Wednesday, 04 November 2020
British candle and home fragrance brand, Urban Apothecary was born at Tajinder Banwait’s kitchen table in 2011. Known for its stylish scents and handmade glass containers, the company now has its own candle factory and has grown to become a global brand, selling online and in luxury stores across Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. In this month’s Seven Ways I Make it Happen, she discusses the importance of focusing on the bigger picture, knowing what your end game is, and the power of fragrance to inspire and comfort.
What in your daily routine is essential to success to you?
Keeping up to date with industry news is really important so that I can see what's happening out there in the sector — that way I can seek out opportunities and also spot trends for new product development. If something's doing really well and people are shouting about it, for example, then it could be something to look at. The key to success for me is not to just focus on my business, but on the bigger picture. I like to look at what's going on outside and I make a point of keeping in regular contact with our buyers to see how they're trading, and with our independent accounts as well, who are dealing directly with consumers, to see what the reaction is to the brand. I also make sure I stay in touch with our suppliers — if your suppliers are having issues that might impact you down the line it's always good to know ‘early doors’. Most of our suppliers have actually been with us from day one and we have strong relationships — in times like this it's important to know that you can count on them.
What are your top tips for staying on top of finances; emotionally, practically or strategically?
As a business owner, you have to identify what the ‘end game’ is. Do you want a lifestyle business that you're happy to run for, say, 10 or 20 years, or do you want to set up a business to sell? Your timelines will be very different in those two situations, and you're going to have different financial policies. If you're wanting to sell, you're going to be interested in what your net profit is looking like, for example, rather than what turnover you’re going to do this year. What I've learned over the years though is to work out what you need to see on your financial reports to show that you're growing, if that's what you're looking to do — because there's so much information in there — and get that simplified into a report.
How have you pivoted in response to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic?
We already had a digital platform before the pandemic, but our online sales were less than 10 per cent of our overall turnover; it’s now 30 to 40 per cent. We know from our market research that when times are tough, even when not in lockdown, we tend to stay indoors more and people like to have something nice like a candle to make the home environment more special. When you're feeling insecure you also want things that comfort you — if you burn a lemon scented candle, for example, it can make you happy — and fragrance is important to moods and memories. There's demand for that now, so we have developed new candle range focused on kitchen and foodie-type fragrances. We were also developing a luxury hand sanitizer before lockdown but the ingredients were needed for hospitals, so we waited to go into production. Our 70 per cent alcohol-based hand gel in six scents has recently finally launched though as an addition to our home care range. I think the pandemic will change the way people live, so we're focused on growing that category long-term.
Whom did you get your entrepreneurial spirit from and what did they teach you?
Both sides of my family are hugely entrepreneurial. My mum’s dad came over from India when he was 13 and went on to build a massive fashion business, and my dad came over from Punjab in the 70s and set up one of Leicester’s largest clothing manufacturers with his brothers-in-law, even inventing their own jeans brand. They were always looking for opportunities and developing products and I grew up around that energy. I learned early on that everything is possible, you've just got to decide what it is that you want to do. My dad retired in his 40s but came out of retirement to help me and both my parents actually work for me now. It's taught me that the bond that you have with your family is hugely important, that they'll always be there for me with the business — and to always employ people that you can rely on.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone and how do you handle that?
Everybody feels out of their comfort zone when they do things for the first time and I think the more you do something, the more you get used to doing it. Presenting and speaking in front of an audience is not necessarily in my comfort zone, but I think if you're passionate about your story then that always comes across. You just have to be the most confident ‘you’ that you can be and the most knowledgeable you can be about the topic that you're talking about — and then it is what it is. One of the biggest speeches I've ever done was to a couple of hundred people as well as Lloyd Blankfein and Michael Bloomberg. That was out of my comfort zone, but I managed it — and, importantly, I felt great afterwards.
What sacrifices have you had to make to become a successful entrepreneur?
I know that lots of books say you can have it all, but I don’t think you can. Where I have to make sacrifices is mainly around spending time with people outside my immediate family, not being able to switch off from work in the evenings and not really having enough time for me. I always end up taking on more than I can handle, but I always get through it. I think it’s important to know which sacrifices are non-negotiable though. I've got three children, which I had while I was growing the business, and it was really important to me to have a family. I need to focus more on my own health and wellbeing though. Last year I had my gallbladder removed, and I carried on working through that. When you're running a business, you can tend to try to deal with everything. From next year my priority is to get myself an assistant to help with things that can be delegated and free up my time so that I can have a bit more balance.
How do you manage your digital balance?
I have no boundaries at the moment. It's been a difficult time for businesses and you want to seize every opportunity and be prompt about getting back to people on things. Normally, though, when my kids are at school I work around them — the time between 3pm and their 7pm bedtime is dedicated to them, and then at 7pm I'm back on my laptop. I do check my email in between though, so getting that balance right is very difficult. I want to be present for my family so I am going to do some work on that.