Jivana Style Ltd: Samantha Alfred

Samantha Alfred tells startups how she launched her Asian design-led greetings card business

Samantha Alfred spotted a gap in the British market for Asian design-led greetings cards which cater for the needs of the British Asian culture. She felt that the UK greeting card market was stereotyping Asian cards, limiting them to Eid or Diwali, and saw an opportunity to cater for a growing multi-cultural market. Her original designs have caught the eye of the UK’s largest greeting card retailer, Clinton Cards, winning her a nationwide roll-out to stores which began in mid-September. She tells startups how she got her business off the ground.

Name: Samantha Alfred Age: 34 Business: Jivana Style Ltd Type of business: Asian greeting cards & gifts Start date: February 2006

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I took redundancy from my 10-year corporate career in a large oil corporation last September and decided to follow my dreams. I always wanted to run my own business, and when the redundancy came up, I thought it would be the ideal time to take the plunge.

Tell us about your business I design unique Asian greeting cards – a British born Asian product for a growing multi-cultural market. Every creation is fresh and original, fusing the bright and colourful elements of Asian culture and the East with Western quality and design.

All cards are designed and produced in the UK, with the majority being printed on recycled card; our cards are design led everyday greeting cards that cater specifically for the needs of the British Asian culture.

The ranges include original Asian cartoons – the Masala Girls and Desi Boyz as well as the Chutney Kidz; hand finished henna inspired designs and unique contemporary Indian art inspired cards.

Since the successful launch of the Asian greeting cards, I have also developed further products, including ceramic mugs, key rings, coasters and fridge magnets. This list will be developed further – watch this space!

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? Yes, this was my first business idea. I have always been creative, I have a BA (hons) degree in Art & English and it is an integral part of who I am – so it was only natural that I set-up a creative business.

I have been making and sending my own Christmas card designs and bespoke birthday cards to friends and family for years, as I was never satisfied with the designs I found on the high street. Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be my own boss. But it was only last year, after my redundancy and 10 years of business experience, that I felt equipped to actually make a go of it. It was actually my husband who both inspired me and encouraged me to set up my own business. He runs his own executive chauffeur hire company and I saw how enthusiastic and fulfilled he was running his own business and being his own boss.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? There are very few greeting cards available in the mainstream catering for British Asian and multi-cultural audiences here in the UK, and this has been generally accepted by the industry as a shortcoming. Cards have been imported from overseas, namely India, but these have often fallen short on the quality and design aspects.

Additionally, the UK greeting card market stereotypes Asian cards, limiting them to Eid or Diwali; while these festivals are important, as a British Asian Christian I realised this was an incomplete picture, and good quality everyday greeting cards for multi-cultural markets were needed.

I researched the market and investigated industry news, looking for anyone currently selling Asian everyday greeting cards. I did not find anyone, and realised that there was a gap in the market.

All things Asian have become very popular and integrated into UK lifestyle, from Bollywood, curries, Asian comedy, bhangra and classical Indian music, fashion and clothing inspirations. So why not greeting cards? There is definitely a niche in the market that has been left unfulfilled for some time – and my business fulfils this.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I began by developing the main product, the cards; I created mock-ups of my designs and showed them to friends and family to get feedback. I also attended local craft fairs and events where I could sell my cards – this gave me valuable direct market research and feedback. Armed with sales information, I approached local shops with my designs with a view to selling.

I registered the company name and bought the web address. Then I considered my options on incorporating the business and launching officially.

What research did you do? I did hours of research on the internet, I talked to retailers about the greeting card industry and about buying patterns. I found as much information as possible on general trading terms and industry terminology. I bought books about setting up and running my own business and I registered with the GCA (Greeting Cards Association) – this organisation gave me relevant industry information and guidance. I realised then I would need to attend trade fairs if I was serious about the business, and about taking it mainstream, as this is where all the main buyers do their buying.

What advice did you seek? I sought help from Business Link and requested information on creative businesses, protecting intellectual property, trademarks and the greeting card business.

Business Link connected me with a business advisor who listened to my business idea and advised on relevant courses I should attend, as well as guiding me through things like getting a business bank account, VAT registration and understanding my responsibilities as a business owner.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? Through my research, I found that there is a lot of help for adults under 30, but once you hit that age many options are closed to you.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.

Initially I was terrified of writing a business plan – so much weight is put on the business plan that it became a mountain I thought I could not climb. However, I attended a course for business planning and with the help of my business advisor I managed to produce the first draft.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? The business plan has been very useful – the market research section has been a perfect background for various interviews and PR opportunities. The financial planning section was an essential part for the bank. The whole business plan was required as part of my application for the Dragon’s Den programme, and it was scrutinised by the researchers before I was allowed to proceed to the next stage.I am now using the business plan as a basis for access to finance.

How much did it cost to start the business? Pre-incorporation costs have mounted to about £10k, while setting the business up has cost another £12k or thereabouts.

How did you fund this? I funded everything personally to begin with. Now I have a very small business overdraft and some short-term credit from suppliers.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? I am funding the running costs myself, but the business is now covering many of its own running costs

Are you working from home or from premises?

I currently work from home, as I want to keep costs down.

How many hours are you working at the moment? I am working very long hours – often 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week, this is because I am still setting up the business.

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? Prioritising work and planning my week is essential. I write a ‘to do’ list at the beginning of the week, and add to it through the week. As the week progresses I cross things off – it is very satisfying seeing the list reducing. Anything that has not been done is added to the following week.

What about staff, is it just you? At present I am the only employee – at this stage I don’t need anyone else.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? I have done very little paid for advertising, and have focused largely on PR and free marketing opportunities.

This strategy has been very successful as to date my business has been reported or featured almost every month since its launch in two different national and international trade industry publications.

I was recently featured on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den, where I pitched my business in front of 4 million viewers nationwide.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? I hope to have a good strong product range and brand that is recognised in the UK. I also plan to take the brand overseas and through my website I hope to reach markets further a field.

Ideally I will have an employee and premises to run my business from.

Tell us about your website

My website is www.jivanastyle.com and it is very important to me, I currently use the site to publish news and press releases as well as all the latest designs. I designed the website myself and my younger brother built it all for me, he has taught me how to update it and upload news and images.I’m just about to re-launch it with full e-commerce capability. I feel this is the way forward, especially now that I have so much more to offer in the way of products.

What advice would you give to budding entrpreneurs?

Research your market thoroughly, check out the competition, and if there are no competitors make sure you make a positive entry into the market you are aiming for.

 

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