XTINEs: Christine Estrella Dixon
The founder on finding suppliers, learning what sells and being endorsed by Lord Sugar
Company name: XTINEs [pronounced Christine’s] Eco Chic Gift Bags UK Website:www.xtines.co.uk Founder: Christine Estrella Dixon Age: 42 Based: Dorking, Surrey Staff Numbers: 3 + 7 in-house weavers Date started: November 2006 but product relaunched in January 2010
Tell us what your business does?
XTINEs designs eco chic gift packaging focusing on wine bags, gift hamper bags and wedding favour bags. The natural fibre materials are made from Buri palm leaves, similar to Panama straw hats; only it’s robust, functional, unique, reusable and eco-friendly. The straws are intricately hand woven by properly skilled weavers. Depending on the size of the gift bag, it can carry up to 6 -10 kilos.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
It was in Christmas 2003 when my fiancé Martin (now my husband) started to wrap his yearly presents (tins of biscuits and wine for his relations). I offered to wrap the items in a gift hamper instead of the usual paper gift bags. I could only find wicker baskets and suddenly thought of the Abaca, Sinamay and Buri products that my dad used to sell back in the Philippines – my parents were originally from Manila.
After the Christmas gift hamper success, I started to design gift bags made of Buri palm leaf which is an alternative to paper, as well as jute and cotton gift bags.
How did you know there was a market for it?
My unique selling point is that no one else offers these types of gift bags in the UK and once given as a gift, they can be reused for other things – being very stylish and functional at the same time. I have been inundated with queries and orders from candle-makers, delis, soap cottage industries and wine merchants. I also cater for small orders, so no one will be forced to purchase 1,000 units on their first order.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was working at a fitness and health leisure centre as a front desk receptionist. The pay was actually good but I was not in sync with the shift patterns so I decided to leave and become my own boss.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I always wanted to run my own business and I knew it was only a matter of time before I decided what type of products I wanted to sell. The most brilliant thing about being your own boss is no one tells you what to do or breathes down your neck.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I spent a lot of time doing market research over the internet to check if there is competition in the UK. I sourced information about how to create a website and other costs involved in a start-up. I went to lots of food and wine tradeshows and natural organic products expositions.
How did you raise the money?
It is self-funded by my savings, as I have no overheads and I do not order stock. My rule is pay as you order or pay per weave. My only expense is creating prototypes and shipment, which is really expensive. Part of the profits made by XTINEs is currently reinvested for this purpose.
How did you find suppliers?
I found my suppliers via Google as the eco fibre bags are woven in the Far East but all concepts are designed in the UK by me. Once I have established rapport with a manufacturer, I make time to design gift bags and ask for prototypes to be made.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?
The main challenge was to find proper suppliers that would not make me wait for weeks on a quotation or to create a prototype.
Where is your business based?
XTINEs is based at home, where my office becomes a warehouse, photo and gift-wrapping studio.
How have you promoted your business?
It was mostly via word of mouth, going to tradeshows and hopefully more exposure will follow in newspapers and magazines. What I will not do again is make prototypes for the large hamper companies as they make you wait for weeks about their decisions. Sometimes they keep the samples even if they do not order.
How much do you charge?
Prices do vary depending on the size and type of products, ie gift bags or wine packaging. It costs more for bespoke designs. A plain mini favour bag starts from £1.99. The bespoke coloured gift bags are designer and one of a kind, so cost more.
What about staff – how many do you have?
I have three plus seven in-house weavers. I am very fortunate to have my two brothers who are my eyes and ears in Manila, in the Philippines. They do the quality control prior to payment and manage the packing and shipping. I have found a weaving company after five years of searching and I’m very lucky to get on well with my in-house weaver / manager. He makes sure my design is followed to the letter and sends photos for my approval. The great thing about my weaver is when I ask for a prototype, it’s done right away. What’s the impact on your home life been like?
It has improved because I can adapt my working and sleeping patterns. Most of the time, I need to stay up until 3am to ring my suppliers in the Far East.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Choosing the best products to sell when you are faced with 100 ideas that you think will work. So XTINEs chose to specialise in wine gift bags and hamper gift bags that are flat-packed.
What was your first big breakthrough?
I was very fortunate to be featured in the Spoonful of Sugar column in the Daily Mirror by Lord Alan Sugar back in 2006. It paved the way for my website to be seen on a national newspaper and I got inundated by queries from all over England. I then got featured in a a local newspaper in Surrey which gave me more exposure. What would you do differently?
I would have focused more on the bags rather than boxes or baskets as they are bulky. Also, I should have accepted orders of 25 and 50 units when I was first starting up. I have learned that people who are in a start-up stage will always ask for a trial order of low quantities, and clients will be put off by minimum orders of 1,000 as an initial purchase.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
1. Do not be afraid to ask famous tycoons for advice, it’s worth a try. 2. When you have a passion for doing something, believe it will be a success. 3. Never order a lot of stock and then try to sell it afterwards.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
XTINEs would like to be able to supply globally to all companies that need natural and organic gift packaging ie drinks merchants, food industries, garden and spa resorts, wedding favours, food and wine tradeshow participants and more. There is no exit plan, only to expand the brand even further.