De Bouverie: Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie
Online hub of jewellery talent
Tell us what your business does:
De Bouverie is an online fine jewellery community that promotes independent designers.
The site helps emerging gold and silversmiths build a presence online to compete with the larger brands and internet marketplaces. As a united community under De Bouverie, the site is able to leverage on the increasing demand for internet shopping and the rising interest in individuality and boutique brands.
Unlike other jewellery brands we aren't interested in mass production or ‘fashion' jewellery, nor are we targeting handmade crafts and lower quality goods. We curate highly skilled artisans, who are interviewed and accessed prior to membership.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
De Bouverie sprung from the desire to find high quality, different jewellery that was made by real people. I hated (and still hate) mass production and would search and dig to find the little independents that made the products I wanted much better than their high street chain counterparts.
I knew that there were designers out there, but they were virtually impossible to find and track down. Even when I did find pieces I liked, I never knew if they were trustworthy and real or whether they were ripping me off and the ring I had just bought was in fact going to turn my finger black in 2 days…
I craved somewhere where I could access high quality and luxury designer goods without the fear that I might end up with a bronze piece of scrap metal, sold to me as 9ct gold.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Friends, colleagues and city professionals always commented on the jewellery I found, and I realised that there was a demand for the pieces, if only the designers were more accessible.
City workers are renowned for not having enough time, so I started to develop the concept of a community they could access that was easy, trustworthy and reliable.
Unlike our competition, we do not focus on handmade crafts, or mass production. However, unlike a gallery, we are hoping to incorporate a larger number of designers and create a community where the designers stand alone as individuals, but with the support of the umbrella brand. We are not a marketplace, we curate designers. However, we are more open and accessible than independent galleries.
What were you doing before starting up?
Before De Bouverie I worked in the city, doing emerging market research for a headhunting firm – quite the change from a creative business. However, prior to that I had attended Kingston Art College to study fine art, so I had both the creative and business aspects already imbedded in me.
When it came to actually resigning from my 9-5 secure, stable income I nearly crashed and burned. I think it took me about three weeks of walking up and down past my manager's desk pretending to collect something from the printer. It's terrifying making that first leap, but I was already most of the way through the development of the company, and I knew that it was what I wanted to do.
Looking back I can't understand why it was so hard, because I couldn't be happier. But change is always difficult. All I can say, is if you are ready and sure it's what you want, then go for it – even if it takes three weeks of effectively pacing up and down the office.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Since the day I was born I've wanted to run my own business. My poor father put up with me selling African jewellery, chocolate and even cigarettes in school. I even managed the tuck shop momentarily – although I think I was ‘fired' for eating too many sweets.
The structure of the educational system and of corporate companies never suited me. Partly because I like to think I am always right, and partly because I just work slightly differently. I will do A, B and C to get to D quite happily – which generally isn't allowed in larger companies, I really struggled with the bureaucracy. I am happier when I am able to get involved in every aspect, and make real strategic differences.
It's difficult, and has its ups and downs, but all my friends comment on how much better I am now that I am doing something I love and believe in, even if it means working all day, every day, forever.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I spent nearly a year building the company: eight months while still working and the final few putting together the last preparations. I wrote a business plan and researched everything from designers, to shows, to other companies.
Although I can't say that I did ‘proper' competitor research, I knew that what I was doing was different because I just couldn't find it around. If it existed, it wasn't big enough and therefore I thought I could do it better.
One company did launch mid my planning, but that gave me a boost. It showed me there was a market out there and that I could do it.
How did you raise the money?
The company was founded through my personal finances. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to do it on such a tight budget.
I am just starting to research fundraising now. You have to be watertight with everything you do and it is well worth seeking professional advice. Once you are rejected, its hard to get back in front of the same people.
How did you find suppliers?
I found my designers through blood, sweat and tears – quite literally. Although once I had a few, referrals and recommendations took me a long way as well. Speaking to friends, family and other entrepreneurs helps to find contacts and reliable suppliers. Social networks also help to amass recommendations.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
My biggest challenge at the moment is to increase my customer base with a very tight budget. But, with all the challenges I have faced to date, the solution is normally the same: patience, perseverance and determination. It just means I work longer, harder hours as I contact every marketing, PR and advertising contact that I can think of to help the business develop.
It's like bashing your head against a brick wall: sometimes it gives you a headache, and other days a few stones fall out. I promise that eventually you will go through (normally to be met by another brick wall… but still, you're through one wall!)
Where is your business based?
I worked at home for all the development stage of the business and the first six months of trading. I love it. I found it easy and manageable and I was able to be flexible with my hours. Unfortunately, this often meant that I worked until 3am, but still got up at 6:30am!
Eventually I ran aground and started to struggle with the lack of social contact. I now work in an office building where there are loads of start-up companies across all genres. It's amazing for contacts, and the social side of working. I just rent a desk, but have the ability to grow here, which is great. It's also in Mayfair, which helps my business from a location and postcode perspective.
How have you promoted your business?
I have promoted myself through a variety of forms. We have catalogues and flyers, we have sponsored relevant events, and have collaborated with large corporates to help reach our target market. I did a large launch event, and worked hard on social media to create a buzz.
We are now working on our PR and marketing contacts. I find that personalised calls from the founder have a great effect, and editors are very happy to talk briefly, even if it's to point you in the right direction. The personal approach makes you more interesting rather than being just another PR person.
How much do you charge?
De Bouverie buys some wholesale products, but also works on a sale-or-return and commission basis. We tend to try and work on all three levels with all of our designers, to spread the balance evenly. For us, the focus is sales.
What about staff – how many do you have?
I don't have any staff as yet, although I have worked with a few interns. It is difficult to manage new employees when it is your baby. One of my steepest learning curves was delegation, but it gets easier.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Starting up is easy… well not easy, but the adrenaline rush and determination dominate. It is when this adrenaline runs out that it gets hard. My biggest fall came after the Christmas push. January was very slow and difficult, and it took a while to get going again.
What was your first big breakthrough?
I think I had a few: the first designer to sign my contract, or even finding my first designer who was interested was a great start. My first sale was another memorable moment, but I think for me I haven't actually hit the biggest breakthrough yet. I am on the cusp of some exciting developments, which would certainly stand out if I pull them off.
What would you do differently?
Hindsight is an amazing and very frustrating thing. There are certainly areas that I could have saved money on, and I wasted a brilliant opportunity for press and marketing because I didn't think I was ready. I was wrong. I was very ready and I could have done with the extra publicity.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
If you ask a question, really listen to the answer. Always take on board people's advice, whether you agree or not, and listen to them. Absorb as much information as you can: it's priceless and it's free. So many people ask questions, but rarely listen to the answers.
You can always start the business for less money than you think, so always push yourself as low as possible – it leaves you more for later! Looking bac,k I could have cut my costs far more dramatically if I had understood more. So always be sure about where every penny is going.
Everyone you know will be useful to your business, in ways you might not be able to imagine. Never abuse them, but never forget they are there either.
Where do you want to be in five years' time? Do you have an exit plan?
In five years I plan to be the leading online website and community for high quality, unique and bespoke jewellery made by trained silver and goldsmiths.
I also intend to have a central shop or showroom, where the designers can base their stock, and to be looking at, if not already involved in, going international.
I have various exit strategies, depending on the growth and interest in the site. I think it's too early to say which way it would go, but either selling or floating the company are both options. Exit strategies are important, but I find that having a few options is best. Things change in small businesses very quickly, so being flexible and open to ideas is essential.