With 50% of start ups failing in their first couple of years what has enabled Christine to not only survive but grow her business?
It’s exactly 4 years since Christine took the brave leap of leaving her job and launching her start up. Now, on a warm day in May, I meet Christine at her first pop up shop in Putney, West London. Ben & Lola, the brand name that started as an idea at the kitchen table is brandished above the shop door.
“At the moment it’s going really well, we have opened this pop up shop and it’s been a great success. It’s been really, really busy.”
How do you think you’ve managed to stay in business and go on to be successful, whilst other start ups fail?
“It’s always been my plan to gradually grow it.” says Christine. “By doing summer and christmas markets I could see how much I could sell on one day at a fair. So that gave me some idea. But also my background, I knew that growing the business slowly, using the cash I had to put back into the business and grow it that way by buying more stock and then selling more stock, was vital.”
Christine’s experience as a merchandiser for high street retails chains proved invaluable. She knew it was important not to take on too much at the beginning and start small.
“I didn’t have too much stock in the beginning and I had cheaper things like socks, cheaper T shirts just to fill the website but I still have a lot of the same brands to this day. But it’s about not starting too big because in the beginning no one knows about you. So just grow gradually.”
And what else has helped?
“Facebook and emails generate a lot of sales and interest. But it’s really being face to face with customers. They remember your stock and they will come back. Because even here in Putney I can see where I’m getting the orders online from now. In addition a lot of people are interested in the Scandinavian brands and Scandinavian design. What I’ve heard here [in Putney] is that they are so different from anything else. Near this shop there are so many other companies like Jojo Maman Bebe, Gap, River Island Kids, H&M Kids. But I have still done so well in spite of all that competition. It’s like I sell something different.”
I have seen Christine at markets and in competition with other Scandinavian stall holders – and she still does well “It’s my good eye for design” she laughs. “But I think it’s important to have different price ranges. You need to have something to draw them in.
What has been the biggest outgoings, both personally and financially?
“Personally – my time. Financially – stock and re-launching the website. I didn’t have a choice – the company I used got bought out by someone else so I had to make a new website. It was a whole new platform. It’s expensive and it’s very time consuming to transfer everything over.”
What do you think has kept you in business?
“I think you have to do everything gradually, but you need a long term plan. You need to know where you want to be say in five years. You need to know how to get to that goal. I’ve always planned. But it is also the experience that I’ve had. I was a merchandiser before so I knew all about the stock planning and I think maybe that’s where people go wrong. They buy too much stock. It’s too expensive, they don’t negotiate it. And they sit with all the stuff and it doesn’t sell. No one knows about them.”
But after 4 years, Ben & Lola is now an established brand. I asked Christine what she enjoys most about her thriving business?
“I think I just have a great interest in this work. I love the products and that’s what’s driving me. I love the boxes when they come in. I still do. I’m still excited!”
The pop up shop is in Putney (opposite Waitrose) until May 16th. What have you got coming up in the next few months?
“My whole summer is booked up with summer fairs every weekend. They really want to have me at Spirit of Christmas and I will probably have more pop up shops.”
Is there anything Christine wishes she had known before she started out?
“Maybe I didn’t know how much you have to work. Maybe I thought it would be a little bit easier, more flexible. You work when the kids are at school. Run to get them. Work when you get home. I think about it when I go to bed, constantly. It’s never ending. If you go and work for someone else you are free after you finish most of the time.”
‘But,’ I ask, ‘if you’d known that before, would it have stopped you from doing it?’
“Probaby not” she laughs.
- Ben & Lola is at Putney Exchange, Putney High Street SW15 1TW until 16th May 2016.
- Start Your Dream Business: Secrets of Successful and Happy Entrepreneurs by Sarah Wade and Carole Ann Rice
- Find Your Dream Job: True Stories and Proven Strategies for Getting a Job you Love by Sarah Wade and Carole Ann Rice