Gipsy Alfie Best reveals how he made his first million in Ilford
“If you lose sense of the past, you can’t see where you’re heading in the future,” says Romany Gipsy Alfie Best, whose business – which began in Ilford 20 years ago – has just been valued at �100million.
Despite being born into a poor gypsy family at a roadside in Leicester, the 41-year-old, of Chigwell, insists his experiences as a child are to thank for where he is today.
Last year, he turned down a request to be included in the Sunday Times Rich List – a testament to the business he has built through determination, hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Speaking about his early years, Alfie says: “We were extremely poor. We lived off the land, but it taught me a lot.”
His first experience of securing sales was helping his father to tarmac drives, and trying to sell the tarmac.
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“Have you ever heard of the expression ‘you talk as fast as a Gipsy’?” he asks.
“When I was with my dad trying to sell as a youngster, about eight years old, I had 30 seconds to say my bit before the door would be closed in my face.
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“That taught me a lot about the basics of being a good salesman.”
His mother and father travelled constantly, and consequently, Alfie had sporadic periods of schooling, where he suffered at the hands of bullies.
“They didn’t understand me because I was different. So I’d get attacked at school, and then when I came home, because the other traveller kids on the site knew I was going to school, I’d get it all over again,” he says.
But the knocks did not deter Alfie, who, over the course of four years, lost just four out of 63 boxing bouts.
Boxing remains a strong passion, and he coaches youngsters weekly at a club.
Four years ago he met former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson when he was invited to a dinner with him, and the backdrop of his Rainham office is a proud display of boxing memorabilia, including certificates and photos of him coaching his 14-year-old son.
His business mind whirring with ideas, Alfie decided to start a business when he was 14, buying and selling cars and vans.
But later, when the UK went into recession, Alfie, who had bought a house and a business premises, was forced to rent his home out to make ends meet.
“I was sleeping in my car. I spent nights in car parks and there were points where I felt like giving it all up and going back to tarmacing with my dad.
“I walked up and down the streets of Ilford looking at the businesses and the mobile phone shops were full of customers. That could only be because of complaints or business, so I begged for a job in one to figure out the business.”
Two weeks later, he left the shop armed with ideas, and started his own mobile phone shop with a business loan.
Within 18 months he had 13 shops across London.
“I never forget what the bank manager said to me,” he smiles. “He said I was the most unorthodox businessman he had ever met, but he trusted me.”
The mobile phone industry was booming in the early 1990s, and despite the fact he was sitting on a comfortable business, wife Emily urged him to look into an industry every traveller is familiar with – mobile home parks.
He bought his first park in Romford, where he lived for around a year, because, as he says, “there’s no better seal of approval for a business than that”.
Now, the company has 30 parks, providing state-of-the-art homes, with every luxury from wet rooms to saunas. “That’s what marks us out from the others,” he says. “We offer real luxury at a time when many people are struggling financially, and our homes don’t even look like they are mobile.”
A home on any Wyldecrest Park will cost between �49,000 and �250,000, an option which appeals to the retired as it offers the option of equity release, or down sizing, while still being able to enjoy life’s luxuries.
Second-hand homes can cost as little as �10,000.
So what next for the company? Alfie has his sights set on expanding overseas, after realising there is a gap in the market for luxurious mobile homes in America.
The future for Alfie Best, the man who came into the world at a roadside, has never looked brighter.