Beauty Distribution Business Startup Case Study: Urban Apothecary Ltd

Name: Tajinder Nanuwa

Age: 27

Business: Urban Apothecary Ltd -

Type of business: Distributor of luxurious Beauty & Home Products and web retailer of Beauty, Bath & Body and Home

Start date: February 2006

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?

Having worked in the beauty industry from the ripe age of 16 it was natural progression for me once I'd worked up the ranks within the industry.

I started off as a promotions girl spraying fragrance, to an Account Manager managing a cosmetic house at 16 to becoming an Area Manager at 22 and then UK Key Account Manager for a Premium French bath and body brand at the age of 23.

Tell us about your business

My business was set-up to primarily distribute brands not currently available in the UK. So this entailed sourcing brands from around the world including Hollywood, Australia, France and California.

We supply upmarket department stores including Selfridges, Heals and John Lewis to name but a few and many independent boutiques around the UK.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?

I had always wanted to work for myself mainly because my family had always owned their own businesses rather than being employed by someone. I had many ideas over the years but this one just ticked all the boxes.

I set-up as a distributor as I wanted to utilise the experience I had gained and manage my own brands without producing one from scratch. The only way of doing this was to distribute a brand that was already up and running but not available in the UK.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals?

The decision to start my business was inspired by my family and wanting to progress. I've always had a progressive career and didn't want to stand still for too long!

What makes you think there's a market for your business?

The demand for new / niche brands in the UK is huge. Buyers are always on the look out for something with a point of difference and consumers like to try new things. I search for brands that have a new concept or are a first for the UK and can safely say that I have successfully secured the exclusive distribution of some fantastic brands!

Once you'd decided to start a business, what did you do first?

Search for brands! That was the hardest part to begin with and now I keep finding fantastic brands that I can't distribute as I have more than enough at this time.

What research did you do?

I carried out a lot of research to begin with mainly on regulations relating to the industry, importing goods as these were things I hadn't really dealt with in my previous roles but knew they were essential. My family provided knowledge on registering the company, tax and much more!

As I was working in the industry it was easy to research the reaction to brands and asked some of my contacts and friends within the industry to take a look at numerous products before committing to distributing them.

What advice did you seek?

I contacted a few. One was Business Link Leicestershire who were extremely helpful and sent me out information on absolutely everything including details on courses and grants and another was the DTI whose website was extremely informative. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending them to any new start-up.

What other help did you get?

I was lucky that I received much encouragement and support from family and my contacts within the industry which really helped. Also I met other distributors who were extremely helpful.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?

Yes, I think so. There is certainly much more support than there was say 10 years ago but I think there needs to me more help. I think the biggest factor preventing new businesses starting up in the first instance is funding. I think there could be more schemes in place for loans or grants for new business start-ups.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.

My business plan was relatively straightforward to write as I had learnt all about business planning whilst studying for my Degree in Management and Masters in Management.

Many of the banks provide software and documents for writing a business plan but I had my own format which worked.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you'll stick to it as your business begins to grow?

My business plan has been useful and am very much a believer in it but I believe is should be used as a guide and not strictly followed. With regards to expenditure I try to but I also don't want to miss a good opportunity if it comes along sooner than planned.

How much did it cost to start the business?

Enough to buy a small house in Leicestershire!

How did you fund this?

I fully financed the business myself but would have welcomed a cash injection from a grant or loan for young entrepreneurs but couldn't find one to suit my needs.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?

Again I'm fully financing it myself. I have worked from the age of 16 so I have some savings!

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?

Yes, but have focused more on how to make the business even more prosperous to exceed my expectations.

When did you stop working?

I actually registered the company in September 2005 but left full-time employment in February 2006. The transition was fine as I was extremely busy in my first month with meetings which was exciting. I now look back on this three months into working for myself and think wow I did it¦I love being my own boss!

Are you working from home or from premises?

My office is based from home. I also worked from home in my previous roles so there was no need to adapt to being at home. I'm extremely productive working from home so enjoy it but I'm looking for premises to purchase now for my office and warehousing to be under one roof.

How many hours are you working at the moment?

7am to 7pm 6 days a week but would work all the hours necessary to get the job done.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you're able to get everything done without working around the clock?

I'm extremely organised and prioritise but if something unexpected turns up I react to it if urgent which sometimes means working longer hours.

What about staff, is it just you?

At the moment it's myself, someone helping me with orders and an accountant. I will be looking for sales and administrative staff shortly.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?

No, it doesn't concern me hugely but would strive to receive an Investor in People award. I want my future employees to love working with me and for my company.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?

I have a London PR company representing my brands and Urban Apothecary the website and am about to invest in other advertising and marketing for both the website and the brands I distribute.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time?

In 12 months time I wanted to have launched my website but did this only after 3 months so we are moving at a much quicker pace. In 12 months though I hope to have opened our first Urban Apothecary store in a major city.

What are the main obstacles to growth?

The only obstacle would be is if we didn't achieve the sales predicted but if we continue at the pace we've started at then I don't foresee there being an obstacle.

Tell us about your website.

My website is stylish and has a great design which I receive many compliments about. It's simple and easy use which was crucial as I myself am an impatient shopper and if I don't receive the service I expect I lose interest very quickly.

The website is extremely important to my business as it's another sales channel which is perfect for getting the Urban Apothecary name out there before we open our first store.

I gave the web designers who produced the site a very detailed specification of what I wanted the site to look like in terms of design and functions but when they presented the site to me at the first stage it exceeded my expectations.

I gave input at every stage and often spoke with the web designers many times during the day¦which I'm sure on occasion stressed them out!

The process from start to finish was okay but the deadline was exceeded by a month which wasn't ideal however now it's finished its perfect!

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?

My ambition is to build a successful business within the beauty industry which is achievable with hard work and support. I'm extremely passionate about the industry and enjoy what I do but if, I didn't I simply wouldn't do it!

As long as I make enough money to enjoy my life then I'm happy but more importantly by having money I can contribute to making the lives of others more enjoyable by giving generously to my chosen charity which is really close to my heart.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you'd done differently?

I didn't find anything extremely difficult about starting up as I had the support of my family and friends to help me. If, I didn't I couldn't have done it without them.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?

Optimism, perseverance, self-motivation and the desire to succeed.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

The best piece of advice I can give is worry about the sales and everything else will fall into place!

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you're getting on in six months' time?

Of course but by then you will hopefully be featuring me in your success stories, young entrepreneur and women in business pages!

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