From the top · 17 July 2015

Lingerie tycoon Caprice Bourret: “Cash flow is your bible”

Bourret feels the value of research can’t be underestimated when it comes to developing a solid business prospect

Caprice Bourret has gone from model to entrepreneur, establishing a successful lingerie line as the CEO and founder of By Caprice in 2006. Today it’s stocked on numerous sites, from ASOS to Figleaves.

She has experienced some highs and lows in her business career, with plenty of lessons to share from along the way. “When I started out I was too American. Everything was all gung-ho ego, rather than research,” she explained.

At the beginning of setting out your stall and determining where your business will fit within current offerings, Bourret is adamant that research should play a fundamental role.

“It’s about finding gaps in the market and then asking questions – why hasn’t someone else tried this? How can I fail?” she said.

As part of her “gung-ho” initial approach, Bourret waded into an already saturated market since she was already involved with the lingerie business and it made sense relating to her modelling career. “I was in my thirties and had one foot in the grave with that job, so I was thinking what next? Now, I look for gaps in the market, but the lingerie market was highly competitive,” she explained.

Bourret was lucky that her name had already become a brand and was given free marketing when launching By Caprice. But for a new business looking to make waves, she feels the best route is to consider where competition is scarce.

“It is simply identifying supply and demand. My newest idea is a play centre – in the area I live, I researched how many schools were in a three mile radius. There were 52 schools and not one single play centre. Demand is so high,” Bourret said. It made her question what were the potential pitfalls and where there could be problems. “Why isn’t anyone else finding square feet in this area to do something similar? Parking is a big issue.”

Bourret’s next business venture will be a play centre

So she scouted the area thoroughly to find the right property and the logistics of where parking would figure in to make it accessible. “Next is kitting it out and getting quotes.”

A tip Bourret shares as a useful touchpoint is doing comp shops. “Research, research, research. It sounds so simple and it is, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know or just don’t do it.”

She mentioned an experienced investor who is involved with her play centre project, who had previously looked at a similar concept but was going to base it in Hatfield in Hertfordshire. “I said, are you on some kind of crack, you’re not going to see a return! He didn’t do his research and it was a very expensive lesson.”

Similarly, Bourret feels you need to be smart early on to work out if something is a goer or whether an idea you’ve been really committed to just isn’t going to pan out. When speaking at an entrepreneurial event a woman approached Bourret to discuss “this amazing idea she said she’d had – she’d found an incredible gap in the market”. The idea came from the fact the woman’s husband couldn’t stay on his side of the bed during the night, so his partner had thought designing a bed sheet with a line down the middle would help solve the problem – and that millions of others were likely to be having the same difficulty.”

Bourret was matter-of-fact. “In a year and a half she had spent thousands on trying to make this idea a reality. I told her it’s time to quit and think of something else,” she said. Bourret helped establish where else the woman had an interest – property – and she joined an estate agent and now runs her own business.

When it comes to comp shops, Bourret went to the US to do hers for added originality. She conceded she’s fortunate to be able to move from place to place to find the best elements of each. New businesses, though, shouldn’t feel the playing feel is distorted in favour of established businesspeople. “People have the internet, there’s really no excuse here. I’m lucky in terms of the money I have, but anyone can find ideas that make you different,” she said. “I visited successful play centres in the US to see what they were doing right, so I could implement it over here.”

She used the example of a restaurant – if you’re considering starting a new one, think about some of the ones you like. “Why are they successful, where do they stand out; is it the food, the service, the décor? More often than not, people will forgive a lot if the food is good, and pay a lot too.”

Suss out your local area as a starting point

Again, consider where there’s a gap locally. “Are there a lot of Indian restaurants around you? Branch out, have you considered going organic or opening a Mexican?”

Bourret has an example local to her – a raw restaurant, which she said was “an original idea and it just took off”.

The place is “chock-a-block, it’s just killing it at the moment,” she said. So, Bourret has been inspired to expand her budding business empire with a restaurant. “I’ve found dishes I like from different places, different elements that I’ve tested on my friends and family,” she explained.

Just using others as a sounding board can be incredibly useful. “With underwear, I just designed what I liked. I didn’t do any target research, it was all ego,” she admitted. “And I nearly lost my business thanks to my shitty taste in underwear! So I’ll never do that again.”

Having a constant stream of questions when developing your product, whatever it may be, is crucial according to Bourret. “Keep everything in mind and be thorough.”

This planning also extends to cash flow, which Bourret is quick to stress is a small business’ “bible”.

“That’s the first thing you need to understand – that cash flow is your bible. You need to know exactly what is coming in and going out for that first year,” she said. Bourret also emphasised making sure you have the finances to sustain you for a year as “you will not be making money early on”.

Bourret said her initial foray into business “was all ego”

Forecasting is also key – “Another reason you need to keep tabs on cash flow is because one year you may be looking good, and making some money, but if you hit a rough spot, that can unravel so quickly.”

If you’re forecasting effectively, you can plan a bit and at least brace yourself. “I knew I would be hit back from 2008, I had orders for a year in advance and had to readjust the business plan to accommodate for this,” she said.

Amid the trials and tribulations of things to consider when you’re setting up a business, Bourret said you should never compromise on brand integrity. “A good product will stand you in good stead, because it’s tough out there.”

With her lingerie, Bourret delivered “a good product for a great price and I ended up with loyal customers as a result”. Once that’s established and you begin to build up your customer or client base, the value of solid recruitment cannot be understated.

“It gets to a point where having a high-quality person in a position is crucial. You should spend money on that and when you’re able to, make sure you look after them – whether it’s with some kind of incentive or bonuses, because they’re important to the success of the business.”

She’s blunt when it comes to considering what it takes to fundamentally help get your business off the ground. “There’s no set formula, but you’ve got to get on with things and don’t bitch. I don’t really sleep anymore, but I eat better and have become healthier to deal with the hours. You’ll be working minimum 12 or 15 hour days for at least the first few years, so when it comes down to it, you need to have that passion for working non-stop.”

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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