The dreary headquarters of Carphone Warehouse give little sign that this is the nerve-centre of one of the most exciting and ground-breaking retail operations to have made its mark on the UK high street in the past 15 years.
Marooned on the edge of a West London council estate, the offices have more in common with a second division engineering firm in the West Midlands than a retail brand worth more than pounds 1.5bn on the stock market.
But Charles Dunstone, the man responsible for creating the brand that takes the headache out of the excruciatingly confusing mobile phone market, makes no apologies for his company's location.
The rent is cheap and it's reasonably easy to get to. He may hold court in his capacious corner office, but Dunstone has to suffer the walk from the Tube and the wasteland view like the rest of his staff.
Being one of the boys is important to Dunstone. Underpinning all that he does and says is an inherent empathy with his staff and consumers alike.
He may have a public school accent and a Holland Park home, but making it easier for the masses to buy a mobile phone is the foundation upon which he based his business.
The challenge that now faces Dunstone - and David Ross, his original partner, now chief operating officer - is to ensure the consumer remains the priority. Since last July, when he finally took the plunge and floated the company, Dunstone has had to add shareholder satisfaction into the equation.
'I think it is mutually compatible. It dawned on me very early on that we had to go out of our way to do more for customers than anyone else did, because who were we? We were no one. You expected to go to Dixons or a BT shop when you wanted to buy a mobile phone, so to persuade people to try this unknown company, we had to work harder to get their business.
'Treating your employees and customers well is good business; it makes money because you gain much more loyalty. I'm sure there are all sorts of extremely successful companies that are publicly quoted that have operated that way. If you don't look after your customers and employees, then ultimately you'll run out of people who don't know how bad you are.'
This statement is typical Dunstone. He is utterly proud of his achievements, but is self-deprecating at the same time.
He relishes telling the tale of how he started the business with little more than pounds 6000 worth of savings and a bellyful of determination. The float has required a huge injection of cash - the first since his savings started it all - to fund Carphone Warehouse's rapid expansion programme.
'We have 1100 stores now and we've been acquiring businesses outside the UK. We're now bigger outside the UK than within, so it's about continuing that strategy of growth.
'There is a big revolution that's coming as people start to use more data on mobile phones. So we're focused on ensuring we have critical mass in the main European markets before that revolution begins.'
I've seen Dunstone speak at a conference when he said he never wanted Carphone Warehouse to become an institution. I ask if he's worried that being a public company and growing will push him that way. 'I don't think so. It's the same company; there's just more public scrutiny.'
From his manner, you wouldn't think anything causes Dunstone anxiety. Whether it's facing up to the mobile networks expanding into retail ('I don't mind that; that's fair, really') or supermarkets stocking phones ('for some people that's good') to the constant spectre of Dixons ('our great competitor'), his answers suggest he's confident of Carphone Warehouse's foothold. But he insists it's otherwise.
'Someone said that only the paranoid survive in today's world. I'm quite paranoid about what people are doing and what's going on. There's very little complacency here. We're always conscious of that and it's one of the things that drives us to make sure we're better. A lot of people have tried (to replicate what we do) and we've seen a lot off.'
At the same conference as he made his anti-institution pledge, Dunstone made a rabble-rousing branding speech comparing the brands he did and didn't want Carphone Warehouse to be like.
So how much did he think about the brand back in 1989 when he set up the business to sell mobile phones to the public, rather than corporate, customers?
'You always have a dream of what you want the company to be like, but most of your time is spent just surviving. There are a couple of points I remember going through. The first was actually realising that it was going to make it, that this thing was really going to happen - that was probably after about two years.
'When you first start a business, it feels as though you have to go out and advertise. And as you advertise you bring in a certain number of customers, but you don't have any momentum. Then a time comes when you realise that if you stopped all your advertising and if Carphone Warehouse ceased to exist, there would still be people trying to come and buy. That's when I realised there's a momentum about it that is, I guess, what being a brand is all about.'
Dunstone's own self-effacing manner is very much reflected in the marketing philosophy embodied by his company. 'I think we quite like slightly under-promising and under-claiming in our advertising. I remember Julian Richer (founder of Richer Sounds) saying to me that his shops are so cheap and gaudy that after you've seen the front, anything you find inside has to be better.
'I like the idea that Carphone Warehouse is a name that doesn't over-claim or over-promise. We have a fantastic buyers' guide we bring out every month that's just called the 'Catalogue'. We've always tried to make sure the reality is better than what we claim and what we say. With most retailers, advertising the reality is very often worse than the promise. We try to be truthful about it and not be too slick. It's an intimidating product, so we need to be a bit down to earth about it.'
Marketing is uncharacteristically close to the heart of a man who started out his career as a salesman. So which is he? 'I am a salesman by career history, but I don't think I'm a very good salesman. I don't think I was very good at handling objections.
'As a business, we've always tried to promote the idea that there should never be a reason why the public wouldn't deal with us. 'We should never have to feel that we're trying to defend something because our competitors are better than us.'
Dunstone comes across as being polite and very straightforward. He doesn't seem to have a hidden agenda or a 'flash Harry' bone in his body. He's eager to please and gives the impression that this is how he has always been.
While he is an entrepreneur, Dunstone does not fit the mould of some of his contemporaries. This is not a man who set up his own company because he couldn't bear to be told what to do by someone else every day at work, or because he was so creative that a corporate structure stifled him.
A self-made millionaire from the young conservative school, he spotted a hole in the market, had the confidence and connections to build on that, and dedicated his life to it. He even puts it down to sheer luck that he picked a sector that has boomed.
'Anybody who tells you that they ever predicted the mobile phone business would be as big as it has been is lying. No one knew. For me it was such a good basic idea - having a phone that works wherever you are - that attracted me,' he says.
'The concept of it is simple to understand and the benefits are very clear and tangible to customers, so our job is to help in the detail and find the best service for them. It's not a hard concept to sell.'
Whether it's a consequence of luck or judgement, Carphone Warehouse couldn't be better positioned for the future. 'I think (the marketplace) will become more confusing because you have all these data-type internet products. It's very difficult to make head or tail of it just to buy a voice tariff, and we've had voice tariffs for 15 years. You'd have thought that if the market was going to simplify, it would have happened by now.
'It's about to change tremendously and that's why we've been pushing out. There has been enormous investment made by the network operators in buying the third-generation licences; someone is going to have to help the customers buy the stuff and understand what it's all about. That's our prime job.'
Despite its bad press, Dunstone thinks that WAP technology will fit in with this bright future, especially as it improves. 'The new technology, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), is very high speed. It's like having ISDN on mobile phones, which will change things. At the moment, accessing WAP takes a long time, but with GPRS, you press a button and have instant web access.
'Because WAP's quite confusing people are black-and-white about it. It's either the biggest thing or a complete failure. But it's really a bit of a grey area at the moment and everyone is at the learning phase.'
Dunstone is most at ease talking about his business. Carphone Warehouse is his life and he's reluctant to admit anything else factors in it. But he denies he is a workaholic. 'I probably work slightly fewer hours than I used to. But it's always on your mind.'
When pushed, he says that sailing is his passion out of work, so holidays are spent on his yacht. But these holidays have to be planned carefully.
When he starts to explain that he always stays in the UK for Christmas and that he likes to be here for Christmas Eve, I naively assume it's because he wants to spend it with his family. I'm wrong.
'It's such a peak trading period,' he says. 'The whole company is working flat out to try to cope with demand, and for me and the directors to have pissed off on holiday would look appalling. We're all in it together.'
'Refuse to be beaten'
Dunstone doesn't give much away, despite his friendly persona, but he does admit to a competitive streak. 'I am immensely competitive and very proud of Carphone Warehouse. I think you have to be very competitive and just refuse to be beaten,' he says.
That's not just limited to work. Once peak trading was over last December, Dunstone headed to the Caribbean. 'There were two of us in two boats and every day we went racing and it just got ridiculously out of control. The guy in the other boat was as competitive as I was.' With a tally of five wins to his friend's two, it was deemed a good holiday.
Every profile article that has been written about Dunstone describes how 'ordinary' he is. It's true he is easy to talk to, polite and uncontentious, but is 'ordinary' really an image he would aspire to? He insists that it's a fair depiction and that it's not 'spin'.
But he's set up a business that has gone from two men and a phone to more than a thousand stores in just over ten years, in the process providing a paradigm that is sure to fill the pages of marketing textbooks for years to come - and there's nothing ordinary about that.
Born: November 21, 1964, in Cambridge.
Education: Uppingham School, Rutland.
Career: Joined Torch Computers as a sales executive in 1983, staying for three years until he moved to NEC as sales manager in the mobile phones division. In 1989, he founded Carphone Warehouse. The first store opened the next year. By 1993, it had 17 stores and a mail-order operation. In 1996, the company started expanding into Europe. It acquired Tandy in the UK in 1999. The company floated on the London Stock Market in July 2000.
Lives: Holland Park, London
Hobbies: Sailing. Has owned three boats but currently only has the one.
This article was first published on Marketing