The entrepreneurial bug bites in the most unusual places. Rebecca Christensen knows we all like buying gifts for others. And we love receiving them too. It’s a national obsession.
The gift voucher industry is worth around £5bn a year in the UK, with corporate rewards in lieu of extra pay and bonuses making up around half of this figure.
However, Ms Christensen, who lives in bijoux Stockbridge in Edinburgh, realised that much of this substantial amount of cash was going directly to the major retail chains – with the smaller independents simply unable to compete.
She had a brainwave. It was only last September that she set up Love from Indie Street in Edinburgh. It’s a digital business that’s on fire.
All over the capital coffees houses, independent florists, bike shops, restaurants and hairdressers and even a life casting company have signed up for Rebecca’s ‘Love From Indie Street’ website and her plastic card. Over 60 companies are offering vouchers and discounts through the site.
Rebecca, originally from South Shields, who attended Glasgow University, learned that some of the very biggest players, such as Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, had a ‘restricted loop’ across the High Street where people were given vouchers that they could only use in the businesses within the loop.
Increasingly, firms have been using vouchers to reward staff. A large loop offers variety that’s unavailable to a single retailer.
She decided to create her own plastic pre-paid voucher system and build her own ‘restricted loop’ of specialist retailers in Edinburgh. So instead of you having a £50 voucher to get a limited range of ornaments in a single gift shop, there would be a fuller range of retail offerings, including wine, beers, food, hair styles, flowers as well as gifts, all across multiple outlets. Everyone, it seems, is a winner. What’s not to like?
“We really have so much going on now. I know all the retailers personally and they all buy into the idea of high-quality, offering the best customer experiences. It has grown like topsy,” she tells BQ.
Rebecca had already spent ten years working in financial services in Edinburgh, firstly with Standard Life in the press office during the heat of the demutualisation debate, and then for seven years with Nucleus Financial. However, like so many female entrepreneurs, it was the birth of her first child, Frankie, now two, that encouraged her to do something that was more compatible with her lifestyle in Edinburgh.
What she has been able to do is pull together this independent and disparate bunch of retailers into a more unified business group. She’s organising a quarterly business gathering for them – at a Love Indie venue – where they are able to share experiences and enjoy artisan coffee and cupcakes. There are also pop-up events for cafes, bars and restaurants where the other members can showcase their wares.
She held a pop-up fashion show on Mother’s Day. “Most people have an entrepreneurial idea, but don’t act on it. I decided to get going on this. It is very new and we still want to add more businesses and make connections. But we want to keep the quality up to ensure that all the companies are the best they can be. For example, I think Narcissus, in Broughton Street, are one of the best independent florists in Edinburgh, that’s why they are involved.”
She has signed up hipster companies such as Brotique, a ‘style cave’ for men, owned by Richard Murphy, a designer, and run by two trend setters Rich Edwards and Chris Meecham. “We’ve done a few events with Rebecca and it works extremely well in helping us build our profile. We’ve had a chance to meet the other members of the Love From Indie Street group too. There’s a lot of shared interest,” says Richard.
“It can be quite a lonely job running a small specialist retail outlet. I think Love from Indie Street has helped pull everyone together and allows the smaller owners to free the potential of their brands,” she says.
Rebecca is planning to launch in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen throughout the rest of the year. She has funded the growth herself and is now at break-even, while investors have been knocking at her door to see how the business might be franchised across the rest of the UK.
The website has been the key and was given a fresh and modern slant by Kate George, a designer based in the Old Drill Hall in Leith. She now has a network of over 200,000 addresses of customers who have taken an interest or bought a gift or services in one of the outlets.
She is fanatical about Twitter to keep updating her audience and 80% of those following the business are younger professional women, an important demographic for advertisers and brands.
“I’ve been able to build the business because of social media. Without Twitter and Pinterest, it would take a great deal longer. It’s amazing how quickly you can build a successful business today.”
It’s too early to say how far Love from Indie Street will go. But Rebecca is a determined and passionate entrepreneur who already has an incredible network of key people and retailers. If anything, it shows the power of delivering an idea, all within a year.