FriendlyFlutes: Thea Paraskevaides and Timothy Walker
The woodwind retailers on balancing work and home life and building a community of musicians
Company name: FriendlyFlutes Limited Website:www.friendlyflutes.co.uk Founders: Thea Paraskevaides and Timothy Walker Age: 24 and 27 Based: Brighton & Hove Staff Numbers: 2 full time Date started: September 2010 Turnover: £60,000
Tell us what your business doesWe are a musical instrument retailer, specialising in woodwind. We sell refurbished, second-hand instruments, our own range of Beaumont Flutes, sheet music and accessories. We aim to make it possible and affordable for people, young and old, to take up or renew a passion for playing a woodwind instrument. Through our forums and newsletters we engage with woodwind players to cultivate a growing appreciation of music. We provide free impartial advice through email, on our forum and over the phone.
Where did the idea for your business come from? When I moved to Brighton I started trawling charity shops and car boot sales looking for things of interest to sell. I soon realised that I could be selling things I was already knowledgeable about. Having played woodwind instruments for much of my life and having worked in a music shop I decided that was the direction I wanted to go in.
How did you know there was a market for it? What’s your USP (unique selling point)?Having worked as the woodwind specialist in a music shop previously I had a good idea of the market; the products available, pricing and who our customers would be. Our USP is our community – working to build a self-sustaining network of students and teachers and offering advice and support ourselves, affords our customers a unique package which lasts far beyond the date of purchase.
What were you doing before starting up?The business was started after I left university. Timothy was working in a job that he didn’t enjoy and so we used his annual leave as a two-week trial period to see what we could do together. Things went well so we both decided to take the plunge and set up as a partnership.
Have you always wanted to run your own business? Yes! We have both worked in many different jobs in the past but often found it frustrating and far from satisfying. We relish being in control of the business and deciding in which direction we want to take it. Of course at times it can be difficult, but when you enjoy what you do, believe in and are proud of the products and service you are offering it is incredibly fulfilling.
What planning did you do before you started up?I started refurbishing flutes and selling them online as a hobby, during which I estimated potential margins and the average amount of time taken to turn an instrument around. Previous knowledge of the market saved a lot of time. We sought out advice from friends and family as well as utilising all of the online information from Business Link and HMRC websites. We put together a basic business plan, mapping out the business and formulating projections and targets.
How did you raise the money?We had £1,500 in savings between us and used that to start FriendlyFlutes. With hindsight it would have been better to stay in work for longer to increase initial capital. The banks would only offer us credit if we raised an equal sum as security. Neither would any of the banks offer any form of loan.
How did you find suppliers?Our own instruments are manufactured in China, which has proved enormously difficult at times. Establishing contacts is remarkably easy, however, finding a manufacturer who can deliver the product to your specifications consistently and on time is more challenging. It was not until we visited several manufacturers in China that we felt confident in moving forward with developing the instruments and committing to orders.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? Neither of us had any business acumen and little did we know what was in store when we set-up! We are still learning things every day. Our biggest challenge to date has been stock management; with a highly unpredictable market and the establishment of our own brand, at times we have tied up far too much capital in stock. However, getting the balance right, particularly with manufacturing goods and the allure of economies of scale, is an ongoing exercise.
How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won’t you do again?We have used the internet extensively; eBay, pay-per-click advertising, e-newsletters, forums and social networking sites. At times the newsletters and free advice have proved work intensive without producing sales. However sticking with this side of the business has gained us much credibility and support and opened up new opportunities to us.
How much do you charge? How did you decide this?In order to offer an alternative to the beginner instruments on the market, we not only refurbish second-hand versions, but also have established our own range of instruments. We have spent the last year developing and designing these instruments in order to bridge the gap between the unaffordable high-end instruments and the affordable yet undesirable budget options. We are delighted that our flute offers a quality alternative to families on a tighter budget.
What has your growth been like?The business has grown faster than we initially estimated and we aim to continue this rate of growth over the next 12 months. We believe that we will get to where we want to be with hard work and cutting corners isn’t an option.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?Home is work and work is home, but when you love what you do it very rarely feels like you are working.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?Funding – the banks aren’t lending and there aren’t many places to look for investment at the moment.
What was your first big breakthrough?Within a year of trading we not only established a fully viable second-hand business, but in 11 months we had our own instrument on the shelves in music stores across the UK – something we initially anticipated would take two years to achieve.
What would you do differently? ie what have you learnt?We set out to make affordable yet high quality instruments, however we set our prices too low. Being a new brand we thought we needed to be cheap to be attractive. In fact we made our flutes less desirable by simply under-pricing the instruments – what we thought was our appeal actually proved to be our undoing. This was a tough lesson to learn. What we learnt here we applied to several facets of the business – in order to achieve our long-term goals we need to step into the shoes of our manufacturers, distributors and customers to optimize our service and appeal.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?Seek out all the help you can, there are so many resources available for free online, not to forget friends and family. Market research is essential when starting up, however something we have learnt is its ongoing value. Engaging with your customers and clients on a regular basis is key to keeping on track.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?In five years time we would like to be an established international woodwind brand that is associated with high quality and performance. We hope to continue to build our online community of musicians, teachers and parents; encouraging more and more people to learn to play and to re-enthuse those who had lost interest.