01 Aug

Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask

A week or so ago I got an email from Rachel regarding my Biz Column. She asked if I might cover certain topics and sent in a bunch of really cool questions (see below)!  This got me to thinking that once a month I’ll accrue a whole bunch of questions from you guys (should you have any that is) and answer them on anything business related. Any help, advice you may need send em in!

In the meantime I hope that by me answering Rachel’s questions about my biz it in turn helps you with yours. Knowledge as they say is power!

What were the first two years really like? How did it feel?

A roller coaster they went from the adrenalin rush of opening to the realisation that this new turn my life had taken was a tough gig! I was completely naïve at the amount of work (I’m talking boring back office work here) that a store generates. I had this idealised image of myself floating around the store lighting scented candles, going on regular buying trips, talking to cool customers. I found it confusing and almost paralysing if I am completely honest in those early days I so didn’t have a formula or a style. The two worst things in those two years were our location and cash flow. Because I didn’t have much faith in my concept we took the smallest store with the smallest rent, knowing that if it all went tits up we would lose money but not enough to make a big difference. Looking back on that first location was the worst time in my whole business career. No one came in, we were either too small so it scared people to enter or off the beaten track they couldn’t even see us.  I remember being in tears almost every week.

What gave me faith is that the people who did came in loved it and brought so I figured after only three months we had to get out of that location. We jumped ship after about 13 months (it took a while to find somewhere) to a bigger (although still small) store on a prime location with a rent three times as much! We mortgaged the house and then Graham lost his job. It was terrifying time. Sales were better but our overheads were higher so we were no better off! Looking back I’m not sure where I found the determination to not give up. Somehow it was just never an option I guess when you’ve put your house on the brink and both your livelihoods are dependent on it you have one choice – to fight!

What mistakes did you make that newbies should/can avoid?

Firstly we didn’t ask for enough money from the bank which meant we always had cash flow nightmares, always struggling to pay suppliers, rent, wages, nightmare.  I remember and this got us in a lot of trouble financially we had to pay the wage bill on credit cards for a number of months as sales were slow – which is so not the way to go, but the only other option at that time was go under so we had zero choice!

We didn’t have a grip on the running costs and I didn’t crunch the numbers on a weekly basis. What’s sold what’s not, why not etc. etc. Nor did we have a clear focus on style. In the early days I was trying to please everyone with my product selection and now I buy only for me. I’m my own customer!  If I would have it in my house I buy it for the store simple as that. Once I figured that out sales started growing!  The biggest tip I can give is don’t get distracted with a load of conflicting advice. Everyone will pitch in and tell you to do things differently try and listen to your gut, and read a lot. I spent a lot of time reading business books trying to drill down why certain companies were so successful and why at that time mine was not!

Where did you find your first clients or customers? Followers?

Our first customer ever was Alexander McQueen who happened to be passing and brought a hugely expensive hanging chair. Yay hay! Everyone else in the early days was walk ins. We held a launch party and invited the press so we began to get the store and the products written about which slowly slowly drove customers in from out of the area. The biggest game changer was getting the house featured in a magazine, Elle Decoration I think it was. Those images then got sold around the world to other magazines, more photographers wanted to shoot the house and before we knew it we had some seriously amazing publicity which of course helped the business. Our customer base became national, then international within a couple of years.

What skills are essential to succeed in this industry?

I’m not going to sugar coat here the road to success is not easy. I’ve found it’s actually less about one brilliant idea and more about a ton of  ideas and hard work over a long period of time.  The currency of success is passion simple as that. Being able to bounce back when things go wrong you can only do if you have passion and this incredible self believe that it will work out alright.

Plus persistence, initiative and determination all key! That and the untold hours of work your business will take, you can’t resent it because the minute you do is the minute you fail. Sure you can moan, groan, cry, drink wine (I do all of these things regularly) but you have to have an inordinate amount of passion and love for what you do. Also as odd as this sounds I’m not driven by money I’m driven by creativity. Obviously I want the business to make money and a lot of it but I’m not on some mission plan with an exit strategy after two years where I cash in and then sail around the Med (wondering actually why not now)!

Talking of creativity you’ll need a big dose – be inquisitive, look at your competitors absorb and learn as much as you can. Its often said that entrepreneurs take calculated risks – you’ll not gain anything by playing it safe – you’ve got to push boundaries, financially, creatively push them.

All the other stuff leadership skills, general management, accounting (hello) you can learn or farm out!

How do you get people to your blog and to comment?

When it comes to blogging I think you have to pick a field that is right for you. If you can specialise in something that you are passionate about people will come to you. I know lots of blogs are loosing readers in droves (on the contrary mine is bucking the trend and gaining) but I think its for this simple reason. Lots of bloggers monetize their blogs (which I get) so the content is driven by which advertiser has sponsored them to write about which product. Regrettably fewer advertisers want to do the traditional advert down the side of the side bar scenario and actually want sponsored editorial type posts More and more readers are wishing onto this and deserting them in droves.

I have a load of people tell me over the years to quit the blog  (I spend on average 12-14 hours a week on something that doesn’t pay ) which they see as ludicrous is how the general argument goes. My argument is always the same ‘ Not everything you do has to make money’. I’ve got this incredibly community of readers who I engage with interact with and learn from. Do they want to hear me write about vacuum cleaners nope. Do I want to write about vacuum cleaners, hell no!

In terms of how to get people to comment I don’t really know the answer to that one. I just know that if someone takes the time to comment on my blog I’m darn sure going to answer back no matter how busy my day. The day I stop answering is the day I stop blogging. Does that get more people to comment I don’t know?

Check out the weekly  for more tips and business advice.

For retailers, start-ups and budding entrepreneurs, why not try our London Retail Class, or sign up for the Online Retail Masterclass?

This is our ultimate A-Z guide for anyone thinking of starting their own business, or looking to take the next step in building their retail empire.

 

 

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