Question time with Anya Hindmarch MBE
Speaking at the British Library’s Inspiring Entrepreneurs event, the accessories designer shares an honest account of her start-up and growth journey as well as her 10 business golden rules…
Anya Hindmarch is a shining example of a British success story. With 56 stores around the world – but a firm base in the UK – and turnover of £24m last year, the female entrepreneur has come a long way from a pipedream sparked by her first handbag, a gift from her mother that introduced Hindmarch to “the joy of beautiful things”.
Despite her rather exotic name she admits she is “neither Russian nor German” but actually from Essex and she runs her global empire alongside her husband, while also raising five children. “It’s a busy life”, comments Hindmarch, which seems rather an understatement.
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, which is both a blessing and a curse according to Hindmarch who says “Christmas can be a bit of a board meeting with everyone delivering their end of year figures”, it seems Hindmarch was always destined to be her own boss.
After having “an absolute obsession with craftsmanship”, which remains with her today, Hindmarch ventured to Italy at just 18 to “immerse herself in the home of leather” and to find inspiration for her first handbag. Impressively, she secured her first customer after a friend of friend of a friend ran the bag in Harpers & Queen, and after selling 500 she had £7,000 profit to plough into the early stages of the Anya Hindmarch brand.
Whilst Hindmarch admits the early days working from her kitchen table were tough, it wasn’t long before the business took off, in part down to the decision to export very early on. Using a franchise model, Hindmarch opened a store in Hong Kong, followed by a second store and then stores in the US and Japan – with the business snowballing from there. She has also launched some high-profile charity campaigns, such as ‘Be A Bag’ (which allowed customers to personalise bags with their photograph, raising money for breast cancer in the process) and an environmental campaign which involved a tote bag with the message ‘I’m not a plastic bag’.
Having recently hired a CEO after feeling that her “job was getting too big”, Hindmarch is now chairman and chief creative officer – allowing her to get back to her passion, design and creativity. With the business in a big growth phase, with new external investment, new systems, new flagships and new people – it’s an exciting (and scary) time for the Anya Hindmarch brand but “a knot in the pit of your stomach is something you have to live with” in business, according to Hindmarch.
With orders on the up and new franchise partners wanting to join all the time, Hindmarch makes for an inspirational figure, she is a “great believer in business, not only as the engine of our economy but also as the most fun career you can have” – which considering she’s been running her business for just shy of 30 years, is an uplifting statement.
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As well as sharing her start-up journey to date at the British Library’s Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time for Entrepreneurs – Hindmarch shared 10 golden rules businesses should always keep in mind.
1. Stay objective as best you can
“I have a phrase that was quoted to me which is “as you leave the office at night, fire yourself mentally and come back the next day as your successor” – we can all be fantastically busy so it’s good to come back with a fresh and objective approach.”
2. On investment: Choose people you’d want to have dinner with
“If the fit is right it saves a thousand words. It’s a really important thing to like the people you’re working with and to share the same language and values.”
3. Talent is everything
“I always hire people who are much cleverer than myself – and I would say that culture fit is really, really key. I’ve learnt that EQ is actually more important than IQ.”
4. Make the most of creative visualisation
“I believe strongly in creative visualisation – I think if you can visualise where you want to get to you have a much stronger chance of getting there. Sometimes it’s important to actually put a noticeboard in front of your face every day of what you’re trying to achieve – it really works.”
5. Cash is king
“If you want to stay in control, never take your eye off the cash position.”
6. Export is key
“If you want to grow your business, exporting is really important. There’s a whole world to sell to out there. It’s not scary, there’s lots of support. I started with export pretty much from day one so go for it if you’re serious about growth.”
7. Find fellow entrepreneurs
“It can be a very lonely business, a network of fellow entrepreneurs can really help. Find people you can lean on to support you through tricky times.”
8. Feed your brain
“It’s incredibly important to, when you’re as busy as we all are, to look ahead, to get out and see things. Every time I step out my office and turn off my phone I have 10 ideas so do make time to do that. You’ll bank those ideas and make good use of them in the future.”
9. Think about your family
“It’s very hard to balance family and work when you’re so engaged in your business, especially when it’s young and growing. My mother in-law gave me a really good piece of advice ‘include your children, but remember that children remember mood more than details. If you’re happy, your children will be happy.’ That’s key and is true for partners too.”
10. Find a way to relax
“It’s important to take time away from running your business to relax. I find that wine is very helpful!”
Anya Hindmarch was speaking at the British Library’s Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time for Entrepreneurs as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.