Start-up business owner Melina Sdrolia from Fete Boutique launched earlier this year 2011, I got a chance to catch up with her and go through some points and what obstacles occurred in setting up a business and how to overcome these.
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and how you came across starting up your business?
I worked in the sales field for a few years previously, which gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about customer service, margins, suppliers, how to resolve issues, how to manage my workload and how to be efficient and hit targets. My previous work involved a lot of travelling and long hours and it did not work well with family life. So I decided that it was time to start up my own business not to work fewer hours, because you still have to work very long hours, but to have a more flexible schedule, less time away from home.
I have always liked things that are unique and creative and I have been good with making cards, drawings, gifts for my friends and loved beads since I was little, so I decided to turn my passion into a business. Currently I offer my customers handmade table gifts for special celebrations such as christenings, weddings and baby showers, and also handcrafted baby gifts
You’ve setup yourself in a nice unique niche in providing handmade baby gifts. How did you come across the idea and what inspired you to choose this niche.
The idea really came while I was helping a friend to organise the christening of their baby daughter and we were looking for favours that were beautiful, affordable and non-DIY since we did not really have the time to do them up. In the end I did them myself because we did not really manage to find something ready- made that we liked. The favours were very well received by the guests.
I was born and grew up in Greece where there is a long held tradition regarding christenings, which I really cherish and it is shared by many cultures and extends to weddings too. Part of this tradition is also offering wonderful hand- made favours to our guests. The christening ceremony is traditionally followed by a big party that used to include the whole of the village like a big village fete, where the whole community would help to organize by offering their services, so fete boutique was born.
You have decided just to trade online at the moment via your website, any particular reason you have just chosen a web as a sales avenue rather than having a high street store?
I would love to have a high street store! However, I felt that setting up an online shop provided me with a less risky platform to try out my idea. There is no comparison in the start- up costs of having a high street shop and the costs of setting up and running an e-commerce shop. In addition, online shopping is here to stay and judging from experience I tend to do more and more of my shopping on-line because it is convenient, you have a lot of choice and you can compare prices on the spot. On the other hand you do not get the business from people that just pass through your store and the personal touch when you see someone face to face, which is very important. Also, most people want to see and touch things before they buy.
The bottom line is that it costs less to set-up an e-commerce shop than opening a high street store.
As a start-up company, what would you say was the most challenging task of setting up your business?
I found that my initial idea of what my e-commerce shop should be, developed and changed significantly as I had to deal with all the details of setting up the business. At the same time creating the basis upon which your e-commerce shop as well as your creative ideas will grow at least for the next 2-3 years takes time and effort to put together and makes you think long and hard about your product line and the direction of your business, so you have something suitable set up from the beginning.
The way I went about it was to find a company to design and build a bespoke product for my needs and budget. It is really important that you can communicate with them, you trust them and they give you good advice. They also provide you with great after-sales and technical support. So research and take your time on this, because it is crucial and will save you a lot of money in the long run.
In addition, I would say that the most challenging of all is making your business known. Marketing is challenging and expensive too. Again I stay informed and I try to learn as much as I can about on-line and off-line marketing. With the marketing I find that it is a little bit like trial and error a few things work better than others and a few errors are expensive.
What advertising methods are you using, to promote your business?
I quickly realised that if I do not optimise my web site it would be very difficult for someone to find my business on-line. So recently I started a SEO campaign which seems to be working. It is a long process and takes time. Also as a business owner you need to be out there promoting your business, so I have been a member of a networking group which helps me to affiliate with other people and businesses get invited to different events, which is both good for promoting my business and a good way to socialise with like-minded people. It is a slow process but good relationships take time to flourish.
The use of social media is also very important, as everybody says, however I find that not all social media platforms are suitable for me and I think the best way to go about it is find the one you enjoy the most and be consistent with it, consistency is key. I still have to be convinced about social media though. So ask me again in a year’s time.
How important is it to control costs, as a new business there are so many tasks that need to be completed, how do you prioritise and spend where it is needed?
Controlling costs is the most important thing. Again spending time researching and learning about different ways of doing things can save you money, just because people tell you that you need this or that it does not mean that you do. I set up a specific budget for the whole project and made sure that I stuck to it, however you need to be realistic about how much money things cost, and again through research you start to get the idea before you commit. I would say that for me spending a little more on your web-site, so it looks professional and works well and having good quality photos of your products is essential and a priority. Also a decent business card is important.
How would you say is the best way to find new suppliers for a business, any tips and advice?
For me the best way is through exhibitions, where you can see the products, check quality and have a chat face to face with the potential provider to explain how your business works what are your needs and get an understanding of how they do business themselves and what they are like. I also tend to work with people that have been recommended to me, which is always the best way, so check out your potential providers because they can make or break your business.
I see you take extra care in your products and services to ensure that they are perfect to every need, as trading online only, how important is it to gain customer satisfaction, and how do you do it?
Getting feedback from our customers is crucial. We need to know what we do well and what we need to improve on in order to be able to offer high standards of service and build a trusting relationship with our customers. People want a quick, hassle free and reliable service, a good product and competitive prices, which we offer. Word of mouth is a powerful tool. We have built links where people can leave reviews and also we are trying to give them an incentive in order to take a few minutes out of their time to do so.
What are the future plans for Fete Boutique?
In the future I would really love for Fete boutique to become a destination for people who want to throw a fabulous party for their wedding or christening of their child and we could help them with all aspects of designing it and organising it. Not a lot!
What books, resources, or advice would you recommend for individuals starting off now?
I would say spend time researching about what other businesses in your chosen field are doing, what you like about them and what you don’t as well as what value you will add through your idea. In addition, the start-up budget needs to be realistic and above all you need to be hardworking, well organised and patient. I tend to read business related articles on-line, Google reader is a good source. Finally, be flexible, if the idea is not working and the numbers don’t add up you need to know when to change direction.
Fete Boutique Website: www.feteboutique.co.uk/
Fete Boutique Twitter: @Fete_Boutique
Fete Boutique Facebook: /myfeteboutique