Starting an online retail business with Mayfair Silk
Many people tell us that redundancy is a time when they can now decide to start that business they’ve been dreaming of for the past ten years. For many of them, that means starting an online retail business. We’re not going to pretend this is easy but it can be done. We talked to Darshana Ubl about her latest project, MayfairSilk, to see if she had any advice for anyone starting an online retail business.
Mayfair Silk sell the finest silk pillowcases, bed linen and lifestyle accessories online …
Did you know that cotton sucks? Quite literally. It absorbs 27 times its weight in water which makes it a great towel but when it comes to pillowcases and sheets, it’s absorbing the natural moisture of your skin and hair making it look dull, dehydrated and age prematurely.
Having slept in silk for years and experiencing first-hand the positive difference it has made to my hair, skin and sleep, I decided one night that I wanted to let the world in on my secret. I carried out a market survey and realised that most people did not know of the benefits of sleeping in silk, or the silk they had tried before was not of the best quality.
Spotting a gap in the market, I shared this with my business partner and from that moment on we started our journey into textiles. Sourcing and developing the finest fabrics and finishing processes, colour palette, hand-finished silk designs and a timeless bed linen collection with unexpected details that please the senses.”
MayfairSilk has an office in Mayfair from where we design and source our products. We are member of UKFT (UK fashion and textiles). Currently our sales are online and we are on a mission to do good for our community and our planet. Our material is bio-degradable, sustainable and certified Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex – the highest certification that our products are free of all harmful chemicals and dyes.
I co-founded the business with Marcus, we have been running businesses together since 2011. We are one of those rare couples that are a team at home and at work. We both were a part of Wealth Dynamics a decade ago which helped us immensely to understand what kind of leaders we were and what our bottlenecks were too.
I have first-hand experience in working with Roger Hamilton, the creator of this profiling tool and it provides deep understanding of one’s self and what your strengths are and identifying your weaknesses. Some people are good at starting things, others at completion, some are good with detail, others with people, some have a strong sense with timing, others could have it with ideas. It is important to know where you stand. One needs to focus their role towards their strengths and attract business partners or members of a team who can help fill the gaps. To get clarity of vision I do recommend those starting off with a business to take the test – https://wealthdynamics.geniusu.com/
We use this profiling system extensively to find the right team members.
Quality is always key for us. Marcus and I would not lend our name to a brand that did not live up to the highest standards of quality. The first step in a product business is to research not just the material but competitors and where the gap is. I’ve always loved silk pyjamas and night-wear to sleep in and years ago I got my own silk sheet crafted and stitched. We researched silk: its history, benefits, types, grades, weaves and finishing. There are different grades of silk and cheaper alternatives such as cotton silk or satin (which is synthetic with a little bit of silk).
I knew I wanted to present the world with only the finest grade of silk made with a long thread and finished beautifully. We spent a lot of time developing the product designs and getting the colours and hand feel how we wanted it. I grew up in Asia and had my contacts there. When it comes to sourcing materials, it is key to examine the quality and review samples from many suppliers that you shortlist before deciding. Do your due diligence and have back-ups if things do not work out. All our designs are our own, so protecting the designs with legal agreements with our suppliers is something I recommend doing.
Creating the MayfairSilk brand look and feel
In this crowded world the way you can stand out is through branding. We wanted our brand to reflect quality, care and the location where we hail from. When it comes to branding there are several steps and it’s important to get this right.
The first step was to brainstorm the name. Second step was to ensure we could get the name trademarked and the social media handles for the business. Many businesses miss this step, which is an important one, especially in an online business world. Then comes the step to decide the look and the feel and how clearly, we can explain our offering. We needed to spec out what was needed to be done. And then it’s all about implementing it with the right team.
Marcus designs our products and heads the team of web designers and developers to create the right look and feel for the website.
Combined, Marcus and I have over 20 years in business, so we understand branding. If one doesn’t have that experience it is worth engaging with a brand consultant to get the brand right from the start. Some consultants based in London I can recommend are Aarti Parmar for branding; or Cheryl Laidlaw of WebsiteInaDay for a simple website, or Keren Lerner from Top Left Design for coding and more advanced website.
Our core offering is top-quality silk pillowcases and bed linen. We have future expansion plans into other silk product lines, but we knew we couldn’t spread ourselves too thin to start with. We are opting to focus on this core element and once established we can expand from there. For this we polled our social circle, sent out a survey to some people in our target market and did a lot of research around silk.
We offer an innovative solution to what exists with our special weave that enhances the durability of silk and our 22-25 momme premium grade silk which is free from any harmful dyes and chemicals. We also use a unique finishing process for our silk bed linen that gives it an incredibly soft hand feel with a refined matt sheen, instead of the overly glossy appearance other silks. The fabric and or design looks modern and classic at the same time, fitting comfortably and calmly in the modern bedroom without looking flashy or gaudy.
One’s business journey is constantly evolving with life, you learn from your mistakes and build on your strengths. Our past experience in launching business gave us the insight of what is required and the most important things to focus on first. It’s also taught us to listen to your customers, so we’ve been listening very carefully to what they like, how they have found the product and how they interact with the brand. It’s been incredibly insightful and we’ve made many adjustments along the way based on this valuable feedback. Having been in business in London for over nine years, we’ve personally built a strong reputation in the market and one thing leads to another. We’ve received offers from people wanting to support our new venture whether it is via orders, introductions or presenting solutions.
Starting a business requires capital – and most often it is 3 times of what you initially thought of. Self-funding is the way to go and as you start having the attraction/ revenue/sales then you can find other partners that can fund you. For this you need a growth plan and demonstrate the ability to achieve the revenue targets. My advice to those starting off is, if you are offering a service, you don’t need as much capital as the bulk of the revenue generator is your time. If you are a product business, it’s a different kettle of fish where you have to truly understand and demonstrate how you will achieve your 3-5-year plan.
Business to me is about turning challenges into opportunities. Needless to say, that the lockdown presented us with numerous challenges with regards to coordinating things with the team, delays in production, etc, but one we did not expect was our trademark to be challenged.
There was another company based overseas who challenged part of our trademark application. We researched their company and the products that their trademark was branded with and we were pleased to find that there was no overlap or conflict now or in our future as we weren’t going to expand into their product categories. Instead of reacting, we wrote to them and offered a solution to make some exclusions to our trademark classes and assurances of how we would use our trademark and we reached agreement.
Challenges are a part of life and business. For business you need to be a self-motivated person with a positive attitude and persistence. The right mindset mixed with the right team and strategy is a winner.
Darshana Ubl is a serial entrepreneur who shares her experience on what it takes to start and grow a business. She has been an ambassador for small business on BBC News, has lead her previous company to win a Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of people business speed networking, has a Masters in Economics and has two successful businesses under her sleeve. She is the co-founder of Mayfair Silk.
If you’d like coaching around starting a business after redundancy, look at joining the hub here.