlement of the whole pension fund amount, resulting in excess of £100,000 being raised for the business.

“I saved myself shedloads of tax,” she said. “And I’m going to pay that pension back within five years so it’s a no brainer.”

DeeDee said she had enhanced her business which now has 12 rooms, as she targets those looking for rest and recuperation and potentially recovering from serious illnesses.

The area’s patchy mobile phone coverage has become a blessing. “When people arrive they shout at me because they can’t use their phone. By the end they are hugging me!”

She has also discovered an unlikely benefit from borrowing from herself.

“The banks only offer you an umbrella when the sun shines. I thought I would be working for the bank but now I’m working for my pension fund, my money.

“When it comes to paying the bill at the end of the month I’m paying myself. I’m always happy,” DeeDee said.

“I would definitely go back to my pension without even thinking about it.

“I’m thinking about how I can put more money into my pension fund so I can get more money out of it to invest in the restaurant. It’s changing the whole way I run my business and fund my business. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”


Every entrepreneur hopes their business will be a global success and ACWorldwide have taken their inspiration from a galaxy far, far away.

Darth Vader may have found a “lack of faith disturbing” in the Star Wars movies but Karl Grimsey was convinced the company could play a starring role in a business success story.

Episode VII: The Force Awakens stirred a dream to produce Star Wars-themed Bluetooth speakers aimed at the collectors’ market but Karl needed to form his own alliance to get the enterprise off the ground.

Step forward Kelvyn Gardner who had been in the official licensed merchandise sector for more than 30 years, working on brands such as ET, Indiana Jones, Gremlins and Back to the Future.

Kelvyn was keen to take the lead as chairman and raise a substantial amount of money. “Kelvyn raised the relevant start up cash and bought in other investors to really get things started. All I had to do was make them,” said Karl.

Now the force is with them, in the form of official Disney and LucasFilm backing, markets are opening up and the first batch of 2,000 C-3PO and 2,000 Stormtrooper replicas have already sold.

Pension-led funding became a willing ally as we helped set up a Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS) and a pension loan was made to the company secured by a general debenture.

“If I hadn’t got the pension money I couldn’t have done it,” said Karl.

“I was introduced to Alex Stavri at Pension-led funding and we talked about the possibilities and Alex saw the vision. It was simple.

“This has always been a vehicle to make the speakers and you have got to have someone who trusts you to do it.”

ACWorldwide has a small team based in Milton Keynes and a factory of 55 people assembling each of the £149 speakers in Guangzhou, China.

Next up to be wired for sound is Darth Vader with Boba Fett and R2-D2 to follow. First ACWorldwide is targeting the global collectors’ market by linking up with Amazon and distributors in France, Germany and America.

Another huge license is about to be announced that will mean ACW will release a further three new characters in 2016.

Karl is also planning to grow his pension.

He said: “I’m going to spend the next year to 18 months working to make a success of the business and then start pumping money into my pension. That will be good for me and the kids.

“The restrictions on the Pension-led funding deal weren’t there to hinder, they were there to protect my investment as well. It’s been a massive help to me. If you use the money from the pension properly, Pension-led funding is well worth doing.”