(l-r) Lord Sugar with Ridiculously Rich By Alana founder Alana Spencer
BBC Apprentice winner Alana Spencer reveals what it’s like working with Lord Sugar and what the future holds for her Aberystwyth baking business Ridiculously Rich By Alana.
“I have always been entrepreneurial,” Alana says proudly when asked how she got into business. “When I was in primary school I was living in the Midlands and I would get by friends to come and clean cars with me, I think I was always destined to be my own boss.”
Growing up in a busy town, Alana was constantly keeping herself busy as a child by coming up with ways to make money. However, when her family relocated to rural Wales, their new home was three miles from the nearest bus shelter and Alana found herself cut-off from the outside world.
Unlike most other youngsters though, and in true entrepreneurial fashion, Alana decided to try her hand at something different. Aware that there weren’t many cars she could wash, she decided to come up with an alternative business plan and she started making her own greeting cards.
“To keep myself occupied when we moved to Wales I decided to launch my own little card business,” she added. “I’d make cards and package them up like you would see them in a shop and sell them to friends and family. I didn’t make much money but that was my first proper business.”
Alana kept making her cards as and when she received orders but it wasn’t until her mother bought her a book on how to make chocolate that she realised where her true passion lay and she spotted a real business opportunity.
“I started making my own chocolate using the recipes in the book and I discovered that I had a real flair for sweet and chocolate making,” she says. “I made a batch of chocolates and perfected the flavours and then took them in to school.
“I began to sell them to teachers, my friends and my family. That’s when I started making real money, I made £2,000 over Christmas, which for a 16-year-old, had me feeling like a millionaire! I realised that was what I wanted to do and it went from there.”
As a 16-year-old with dyslexia, Alana’s teachers didn’t think she would fare too well in her exams and didn’t expect her to do very well at all. So, with her side business bubbling away in the background, Alana was convinced she knew what she wanted to do when she finished school.
But it wasn’t as straightforward as that: “I did my GCSEs and because I was dyslexic nobody expected me to do very well. Despite this, I ended up getting 5 A’s and 5 B’s. It was kind of annoying as I was expecting not to do very well and to leave and start my own business then my family persuaded me to try college and maybe even go on to university.
“I did my first year of A levels but at the same time I was still making chocolates. I was renting a kitchen after school where I would make my chocolates and then I would go off and sell them at markets on a weekend. My grades ended up slipping massively because it wasn’t what I wanted to do and I failed my first year of A Levels.
“I had a discussion with my family and decided it was the right time to work on the business full-time. I think it helped – if I had left after my GCSEs to run the business I don’t think I would’ve been as committed. Because I’d done a year of juggling that and college I knew which one I wanted to do and I went all out.”
The experience of college, like Alana says, was probably just what she needed. It was what made her realise that she was destined to be her own boss and that she would like nothing more than to follow her true passion of chocolate making.
Having started off in her parent’s kitchen, she went on to use a commercial kitchen which she was renting on a night time but knew that she would need to upscale the business if she was to commit her life to it.
Luckily for Alana, her parents were extremely supportive, and we mean extremely supportive, and let her build her own kitchen on the side of their family home. She recalls: “I persuaded my parents to build a kitchen on the side of their house which was amazing. Luckily for me, I also received a government grant which covered 40% of the extension and paid for the equipment I needed.
“The first year in business following this was very slow – I was simply making cakes at my parents’ house and selling them. It wasn’t up until recently that I realised I could build it into a big business – I always just thought I’d make as much money for myself as I could and that would be it. Luckily for me, my uncle who is really inspirational, said ‘you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you’re just working crazy hours and have no goals.’
“That was a turning point for me, I sat down and worked out what I was trying to achieve. From there it has all fallen into place.”
Spurred on by her uncle’s advice, Alana began rethinking and refining her business plan and decided to try and take the business to the next level. Having previously applied for the Junior Apprentice TV show as a teenager, she decided to give the show another shot and applied to take part in Series 12 of The Apprentice last year.
Alana was accepted onto the show and despite being in front of Lord Sugar’s firing line three times, went on to become the first ever Welsh entrepreneur to win, securing Lord Sugar as a business partner and a £250,000 investment in her business.
She said: “I was watching the show and saw an advert calling for entries. I had a discussion with my partner and decided to give it a go and it just went from there. The experience taught me not to doubt myself which up until then had been a big problem for me.
“I didn’t have the self-belief to really push an idea that was going to take it national, it was just me in my little car driving around selling cakes. It was a really cute business model but it was never going to make me a millionaire. The Apprentice has shown me that just because you shout the loudest it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right and that you should never give up!”
The original name of Alana’s business was Narna’s but when she was accepted for The Apprentice, she knew she would have to rebrand if she got to the final. With this in mind, she rebranded to ‘Ridiculously Rich by Alana.’ “It fit so well because the amount of time I would say to people ‘they are ridiculously rich’ it was a no brainer. I put two and two together and got Ridiculously Rich by Alana.”
Prior to her appearance on The Apprentice, Alana employed just two members of staff and sold cakes at markets around South Wales and to a handful of stockists. As far as micro-businesses go, it was ticking over nicely. However, as soon as she found out she had won The Apprentice, she knew this was all set to change.
“We had a very brief chat just before they filmed ‘Your hired!’ and Lord Sugar introduced me to the PR team who would be managing all of the PR for the business and we had a very brief chat about the business model, we didn’t have very long really.”
Once the show had been filmed, Alana had a few days to take stock of what had happened and catch up with her partner and family but it wasn’t long until the phone rang and herself and Lord Sugar got down to business.
“A few days after Lord Sugar and I sat down and had an in-depth discussion about the business model. At the start, it was just me making cakes on my own and selling them wherever and whenever I could. We sat down and worked out a new model and we came up with an idea to introduce ambassadors who would represent the brand across the UK.
“They’ll basically do what I do – all across the country. They’ll buy products from us, they can have as many as they want, and they can take those and sell them at food festivals, country shows or even to cafes and delis and they’ll get a kickback from that. It’s like a franchise model.
“It has been great working with Lord Sugar. I’ve never known a man be such a workaholic. Even when he is abroad you can e-mail him and he’ll e-mail back straight away regardless of the time. He must have his phone on loud so it wakes him up!
“He is great, he has very much just left me to run the day-to-day side of the business. I was worried that he would be up-front and have a huge say but he doesn’t at all – if there are big decisions to be made though he likes to be involved and is always keeping up to date with what is going on and how we’re performing.”
As well as the introduction of brand ambassadors, Alana also launched her own e-commerce store just before the show was aired. She knew that her appearance on the series would drive traffic to the website but had no idea just how big of an impact it would have.
She said: “We have seen interest in our products rocket. We launched our online store just before the show aired as we thought that might happen, but we never anticipated just how mad it would be.
“Usually in January we take little to no money and we ended up beating every month from last year. If we to carry on just with the website we would do three-four times what we did last year and that would just be the website without ambassadors.
“We turned over around £110,000 last year and this coming year we’re expecting that to grow massively. With just the website we’d be looking at over £400,000 but with the launch of the new ambassadors sprogramme we’re hoping it will be around £800,000.”
And the growth doesn’t stop there. As well as the ecommerce website going from strength-to-strength and with the launch of the ambassador programme, Alana and Lord Sugar are also looking to launch a new subscription service and are investing in larger premises. And if one thing is for certain, the future certainly looks bright for the 25-year-old entrepreneur from Aberystwyth.
Alana concluded: “We are now looking to upscale the business and have spoken to a facility, a very large bakery in South Wales, and we’re just talking numbers now. Hopefully they’ll be able to do a job for us!
“We’re also introducing a subscription service to the website over the next few months but the end goal for me is making Ridiculously Rich by Alana one of the leading luxury cake brands, that’s the dream. I want people to be having a party and think ’let’s get some of Alana’s cakes in!’”