Will Bees Bespoke Starting a brand from scratch, with no outside investment was always going to be the biggest challenge. Both founders come from much bigger companies, so the immediate hands-on nature across all areas distracted us from key areas of the business that we wanted to focus on.
A major challenge was setting up the business using private funds and using only the cashflow to invest into ‘growth’ activity, such as marketing and product development. Fortunately we grew rapidly from day one, and the cashflow allowed for some growth activity but it was very much hand to mouth at the start. We wanted to be 100% sure we had a solid business to invest into so we knew the first few years would be run on a very tight budget.
A potential risk to our plans was the ‘personalisation’ concept which many peers at the time urged us to drop on the basis it might become a possible ‘barrier’ to customer purchase and hinder our scalability. However we persisted and now have a very quick and well run experience where the customer can have their bag personalised within 60 seconds of purchase - and it’s the reaction on the customer’s face when shown their bag with their name on it which is priceless and what we feel is at the heart of our brand and customer journey. We have also proved we can offer this service across all our sales channels and at the same time exceed our target sales margins. The trick is now to get this ‘brand experience’ onto our website which is where we believe our 2019 digital investments will deliver.
We have proved we can offer this service across all our channels; the trick is now to get this brand experience onto our website.
One of the most significant challenges was keeping the back-end of our business efficient and having 24/7 financial visibility as we rapidly grew sales. At the end of 2017 we had nearly doubled our annual sales, yet our profit levels remained the same as previous years. We lost visibility of our finances, particularly margins and operating costs; the phrase ‘busy fools’ was used often. We soon realised we needed to invest focus, resource and effort into the back-end of the business particularly across finance and systems. Thanks to our new FD, we now have a fully integrated system in place so every part of the business communicates through one system across production, stock, finance, sales, digital and operations, resulting in a much more efficient running of the business, which immediately impacted on higher profits.
As we traded through 2018 we started to believe we have a product and business platform that was ready for growth so we recently decided to raise finance. We are paying a relatively high interest rate for this facility but for the time being we decided to borrow through a traditional loan facility rather than look for any individual or finance house that might want a percentage of our business ownership. We still believe we have a few years of growth which we can achieve with the existing set up and team before going to any second round financing house/individuals.
Initial indicators from new marketing activity and product launched is looking positive.
Our focus now is on digital marketing, now we know we have a product that sells, has further growth potential, we can scale production and have the right people in the right place to make it happen. This has primarily been achieved by working with a new Digital Director who is rapidly improving our approach and activity. The investment is also being used to launch several new ranges throughout 2019 in particular a new Luxury Bag concept which will considerably elevate our brand perception and pricing point. So far for 2019 we have achieved 80% growth online year to date, so initial indicators from new marketing activity and product launched is looking positive.
I’m often asked if we’d do things differently; our principal piece of advice would be to ensure you put one seamless system in place from the start to run your business from. Clear visibility of your finances is key in driving efficiency and profit. It’s also worth remembering that your brand is key. Do not compromise your brand DNA for commercial quick gains, stick to your beliefs and treat every mistake as an opportunity to learn and change what you do for the better.
And finally....remember to breathe. It can be very stressful so make sure you enjoy the highs and crack on with the lows. Run a tight ship for the first couple of years and wait until you have a proven concept before embarking on any major growth activity and financing. Expect the journey to be a roller coaster of success and failure, however as you trade through the first couple of years and your concept proves itself, then the wins start to become more frequent. Surf more... it’s great for managing stress levels.
Will Bees Bespoke
Makers of unique British Goods
We are a retail brand and manufacturer of Bags & Accessories based in Salcombe, Devon. We hand make in England a range of products which can be personalised with any chosen name or initials. The customer personalisation experience is at the heart of our brand, as well as our Salcombe family roots. Now in our 4th year of trading we continue to grow exponentially, particularly though our digital channels, where last year we achieved over 60% growth and 2019 sees even more ambitious forecasts.
Our sales channels consist of a retail store in Salcombe (South Devon), website, consumer events, wholesale (export and UK) and corporate gifting. The main marketing activity to date has been through prestigious retail events such as RHS Chelsea Flower Show and Burghley Horse Trials where customer acquisition has been the key aim in order to funnel new traffic into our new and improved digital channel.