When Caprice Bourret launched her lingerie firm By Caprice in 2006, she had no business experience, no mentors and no exit strategy should it all go wrong. “I just jumped in the deep end and hoped for the best,” she says.
What Caprice did have was a head for figures. She tracked the weekly sales numbers and was incredibly reactive, ditching the underforming lines before they could affect margins. Nevertheless, the startup entrepreneur had a rough ride.
“There were two seasons where I almost lost my business,” she says. “The first time was down to late deliveries. I didn’t realise that when you put in an order to your factory, you have to pay them before the products even leave China. But I wouldn’t get paid by the retailers till 60 days later. Then I had a cancellation with one collection. That left me £1m out of pocket.”
Caprice was saved when her mother recommended an overdraft facility. “I’ve never read any business books or done an MBA. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learend from the streets,” says the By Caprice founder. “But my mum did tell me about this wonderful world where you find a bank and they give you a line of credit.”
Caprice went to Barclays and they solved all her cashflow problems in one fell swoop. “They charge your right arm in interest but you have the money,” says Caprice, wryly.
From that point onwards, the growth was “ridiculous”, she continues. “This was all happening about eight months before the recession. I thought, ‘Wow! We’re starting to make some serious cash now.’ Every two months, I was dishing out £1.2m-£1.7m and make an extra 30 per cent margin on that. You do the math.”
But then recession hit and everything changed. Caprice admits that the downturn affected her business but believes she got off lightly compared to some: “I was really lucky because regardless of the economy, everyone needs underwear,” she laughs.
She had also chosen a very buoyant demographic. By Caprice lingerie is aimed at the middle market: “It’s not La Perla or Myla,” says Caprice. “A By Caprice bra is £22; that’s not going to break the bank.”
Buyers were more conservative with their orders, but it was a hidden cost that hit Caprice the hardest. “It was the currency exchange rate,” she says. “I had no idea we would go from exchanging from 2.00 consistently for two years to a drop in four months to 1.37. I didn’t know about forward buys or hedging. I’m not in the business of arbitrage, I was a model, for Christ’s sake!”
These days Caprice is very much in the business of arbitrage. “I’ve done some forward buying,” she says. “When it’s your money on the line, you learn new things fast.”
And now business is on the up. Caprice has broadened her customer focus from the 18-35 demographic to 18-45. “I just took on Dorothy Perkins and Tesco.com,” she reveals. “I’ve been changing my designs to cater to an older market: they’re more elegant and mature and my sales figures are reacting.”
Turnover this year will hit circa £4m, and Caprice is predicting phenomenal growth next year. Caprice’s relief that the worst is over is palpable. “I don’t owe any money to the bank,” she says. “I have no equity partners. And the last few month have seen a huge jump in sales.
“But I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights,” she admits. “You should see my nails. I don’t have any.”
Caprice Bourret is an Ambassador for Enterprise UK, the national campaign to give people in the UK the confidence, skills and ambition to be enterprising – to have ideas and make them happen
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