She reveals what she wishes she’d known when she started.
I decided to make the step into business because, at the end of the day, models have a shelf life.
In this business, by the time you reach 28 you’re way over the hill. Plus, you don’t have to be Einstein to do modelling work, so I was looking for something a little more fulfilling.
Lingerie seemed a natural step and at the time nobody else was doing it; Kylie Minogue didn’t have her deal and nor did any of the other models like Elle Macpherson. I agreed a licensing deal with Debenhams and the line just took off.
At that stage I was really just participating, learning about the logistics of the business and the admin side of things, even though I had all the marketing control. But, being from the US, I’m very ambitious and once I started to see sales figures I thought: ‘Wait a minute, I could be doing that myself.’
Getting people to take the proposition seriously was a battle, especially with the tabloid newspapers so eager for it not to work just because it would have made a good story. Actions speak louder than words and I think the success of the brand has proven its worth.
A model team
If I had the chance to start again, I think I would have hired really great people with experience in the underwear industry straight off. I can’t tell you how much difference it made to my business when I finally did build a great team of people around me. Even if it means paying a bit more to get someone experienced, it’s worth doing.
I was very naive at the start and kind of jumped in at the deep end, especially in terms of the finances. I mean, I made some serious mistakes with cash flow. Luckily I had quite a lot of liquidity because of my modelling career, but there were a couple of times when I started to worry that all the money was depleting pretty quickly.
One month I thought I was doing really well, with a lot of money in the bank, so I went out and bought new furniture. The next month I had a huge shipment coming in and only 14 days to pay the suppliers. I think if I could go back, I would have got an equity investor to share some of the risk, rather than investing all my own money.
Caprice the brand
Half the battle with a new business is creating awareness, but I was really lucky that I didn’t have to spend loads of money building up my name. Yet awareness alone is not enough to sustain a successful brand: you have to be competitively priced, give your customers something different and make sure you don’t stagnate – we’re now looking at expanding into perfume and nightwear for the line.
Obviously branding and brand loyalty is all-important to the business. We give our customers a bloody good product and take a bit of a hit on the margins, but consumers are smart so they know when they’re getting a good deal.
Still, everything I do affects that brand, so it has been important for me to stay out of the media and control the image that I put across quite carefully. I still model all of the lingerie and that makes a big difference to sales, but if anything starts to go south there is always retouching on images, so gravity isn’t an issue any more.
That might sound egotistical, and I do have an ego, but really it just makes good business sense. There was one instance when an online retailer put our underwear on another girl and sales just plummeted. I called them up and said that if they didn’t put my pictures back up, I wouldn’t be working with them again.
Within two weeks of them changing the image, we were sold out.
Also see: My top importing tips – Caprice Bourret and four other owner-managers explain their strategies for importing goods into the UK.