Champagne & Lemonade: Isabelle Hartley-Nias
Tell us what your business does:
Champagne & Lemonade (C&L) is an online luxury goods broker. We buy and sell pre-loved designer fashion via our website.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
It came from a personal need to offload 90 designer items from my own wardrobe. I realised that there was no reputable outlet to do so and had neither the time nor the inclination to use Ebay or the like. I realised there was a gap in the market for cash rich/time poor ladies to use a service of this nature.
What’s your USP (unique selling point)?
The website has been designed to emulate the very best in luxury e-tail with luxury packaging, a courier service, as well as allowing buyers to purchase authentic pre-loved luxury goods at a steal. In short we are the digital evolution of the high street used clothing boutiques, providing a strong global platform for our clients looking to sell through us.
How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Better design, lower fees, more aggressive marketing strategy and above all, the highest level of service to both buyers and sellers.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was the commercial director of Motor Sport Magazine, a high-end F1 centric title with a great heritage. I had been in media for nearly 10 years working for Haymarket Media Group, The Mail on Sunday and BBC Worldwide. Once I came up with the idea for C&L, I was so excited to work on the venture that it was the easiest decision to make. I am passionate about this company and coming from an entrepreneurial family, had always wanted to launch a business by the age of 30.
What planning did you do before you started up?
We researched the market extensively, spoke to a number of key industry influencers and wrote a fairly aggressive business plan for the first year, but tied this in to a broader five year plan. I am delighted to say that we are significantly ahead of our original plans.
How did you raise the money?
We were lucky enough to have the funds required for the business and despite various VC approaches, we would like to maintain whole ownership of C&L.
How did you find suppliers?
Our clients have found us via the Google advertising campaign we have in place and via PR. We have also used social networks, running competitions to spread awareness of C&L.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Initially, we had a number of issues with the development of the site which significantly delayed the launch. We found working with programmers and graphics companies to be challenging and I had to adapt my management style rapidly to ensure effective communication and accountability.
The main problem was my lack of technical understanding. We were in a situation early on whereby I was pushing for tighter deadlines and a certain calibre of output, which it became clear was unobtainable. It was like having a team of builders working on a conversion in your home with lapsed deadlines and budgets spiralling out of control; no end in sight. I had no ability to step in and understand the nitty gritty of their working world and felt the various excuses and explanations proffered were insufficient. We ultimately changed agency and we now have a great working relationship.
Where is your business based?
We have large office space in Royal Victoria docks, with a photography studio for the shoots, a secure storage area for the designer pieces and our desks face the docks so the view is really rather lovely. It’s the second premises we have had, initially we were based in Archer St, Soho but we rapidly outgrew the studio once clients began sending in their extensive collections.
How have you promoted your business?
My background is media sales and marketing so I had an idea of what we would and wouldn’t do from inception. Google Adwords has proved really useful as well as using social media, a great PR company (Fire PR) and weekly in-house marketing to our client base (each Friday afternoon we mail out our “New In” items uploaded that week to our subscriber base).
How does the business make money?
We charge a 30% fee for the sell service and we are on track to break even within 15 months.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
The launch was a very stressful process, one hell of a learning curve with some decidedly hairy moments. Home life has been affected but I went into this with my eyes open and we knew there would be challenges. I feel we have managed them well (so far!).
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Momentum. I am aware that as much as I care for my business, I cannot expect that level of passion from anyone else.
What was your first big breakthrough?
A collection of 160 pristine Chanel items from one client delivered to our studio, who had been recommended to C&L from another seller using our service. I knew then that we were onto something. In the last week, we have had two separate orders worth thousands of pounds so the calibre of both buyers and sellers is exactly what we were aiming for.
What would you do differently?
I have learnt many things with the launch of C&L, but I think it is important to take risks, make mistakes and learn from everything possible.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Combine ideas with efficient organisation, hire the best people you know and never let anyone tell you cannot do it.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want C&L to have hubs in Asia and the US, having evolved the proposition to handle designer overstocks, and the brand will have developed to be much more than a simple retail platform.