Posted: Fri 4th Oct 2019
_Dayle Parfitt is the founder of Activemen Clothing. He became an Enterprise Nation member after selling his products in the pop-up shop in Cardiff as part of the Clicks and Mortar campaign. Dayle tells his inspiring story.
A pop-up shop in currently open in Sheffield and there are places available to sell your products. Find out more here._
How did you come up with your business idea?
I was shopping for track pants and went to a few sports retailers on the high street. Each retailer offered three well known sporting brands making cotton track pants and all offered the track pants in just three colours. They all offered grey, navy and black. I thought that this was silly. I wanted more Latino colouring and a more tailored fit. The only place I could find what I wanted was online and scattered.
Surfing the web, I came across some fantastic sports brands offering something different with brighter colours, more relaxed materials, strong patterns and a passion evident in the final product.
Realising that there is no obvious online retailer for fashion-focused sportswear for men, I decided to create a home for these undiscovered, quality brands and this is where we started.
What start-up challenges have you faced?
I was living in London and struggling with the cost of living, paying a big mortgage, no nearby family and not enjoying my work in finance. I decided to take the leap but with these high costs, I needed to do something drastic and move out of the south east of England. My father was very ill so I decided that I needed to sell my house in London and move back to Cardiff.
Then Brexit came and hit the housing market and suddenly the expected short sale time typical of the market at the time stretched to 10 months to find my buyer and a £50,000 reduction in the asking price. This really caused problems. I could not cover the mortgage payments with the flat lying empty so I advertised on Airbnb, spoke to my estate agent to explain that I would need organise viewings around my Airbnb guests.
Good news, bills covered but I had to redress the flat from one that appealed to the potential buyer to one looking at a short term stay and its practicality which brought its own issues, for instance having to reconnect the broadband and struggling to find any company offering contracts less than a year.
A neighbour would often give the guests keys but I was living on the M4 cleaning the flat, tidying the garden but it did mean that the mortgage was paid and the flat sold.
Setting in in South Wales was a great move. The support from the business community has been truly amazing. I started with an offer of free office space within the E-Spark accelerator Cardiff office and met many other start-ups all dealing with similar problems.
I moved to the Welsh ICE Caerphilly campus with an offer of a free desk with the complex paid for by Business Wales. I achieved more in the first two weeks of my time at Welsh ICE than I did in the previous three months. This was merely due to Activemen Clothing sitting amongst 170 businesses all going through the same issues, learning and sharing.
I thrived there. Any problems, I would simply start a discussion in the open plan office and would quickly get an answer, one that comes from experience. Although we are no longer located at Welsh ICE, firms we met there are still working with Activemen Clothing. IT support is remotely operated from the office there, our shipping agent was based at Welsh ICE and many numerous contacts and our mentor on Business Wales's Accelerated Growth Programme is there. One thing that I cannot recommend more to any start-up is to get into a workspace like Welsh ICE. Your business will gain and grow from it!
Why did you decide to sell in Clicks and Mortar?
I couldn't believe my luck when I came across a post on Facebook announcing the opening of the second Clicks and Mortar store in my home city of Cardiff.
What was your strategy in the shop for encouraging people to buy your products?
I had a promotion running, clearly displayed; buy any Bjorn Borg swim short and get a free Bjorn Borg beach towel. Swimwear imagery uploaded and posted on social media did increase footfall. I had a couple of people come in to see the swimwear displayed, although I didn't get a sale of the Bjorn Borg swim shorts in the pop-up.
I marked down prices on products in the store 24 hours before doing so online. I could have pushed this more though.
Cycling gear is not shifting as well as I had hoped. I took in four styles of cycling socks and offered a free pair with all orders over £30 which I implemented in the second week.
Any potential customers who showed interest in any products, I approached softly and gave them a brief, unique story about the product encouraging them to feel the product whilst explaining the qualities.
What benefits did Clicks and Mortar provide your business?
Increased social media exposure which indirectly fed through to sales online. I wasn't paying for social media so I know the increase in sales online was down to increased customer awareness of the Activemen Clothing brand along with greater confidence in the brand to proceed to check out. I had my best day ever for sales on the Monday of the second week, all online.
I'm more confident now about displaying at events. I know the stands that I want to use and some of the events I should attend.
The sharing of experiences between the various business owners, both good and bad, was a benefit. I discovered from BearHug (another pop-up seller) Welsh Government support for small and medium sized companies looking to export. I have identified two clear, distinct clusters overseas and I would like to target them better with a translated online store for one and a more specific website with certain brands and different imagery for another. The knowledge that there is support will mean that the company will save thousands and it will be done sooner than planned.
Clicks and Mortar offered Activemen Clothing the opportunity to show potential customers the product. Although the number of customers and footfall was low, the browsers I did see all commented on the range and difference in the product line-up compared to other, well-known High Street sports retailers.
Something else I can take away from the two weeks is less is more. Initially I was trying to show the variety of products available but this didn't really reflect the business. The visual message was a little confusing.
One thing I have noticed is that my invites and following on LinkedIn have changed. Prior to the store opening, the interest came from the tea boy, now it is coming from the chief financial officer. This can be partly explained by the increased volume of postings and more specific social media activity but also the association of Activemen Clothing with Enterprise Nation in particular increased awareness and showed people that we are serious, in for the long-term and chasing opportunities and growth. A huge help!
Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?
Richard Branson. I know a lot of people say that, but he truly inspired me. You can truly be yourself, be a decent person and still climb to the top.
What are your three top tips for business success?
1. Don't buy to cover all sizes and all colours to please everyone. Buy what you like in limited variety and focus on the sizes that sell.
2. Approach all potential suppliers of clothing that fit the business and ask them whether they would consider dropshipping. Capital is not tied up in goods that quickly goes out of fashion. The retailer merely uses stock imagery to promote the product. Any orders received are sent directly to the supplier who ship the goods directly to the customer. Benefits are no storage fees, no depreciation and commissions on sales received regularly.
3. Don't be too trusting! Just because you are not an expert doesn't mean that they are experts. Social media is a minefield. Two companies may be social media experts but one may focus on Instagram, the other on Facebook. You must keep an eye on the firms, question everything and trust your instinct. Get involved, hashtag yourself and question who they are targeting. Make sure you are singing from the same song sheet!