A success story - entrepreneurial jewelry business - Business Works
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A success story - entrepreneurial jewelry business

Starting with making hand-crafted cards that sold in 30 shops locally in her teens, Maria Allen has now been making and selling for 10 years in Brighton. She rapidly gained a taste for creating and selling and continued to develop her jewellery business while at college and university and, on graduating, put herself full time into growing Maria Allen Boutique. She uses reclaimed and sustainably sourced wood wherever possible and feels it is important using materials that have already been discarded, rather than chopping down new trees for products. Maria tells us how it started and how the business has developed.

My challenges were mainly that I did not have any experience in running a business, so I had to learn through doing.

Luckily I didn't need a lot of money to start my business, but as I was growing it between my first and second year at university, I won an Innovation Award from Beepurple. This was £1000 prize money and helped me with buying a lot of stock to fulfil larger orders at the time. Since then I have not needed to borrow any money as I have been reinvesting it back into the business.

Rapid growth in the past 18 months has seen the business move from a home base into its first studio, then doubling the studio size on further expansion during 2013. The staff team has grown to four full timers and eight part time, sessional and homeworker members and turnover has gone from £34k (while I was still at Uni) to more than £250,000 this year - and it is still growing.

Amongst more than 10,000 satisfied customers, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, chose to wear Maria Allen cufflinks in the House of Commons in November 2013 having lost an international rugby-related wager with New Zealand Premier John Key. This resulted in TV, radio and national press coverage drawing plaudits from marketing leaders for nimble proactive marketing.

Setting up my business in Brighton has been a very positive experience and I'm glad that this is where it all started and still is now.

I think that the prospects are very good to start up a business in Brighton. To start with, it is smaller than London, so lots of businesses and owners are local and near each other. Having said that, it's very useful that London is only a one hour train ride away and so it's been very easy for me to go there for meetings for the day whenever needed.

There are some fantastic independent boutiques, shops and galleries in Brighton which were some of my first stockists for both my handmade cards and jewellery. I started selling my cards when I was 14 and still at school so I was very inexperienced and just starting to learn about how businesses worked. I approached many shop owners with my products in the first few years and generally found them to be very friendly and helpful. They gave me good feedback about my products and helped me learn a lot about various aspects of running a business, from invoicing to time planning for my ranges. I am incredibly grateful to have met so many different people back then and for them to have given me their time, it taught me a lot about people skills too!

I think it would have been really good to have been introduced to the concept of running your own business earlier on in my education. There was no mention of it being a career option when I was at school or at sixth form college, even when I went to speak to my careers advisor. I had no experience of running a business when I first started selling products that I had made and I learnt absolutely everything by just trying it out and obviously I made a lot of mistakes. I had a lot of setbacks and it would have been good to have learnt a bit more about the subject of selling your products or running your own small business back then. Luckily I had a very supportive family who I talked to about it a lot so that helped me.

Also, my degree was in graphic design and I was not able to combine the business with my studies. It would have been great to have a degree option where you study and grow your own small business at the same time I think this would be quite different to studying a business degree.

From my own experience, I think there are a few things that I would suggest to anyone starting their own business:

  • test your idea out on a small scale locally before committing to anything more serious, especially if it requires a lot of money;
  • go to all of the small business events hosted around the city and meet other like-minded people there;
  • talk to other business owners and ask them questions, don't be shy!
  • get training for various aspects of business that you feel you need more help with whether this is at colleges, universities or other sessions that are organized locally;
  • enter all of the awards that are applicable to you and your business.

Maria's drive and determination have sustained her in growing the business and have been recognised as inspirational to other young women by a number of schools, colleges and universities whose enterprise networks increasingly call on Maria to tell share her story.

For more information on the Maria Allen Boutique, please visit: www.mariaallenboutique.com

Brighton has been selected as one of the Virgin Startups hub cities. Virgin is concluding their Startups HotHouse 2014 Tour soon which is part of the Virgin Startup fund initiative

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