Urban Alpha: Andrew Pallett
The young entrepreneur on spotting a gap in the market – and making the big-name suppliers see it too
Tell us what your business does:
Urban Alpha is a men’s online clothing retailer. We put products onto our site for people to buy, but enhance their shopping experience with added content, products and guides.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
It’s a bit of a long story but the idea came from me looking for a Christmas stocking filler for my brother. He wanted a specific style of Calvin Klein underwear and I couldn’t find it anywhere online.
The eureka moment came when I realised that I could build a better site – one which is fluid, intuitive and combines the products people want with content that will enhance the shopping experience.
What’s your unique selling point?
A lot of the websites that I was looking at were outdated. Our vision to combine great products with great content wasn’t really being executed effectively by other retailers.
The vision we have is to create an ecosystem of content which is added to and improved upon by our customers. When we can achieve that it will really set us apart from other online stores.
What were you doing before starting up?
Before launching Urban Alpha I was at Macclesfield College for three years, writing business plans and doing market research, at the same time as completing a foundation degree in business management.
I progressed on to Manchester Metropolitan University to finish the degree, but in the end I left the course to focus on the business full-time.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Definitely – my dad always spoke about the freedom you get from not working for someone else, so it’s something I have always had in the back of my mind.
I’m quite a creative person, so the freedom and responsibility to build something as I see it is the biggest draw for me.
What planning did you do before you started up?
My foundation degree was work-based, so I used that time to formulate business plans and marketing plans, with the added bonus of being able to hand in parts of them as coursework!
One of the best things I did was to find a mentor through LinkedIn. Being able to call upon the depth of experience a mentor has is a real bonus.
How did you raise the money?
I put a lot of money into the business myself, with some family members helping out too. Big thanks to my grandma!
The bank also helped me with an overdraft facility.
How did you find suppliers?
I approached the brands directly – first by calling on the phone and then securing meetings. A lot of people are afraid to pick up the phone and prefer to send emails, but if you just get on the phone, explain what you are doing and ask for a meeting, you’d be surprised at how helpful and willing people are.
It’s fairly easy to manage stock flow, as everyone at the different brands has been fantastic with letting me place pro-forma orders in the early stages of the business.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
There have been a few challenges, but the main one was getting the website stable. It was scheduled to launch on October 1, but various problems and bugs pushed the launch back to November.
My website design team at CTI Digital worked really hard to make sure everything was ironed out as soon as possible.
Where is your business based?
Right now we are based at home, which is a bit strenuous as I am occupying any free space that comes available.
It’s not too much of a struggle in terms of finding balance. As it’s early days for the business, I’m working every hour God sends!
How have you promoted your business?
We utilise multiple channels to get the products in front of customers.
However, to publicise the business itself, we are doing a lot of guest posts and advertorials on websites and blogs that our target market visits, to drive relevant traffic back to our site.
How much do you charge?
You get a suggested RRP from the brands, but we have held in mind what our competitors are doing, to ensure that we too are competitive.
What about staff – how many do you have?
I work full-time on the business and have someone that comes in part-time to help with processing orders.
I also have a legion of friends and family that help out when I need it!
What has your growth been like?
It’s an on-going process, so the traffic to the site builds week after week.
As a start-up, we are reinvesting all of our profits back into the business to boost growth. However, we are on track with our business plan to be looking at some serious profit by mid-2012.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
No real impact – I spend a lot of my time on the phone or getting jobs done but being around the home is good.
I like popping my head in to see what people are doing and having a bit of a laugh – it helps take the edge off all of the seriousness.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
I’ve had to go down to London a lot, and on the train it’s a good four (if not five) hour round-trip.
That can be inconvenient, as I’m separated from the majority of my work and where I need to be.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Convincing Calvin Klein to let me sell their products!
It took a few trips down to London, but once I was able to show them what I was trying to do, they were keen to get on board.
What would you do differently?
I think I would’ve spent more time integrating the site with different sales channels to be ready for launch.
It’s been no hassle integrating them since we went live, but having them from the beginning would’ve resulted in faster growth in the first few months.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
If it’s something you want to do – just go for it!
You will learn a lot from simply being in business, and you shouldn’t be afraid of failure.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I don’t have an exit plan: I have a growth and expansion plan.
This is just the start. I want to try out a few different niches and then use our accumulated knowledge to make investments.