How Ryan Howsam turned a love of golf into profits

From humble beginnings selling golfing insurance, Staysure - the multimillion-pound business founded by Ryan Howsam - is one of Britain's fastest growing companies.

By 1998, Ryan Howsam, now 45, was in trouble. Throughout the 1990s, he had built up a chain of "18-30" stores selling clothing, holidays and a popular discount card for regular clubbers. But as it began to struggle, he "decided to wind it up and look for something else". That would prove to be a smart move.

A keen golfer (he had considered turning pro as a youngster), he decided to create a new discount card that offered deals for short golfing holidays around Britain. Howsam got the cards placed in a number of sports retailers. As sales increased one of them, JJB Sports, asked if he could provide golf insurance too. "Golf insurance covers the usual stuff like losing your clubs, but it also takes care of extras, for example if you hit someone with a golf ball."

Howsam worked on an online platform that would allow people to buy the insurance and found an underwriter to put together some different golfing insurance options. The success of that product convinced him to try for a much bigger market. "I felt that it could work for travel insurance."

In 2004, Howsam formed travel insurance firm Staysure. "I wasn't a registered broker so I found one to represent me." He invested in a website and booking engine to handle new business. His plan was to focus on the over-50s market, where margins are higher. "Older travellers are less likely to claim for theft or loss of goods but more likely to claim for medical problems."

By this point, he had moved to Spain and hired British expatriates to work for him. As sales grew, he reinvested everything in the business, especially in marketing. He also managed to get favourable advertising rates from the bigger search engines by registering himself as an advertising agency.

By 2005, sales had hit £500,000 and Howsam felt ready to register himself as a broker and establish a direct relationship with underwriters. "Going through another broker meant that we hadn't been getting the best prices for our products." The new deals helped Staysure win more custom and in 2007, he built a new call centre in Spain.

With business booming, Howsam decided in 2009 to court investors. "I was thinking of selling a 25% chunk of the business." The business was valued at £6m, but would-be buyers didn't like the fact that a British insurer was based in Spain.

Howsam decided he should return to Britain and broaden his services to become more of a general insurer. He began offering motor, home and medical insurance, while retaining his focus on the 50-plus market. He hired "senior staff who were specialist insurers and understood each of the new markets". However, "it is hard to get good deals from underwriters when you don't have large numbers of customers. And of course if you haven't got good deals it's hard to get new customers."

Fortunately the successful travel business rode to his rescue. It funded an extensive marketing campaign, including TV advertisements, and enabled Howsam to cross-sell new products to existing customers.

Last year Staysure sold £20m of insurance cover and made The Sunday Times Fast Track 100 for the second year in a row. It is now valued at £30m, and Howsam believes sales will reach £100m within five years.

Recommended

Profile of Kwasi Kwarteng, the leading light of the Tory right
People

Profile of Kwasi Kwarteng, the leading light of the Tory right

Kwasi Kwarteng, who studied 17th-century currency policy for his doctoral thesis, has always had a keen interest in economic crises. Now he is in one …
10 Oct 2022
Yvon Chouinard: The billionaire “dirtbag” who's giving it all away
People

Yvon Chouinard: The billionaire “dirtbag” who's giving it all away

Outdoor-equipment retailer Yvon Chouinard is the latest in a line of rich benefactors to shun personal aggrandisement in favour of worthy causes.
6 Oct 2022
Johann Rupert: the Warren Buffett of luxury goods
People

Johann Rupert: the Warren Buffett of luxury goods

Johann Rupert, the presiding boss of Swiss luxury group Richemont, has seen off a challenge to his authority by a hedge fund. But his trials are not o…
26 Sep 2022
Six mistakes to avoid when starting a business
Small business

Six mistakes to avoid when starting a business

Around 60% of new businesses fail within three years, says David Prosser. Here, he outlines six key pitfalls to avoid when starting a business.
21 Sep 2022

Most Popular

When will interest rates go up?
UK Economy

When will interest rates go up?

Interest rates are now at 4%, and they could rise further in the months ahead.
3 Feb 2023
NS&I brings back one-year fixed bonds with highest rates since 2010
Personal finance

NS&I brings back one-year fixed bonds with highest rates since 2010

NS&I’s one-year fixed bonds are back on sale after being pulled off the market in 2019 - but is the rate any good?
1 Feb 2023
Covid-19 vaccines helped these stocks take off, but what’s next for these companies?
Investments

Covid-19 vaccines helped these stocks take off, but what’s next for these companies?

Dominic Frisby explores how the top vaccine stocks are doing as booster take-up remains at a low
2 Feb 2023