AT the lowest point in 17-year-old Andrew Tomlinson’s life, he had left home with no work and had no money for his meter to even heat a tin of spaghetti.

He was living in Stockton, one street away from where the programme Benefit Street was filmed.

This sorry state of affairs was a turning point as he realised nothing in his life could be as grim as that ever again and he was determined to become successful.

He now has a multi-million pound kitchenware business, Andrew James, which exports to 80 countries around the world from their new £8m warehouse in Seaham, east Durham.

Andrew’s entrepreneurial drive got him out of his bedsit as a teenager to create his first business, preparing vegetables for local pubs and hotels, which was supported by The Prince's Trust.

This venture became so profitable that by the time he was 20, he employed 14 people with clients such as Bass.

However, a bad debt caused major problems for his cash flow and the realisation that he needed to have a better grasp of financial skills to run a business.

As a result, he sold the company and enrolled on a business management course at the University of Sunderland.

He had wanted to study for a degree, but as he had no formal qualifications, he had to start at HND level.

Nervous about what to expect, he said: “I was worried about whether I would cope intellectually and if it would be snobby, to be honest.

"On the first day, we were told about how our work was going to be delivered over a semester and I had no idea what one of those was so I asked the person next to me.

"He said he had no clue either and from that point forward I knew I need have no fears as everyone was there to learn right from scratch.”

He completed a degree at Northumbria University following his completion of the HND.

This led to a series of jobs, primarily in sales and then logistics.

Then, in his late 20s, there was the eureka moment that resulted in the formation of Andrew James.

His cousin James Buckle and his wife were cooking dinner for Andrew and his wife, using a raclette grill from Germany to cook the food.

He loved the whole social dining concept and saw the massive potential of this product, but when he looked to buy one, he found it was not available in the UK.

In keeping with his innovative spirit, he went into partnership with his cousin, creating Andrew James and bought 3,000 raclette grills to sell to the public, putting £15,000 on his credit card to get the business started.

He had no warehouse to store them, so piled them high in a garage.

In order to sell the grills, Andrew was sure magazine advertising would be the best route, so he spent £6,8000 on it and waited for the orders to flood in.

A grand total of three grills were bought as a result of that advert, so he knew he needed to change tack and embarked on selling his huge range of stock at trade shows.

With the support of their friend, Barry Robertson, who still works for the business, they travelled the country selling their raclette grills with great success.

They did everything from the Good Food Show to the Royal Highland Show and many in between, learning the fine art of cookery demonstrations as they went.

The company began to grow due to the run of orders coming from the trade shows and the first factory to store and distribute goods was based in Ferryhill, County Durham.

They outgrew this in two years and then moved to Bowburn, near Durham City.

This was outgrown within three years and a larger Bowburn factory became the base instead.

Turnover increased at the same pace as their need for larger premises, increasing from £1.5m in 2010 to more than £20m today.

During this time, there were two distinct impacts on the business both positive and negative, with luckily the positive massively outweighing the negative.

The recession of 2007-09 was really starting to kick in and the trade show orders dried up as a result.

Perversely, at the same time, the internet market in particular went, as Andrew put it, ‘Boom!’

“The first Black Friday in 2012 brought us around £6m of orders to process in a relatively short space of time.

"It was such an unprecedented amount of work it almost brought the business to its knees.

"We were literally in a position where we didn’t want more orders.

“I knew then if we were going to take advantage of all this potential we had to be a slick operation, which was absolutely on top of its logistics where goods are shipped both in and out all around the world.

“So we set about researching the technology and systems to enable us to be the very best distribution operation we could be.”

Before its moved to its new distribution centre, Andrew James saw a business requirement on Amazon Marketplace to take advantage of the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) service, where Amazon store, pick, pack and ship sales on behalf of smaller businesses, as well as handling customer service across Europe.

By 2014, the company was able to expand into France and Germany by selling through Amazon in those countries.

He said: “We also now have £3m worth of technology in our business so, for example, we can track any individual product from its origin, to where it is in the warehouse and going to be sent instantly.

"The same technology allows a 40ft container to be checked and unloaded in less than half an hour.

“We can process 28,000 orders a day and store up to three million items.

"The floor alone in this new distribution centre cost £500k but it was worth it as it underpins the whole transport around the centre.

“We have gone to great pains to ensure health and safety is at the top of everyone’s minds here as well.

"When a pallet is unloaded we have conveyor belt that removes it from the loading section automatically and the pallet behind is also automatically moved forward into the gap.”

The potential of the distribution centre is also part of Mr Tomlinson’s long-term business plan to be a logistics service arm for business to consumer companies who may not be able to set up their own fast-paced operation.

A passionate advocate for the North-East he is keen to keep his suppliers local where possible.

The conveyors in the factory were provided by Advance Automated Systems, of Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and Alan Neal is the same North-East accountant who helped him right from the start of the company.

The head office is also around the corner from the distribution centre in Seaham and has been fitted out with a £900,000 investment, including a demonstration kitchen.

There is also an Asian office going to be opened in early 2018 in Hong Kong to help source new kitchenware products and help with the supply chain for them.

The hard work has also brought accolades for the company, with awards such as the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 for Effective Use of Capital Award, an HSBC Global Connections Regional Winner Award, and a finalist in the national British Chambers of Commerce Business Awards 2015.

Mr Tomlinson is determined to help give young people the best start in life, unlike his own experience, and he supports a local school, The Peter Jones Academy in Peterlee.

He gives regular inspirational talks on how everyone has the chance to be successful - they just need to believe in themselves.

“People told me I was a failure, but you need to brush it out of the way and do what you are enthusiastic and passionate about," he added.

"The success will follow.”