From Market Stall To £4 Million Headquarters - How To Scale Up An Artisan Business
There are worse places to start an entrepreneurial career. Several miles to the South and East of central London, historic Greenwich still manages to hold its own as a tourist hub, thanks in no small part to the presence of a Royal Park, the National Maritime Museum and, last but not least, a very trendy market with a weekend emphasis on arts and crafts and artisan-produced products. During my time living in the borough, a Sunday walk through the park and down to the covered market area was something of a personal ritual.
And I had looked very carefully, I might have noticed Susie Ma. She started selling her own brand of body lotion at the market when she was still at school. It was a decidedly small-scale business - her products were manufactured at home to her own recipe and then sold in recycled jars - but in its own terms, it was successful.
“I could make as much as £1,000 a week,” she says. That wasn’t going to propel her onto anyone’s rich list, but it was money that could be squirreled away to pay for continuing education and to help her mother buy a house. At that point, her aim was to go to a good university and, from there, get a high paying job.
Fast forward to the present day. When I speak to Ma she is moving her company - Tropic Skincare - into a new £4 million headquarters where all the aspects of the business - marketing, administration, manufacturing, and dispatch will be taking place under one roof. The company itself has just announced record sales of £29.5 million.
And perhaps the surprising thing is that despite a short spell in the banking industry, and a stint on the U.K. version of The Apprentice, Ma has emerged doing much the same thing as she was doing on cold Sunday mornings in Greenwich Market - namely selling organic and sustainably sourced beauty products.
The difference is, of course, that she is doing it on a vastly bigger scale.
Now the U.K. is choc a bloc with artisan producers who can do very nicely selling to relatively small customer groups through local independent shops and market stalls. But the beauty/skincare world is dominated by big brands, supported by massive marketing budgets. It’s a highly competitive market and building a national business is never going to be easy.
So how did Ma build her business? Well the first thing that has to be said, is that she had help. Although she became third on her series of the Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar - the entrepreneur lynchpin of the U.K. version of the show - invested £250,000 for half the business. He also provided additional mentoring and support, but as she stresses, the day-to-day running of Tropic Skincare and its ultimate success was up to her.
A Tried and Trusted Sales Model
The model she chose was social selling. Backed up by an e-commerce website, the strategy was to recruit a small army of direct sellers who hold events and demonstrate the products.
This effectively de-risks the selling process. The “ambassadors,” when recruited, pay £180 for a starter kit containing £400 worth of products and are sent out into the world to make a return for themselves. Ongoing, ambassadors receive 25% commission.
It’s a familiar model, but the secret to making it work is to find the right representatives and that was the part that required real commitment and Ma says it was tough at the beginning.
“I used to drive constantly all over the country to try to recruit people, “ she says. “They were long, long car journeys in an old car. But I kept going and it began to snowball - very soon, we began to gain traction.”
Traveling the country by road to conduct countless meetings with potential recruits is a long way from the rather glamorous image that we tend to associate with today’s generation of headline-grabbing, tech-focused entrepreneurs, but curiously, it’s an experience that reflects the many tasks that Apprentice contestants are given week by week. Often they are required to design products and go and sell them directly.
I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the relationship between the Apprentice and the real world of Entrepreneurship, but Ma says the show was a useful primer. “Essentially you had a to start a new business every week. Doing that made me realize that I did want to go and start my own business.”
Driven by the Migrant Experience
But her hands on approach owed as much to her family background. Susie was born in China and moved with her family to Australia before coming to London. One aspect of the migrant experience is that it can be hard to take advantage of pre-existing qualifications and skills when you move to another country. Entrepreneurialism was a key to survival. “My mother used to make and sell ties. I used to hustle on the street with my parents,” says Ma.
Today, the work of building the company continues and Ma is determined to pursue a sustainable model through the ingredients, their sourcing and a commitment to packaging that can be recycled. This is part of the brand positioning, but also a matter of principle. “I think the customers appreciate it, but it is also good to do the right thing.
via Forbes - Entrepreneurs https://ift.tt/dTEDZf
March 31, 2019 at 03:37AM