Dawn Huntrod

Dawn Huntrod was inspired by the idea of selliing exclusive products online so she launched

Mfuko means bag in Swahili, an unusual name but one that is perhaps ideal for a unique business that sells exclusive products online. Founder Dawn Huntrod tells how her company has got it in the Mfuko. 

Name: Dawn Huntrod Age: 37 Business: Type of business: Internet Retailer Start date: March 2005

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business? It happened one year ago after meeting Elizabeth Valgolio who imports designer handbags from Italy, Spain and France.

Tell us about your business. I sell luxurious Designer Handbags and accessories such as umbrellas, belts and shoes. I sell products that are not being sold by other companies on the net, giving us exclusivity.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I choose a name and came up with Mfuko, which is Swahili for Bag!

What research did you do? I looked at what brands were not available on the net.

What advice did you seek? I work for Walker Hall Associates and we are contracted to Business Link so I had a good idea that help was available. I also spoke with North East Life and they allowed me to have an online shop on their Mall which was funded by the region.

Building a website for your business idea is easier than you might think. Our online tool ranks the top website builders that offer free trials.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? Retailers get very little help, but I think that more people should be given the opportunity to trade on line as this keeps the costs down.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I spent time with my Business advisor from Lloyds TSB who were very supportive and gave me a small business guide book. I then knew I had to save a small amount of capital to put into the business.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? My business plan reminds me to keep doing what I am doing and helps me see if I have achieved what I anticipated I would, so that I can plough my profits back into the business to keep it going.

How much did it cost to start the business? Altogether I have spent in the region of £2,000 and that included my first stock, this came from savings from my personal account and £500 from my father.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? I am keeping a level head when it comes to spending and I am marketing my business without a budget – I call this Guerrilla Marketing! I attend fashion shows and have adopted four charities that I give 10% of my sales to when they host events that I sell from, with this I get great publicity and it means I am putting back in to the community.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? I do not believe in overdrafts so I am always ensuring that I do not overspend and I watch my books carefully. I also ensure that I have a minimum in the bank for emergencies. Also, I have not stopped working full time yet.

Are you working from home or from premises? I am working from home as it’s convenient and cost effective. I plan to take on a shop next year with the internet business running alongside.

How many hours are you working at the moment? Around 35 hours a week on top of my 37 hour week in my job so I have very little time for a life!

What about staff, is it just you? My partner Joe is a police officer in Sunderland and on a weekend and evenings he helps me out as does my 16 year old daughter Emma, and Elle who’s six is great at packing boxes!

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? No, as my background was 12 years in recruitment so I have a good knowledge.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? I have had great press coverage in the whole of our region and I am paying for various ads in fashion mags that I believe will make a huge difference.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? With new premises and hopefully at least two members of staff.

What are the main obstacles to growth? If I keep to my plan there should be no constraints, however the tsunami affected my early orders as Indonesia supplied lots of my manufacturers with zips and press studs etc, so you never know what will happen, other than that I imagine if retail takes a slump that would be the worst.

Tell us about your website. My website I suppose you could say is a website within a website, I have recently been awarded a grant that will enable me to have a website built just for me and I am looking forward to building that with the designers.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? Both, although money has never been the highest priority in my life, most importantly I want to be an employer that people want to work for.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? Understanding VAT! I am still in my early stages and to date my only regret is that I have not done this sooner.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? I would say determination and you have to have an element of trust and ensure that your mentors are supporting you and not just for the money.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Jump and the net appears! Write a plan and tweak it when you need to. Don’t get an overdraft and don’t take risks unless you are more than 50% sure!


(will not be published)