Source Collective: Claire Drescher

After trying to buy a boutique, Claire Drescher realised the business could fare better online. We find out how she's getting on

Name: Claire Drescher Age: 27 Business: Source Collective ( Type of business: Online Lifestyle Boutique Start date: March 2006

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I studied fashion design after leaving school and always wanted to launch my own clothing label at some point in the future. After a few career diversions into IT and then freelance writing I decided to team up with my mother in a joint venture that combined both our skills. She has a background in finance and accounting and was equally enthusiastic about fashion and design.

Tell us about your business Source Collective is an online boutique which retails fashion, accessories and design-led gifts. The store is primarily aimed at young women who are looking for an alternative to the high street. Our company also takes a special interest in giving a showcase to fresh new design talent – often commissioning one-off pieces direct from studios and at new graduate events.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? Yes, Source Collective was my first business idea. Initially I had planned on opening a boutique in Nottingham city centre but found barriers to entry with high commercial rents and long leases. Opening a store online was the perfect solution!

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? My grandfather was a successful businessman and my father had just started his own genealogy business – both were huge inspirations for the venture. Also reading entrepreneur success stories sparked my interest in creating the start-up and working for myself.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? From market research into Internet statistics, I found that online sales have increased steadily year on year and are predicted to continue in this way. Most people I know regularly purchase products online and see it as a way of finding unusual items and fitting shopping into hectic lifestyles. A lot of time had been spent ensuring that Source Collective prices were competitive to give customers good value for money, even for the more exclusive designer items.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? The first step was to research the market and then develop the business plan. I also attended business workshops through my local Business Venture scheme, sessions included: successful selling, marketing, accounting and business administration, ITC for business and financial planning.

What research did you do? I’ve always kept up-to-date with the latest trends in the fashion industry through style presentations and fashion journals such as Draper’s Record.

Prior to the launch I spent a year researching the business concept. This involved many train journeys to London to visit trade shows and source products for the website. Between the two of us, we also sought out many independent labels and new designers that we felt offered innovative design at affordable prices.

What advice did you seek? I approached Business Link for advice and also received a great deal of help from Emtex (East Midlands Textile Association) and the Nottingham Designer Forum – luckily I fell into their catchment area for support.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I got a pack at the bank with a CD-Rom to help write the business plan but found it was a bit too general so located a framework on the Internet which was easier to adapt. It took time to write but helped me have a clearer focus on the business direction and set specific, timed goals.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? The process of making the plan was an extremely useful experience. It also highlighted a few areas that I’d not thought about before. I refer to it every now and then to make updates but on the whole the value I gained most was in its creation.

How did you fund this? The business was jointly funded by myself and my partner, from personal savings. We were lucky enough to avoid having to approach banks for loans.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? At present our overheads are low so our income has covered our outgoings. The only exception to this has been a few cash injections to purchase new stock items.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Besides the website build most of the investment is in stock – even if it meant selling through other mediums we were confident that we could recoup the outlay in one way or another if things didn’t work out as expected.

When did you stop working? The website launch day was both exciting and scary at the same time! I knew that from here on I was responsible for my own financial security. It was a really pivotal moment.

Are you working from home or from premises? The two of us work from a small office at home which keeps costs to the minimum. It’s not a huge space but accommodates our desks and PCs so is ideal for our business needs at present. It’s sometimes hard to separate work and family life but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Overall it works very well for us. We plan to lease shop space and a separate office in the future.

How many hours are you working at the moment?The hours worked vary from day to day but I always keep the weekends free.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taken to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? We both have very specific cut-off times and stick to them. Everyday will start with a chat to prioritise and share out tasks. We both make lists of jobs to do and have got a good routine going for taking orders.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Marketing has probably been one of the main challenges for the start-up. As it’s an online store I have had to consider many different ways to encourage traffic to the site. This has involved using online advertising campaigns such as Google Adwords and Overture as well as implementing search engine optimisation techniques.

In addition to this I have tried to be as creative as possible with spreading the word through more traditional methods as well – such as flyers, product features and magazine interviews.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? As a long term plan I should have my own clothing launched through the store in 2007! Hopefully the business will be continuing to thrive and be turning over more of a steady income.

What are the main obstacles to growth? With more finance we could expand our ranges more quickly and have a bigger marketing budget – both of which would accelerate expansion.

How do you plan to overcome these? At present money is being put straight back into the business.

Tell us about your website. How important is it to your business? Source Collective is an e-commerce business so the website is our shop window. I had some previous IT experience so was able to compile quite a detailed design brief for the build. After much research on the internet 11 design agencies were approached to quote for the job. We were confident that the chosen team would be able to meet our criteria of mixing great design and functionality. Everything was looked at from the shoppers’ point of view so navigation and uncluttered design were all very important.

Advice I would give for those employing web designers would be to get lots of quotes, meet the project manager (it may be a long relationship!) and trial the back-end software for ease of use, as you’ll be working with it everyday.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? Both areas are important – I’d like to be able to pay myself a reasonable salary whilst doing something that I love.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? If I were to do things differently I would have set aside more capital for marketing. I once received a piece of advice to spend as much on marketing as on the website build – I thought this was crazy at the time but now know that is it one of the biggest challenges for online businesses without a bricks and mortar presence.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Absolute conviction to succeed! You also need to be a self-motivator and able to turn your hand to anything.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Do your research, make a detailed business plan and go for it.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time? Yes, of course.


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