The Dress Hire Company: Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell saw a gap in the market for dress hire shops in Edinburgh so she spent her savings setting one up

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Name: Lisa Mitchell
Age: 25
Business: The Dress Hire Company
Type of business: Retail
Start date: 14 July 2005

Lisa Mitchell always wanted to set up her own business and realised there were virtually no dress hire shops in her home city of Edinburgh. She launched the Dress Hire Company in July 2005 and tells us how business has been going.

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?
I have always wanted to be my own boss and spent years thinking up ideas to try and find something that I would enjoy and could make some money from. The final idea actually came from my business partner Pauline, as it was something she had in the back of her mind for years but had never acted upon.

Tell us about your business.
It is so expensive to not only buy a dress for a special occasion but also the accessories that you need to go with it. We hire out evening, prom, wedding and bridesmaid dresses and more – really any kind of dress or outfit you would need for a formal occasion. We also hire out all of the accessories to go with your dress such as evening gloves, tiaras, shoes, pashminas bags etc.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals?
The inspiration to start a business was really from seeing others around me, who ran their own business and have the pleasure and heartache of living with their business decisions and seeing what can come of it if you work really hard. My main aim was to enjoy my job.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?
We have seen this type of shop be a great success in other areas of the country but Edinburgh does not really have any ladies hire shops, so at the moment we have cornered the market but we know other shops could open soon.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first?
The very first thing we did was book onto a show in Glasgow called New Start Scotland which was really just companies promoting their services to new start-ups. We also did a lot of internet research in the early stages and created a basic business plan and aimed to plump it up throughout our research.

What research did you do?
We researched other hire companies and spoke to them. We researched what dresses women would want by doing some nights where women of ages from 16 to 60 could try on dresses and give their thoughts about them and our idea. We also did questionnaires and more.

What advice did you seek?
We sought advice from our accountant and from the local Business Gateway, also from other people who own their own business.

What other help did you get?
We got help from friends and family to get the shop ready for opening and to organise our opening night.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business?
The Business Link website is good but there are some differences about setting up in Scotland that they do not warn you about. We are not used to separate water rates up here and found out about that at last minute.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.
We looked at a few templates from banks and websites, picked the format we liked the best, which was a mix of them all I think and then wrote it in parts. We then tidied it up after going through our research and cash flows.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?
It was very useful and we do look at it now to remind ourselves of the points we wanted to get across to people and our aims from the beginning.

How much did it cost to start the business?
Around £30,000

How did you fund this?
We raised this from our own funds as the banks wanted security of our houses, which we were not willing to give for the amount of money we wanted to borrow. Having come up with the money ourselves makes us worry so much less when we are having a bad week, as we know the bank is not going to come along and take our houses.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?
We are funding our running costs from the money we have put in, the money we are making from the shop and out part-time jobs.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them.
We have kept our old jobs part time.

When did you stop working?
It was not as big a moment as we had hoped as we are still working at our old job part time and running the shop part time, we can’t wait to be completely self employed but realise this may take a while.

Are you working from home or from premises?
We are working from a shop we have leased. We are glad we started off in this way rather than build it up from a small home business as we feel like it will not be so long until we can do this full time. The premises are great, we are on the perfect street for our business in relation to the shops around us, but we are a bit off the beaten track so have to advertise more as there is not a great deal of foot fall.

How many hours are you working at the moment?
At the moment we work on average a 60 hour week each, between the shop and our old jobs. However, it does feel a lot less like full time than when we worked full time for someone else.

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?
I have made out a rota for both of us dividing the time between our 2 jobs and we have a list of jobs to do each day to keep up with everything in the shop.

What about staff, is it just you?
At the moment it us just myself and my colleague Pauline, but who knows about the future. Our ideal would be to run the shop full time between us but we hope that we get busy enough to need more staff.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?
Yes it certainly is, I would need to take a long time looking through all of the red tape before we could consider hiring anyone.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?
We have advertised in newspapers, magazines and Google adwords and are trying some promotions with businesses complimentary to ours.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time?
Making enough money to cover the shop’s costs and to start paying ourselves back the money we have put in.

What are the main obstacles to growth?
Letting the customers know where we are and that this great service is available.

How do you plan to overcome these?
Advertise and get out and about more and spread the word.

Tell us about your website.
My colleague Pauline has designed a few websites in the past and is in charge of the design and maintenance of ours. I think it is very important to have a website.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish we had kept more money aside for the first few months of running the business.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?
Determination, ambition and it helps if you are good with people and figures.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?
Do your research. Start with enough money and don’t get too upset if you are not doing as well as you hoped at the start.

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