Posted: Fri 20th Nov 2015
Enterprise Nation member Kevin House explains the story behind Butikku, his Japanese designer boutique business.
What was your motivation to start your own business?
I used to be a management consultant for a 'big four' firm, but I found the environment and culture frustrating, and I always felt that inside that firm I was only going to be able to work for clients who were already very large corporates, and that I couldn't get close to the more ground-breaking, green-field type projects that inspire me.
So I left to look for work helping start-ups. When my girlfriend (at the time) wanted to start something new I jumped in to help her and before I knew it I had a new vocation. I'm now a passionate supporter of Japanese fashion designers and my business is all about helping them achieve their global potential. At the same time, the UK public are generally big admirers of Japanese design and style, so really all I have to do is act as a matchmaker.
Whilst you were starting up how did you balance home life with work?
Because I started the business with my girlfriend, we were pretty much working on it together all of the time, and there really was no distinction between the two. Two years on, she's no longer involved, but it still occupies the vast majority of my waking life. I'm working now to get to a point where I can get a good balance back but I can't claim to have cracked it.
What's your top tip for effective sales and marketing?
Know your product(s) and know your customer. If you understand what your customer likes and feels, and know really what your product is about (including its source and the inspiration behind it), then you can successfully marry the two. I sell quite high-end clothing from brands that customers are totally unfamiliar with. Only by understanding both, usually through personal interaction, can I enable customers to trust in the business and what we offer, and take the time to find what they really love. And then they come back, because they believe in it.
Which tools could you not live without in your business?
Hardly an imaginative answer, but my PC and smartphone. I run a lot of pop-up shops and I'm a determined collaborator who is always trying to work with others to create a bigger opportunity. So communication is the key thing, and in practice it's the internet I really need all of the time. When I don't have good connectivity, everything slows to a crawl.
What movie, song or book offers you the most business inspiration and why?
A book called The Japanese Negotiator. I deal exclusively in Japanese designer brands, so I have a lot of discussions and negotiations in Japan. I seemed to be getting on quite well as I'd grow my network there and developed trust relationships, but this book gave me some useful perspectives on what I was actually encountering. It has helped me to better understand what is happening in meetings and to respond more appropriately and get to better win-win solutions.
What's been your biggest business success to date?
I think every sale is a success. But what I'm proudest of is a toss-up between the many popup shops we've run, and the relationships I've managed to build in Japan.
We've run 15 popups so far, and each one has been unique, building upon the previous ones but adapting to the space and the opportunity. I think we've achieved a hell of a lot from very little. Our customers frequently comment on the quality of our presentation and they are generally surprised to find it's just temporary.
On the other side, I've spent almost two and a half years visiting Japan and building up relationships with dozens of designers and companies. I was flattered to be invited to the SS16 fashion week at the Japanese government's expense, and it's a pleasure to be able to walk into exhibitions large and small and be greeted by many people I'd consider to be friends. It's not easy to break the ice with Japanese businesses, but I feel that I'm now known and trusted and that's a huge thing for me personally and for the business.
If you had to live on a desert island with one entrepreneur who would it be and why?
Elle MacPherson. You did say 'desert island'. Do I really need to explain? :-).
What are your ambitions for the next five years?
To progress from what I call our 'pop-up phase' into a permanent stable location which we can grow to become a true flagship for Japanese design in the UK. And to complement this by developing other sales channels to achieve substantial revenues for our designer partners. Then the hope is to extend the concept into other geographies to leverage the relationships and economies of scale. We want to always be a little bit 'niche', but the niche may not be so small.
How does being a member of Enterprise Nation help your business grow?
Frankly I've used Enterprise Nation's resources less than I could or probably should, but even just the regular emails often provide me with ideas and inspiration that I can utilise in my own efforts.
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