Money makers: A fashion label with an editorial approach
Mandy Watkins and Rupert Youngman decided to take a lifestyle approach to selling their snug clothing range.
Australian Mandy Watkins met Rupert Youngman, her future husband and business partner, 18 years ago when he visited Hong Kong, where she then worked, says the BBC's Suzanne Bearne. Watkins moved to London, and two years later in 2003, after losing her job, created fashion label Hush from her kitchen table with her £40,000 redundancy cheque. The brand, known for its snug and warm winter clothing, now enjoys annual sales of £17m.
"The whole idea was built around feeling cosy," says Watkins. "I'd moved to the northern hemisphere, and I had a big three-hour round commute All I [wanted] to do [was] sit in my PJs with a good book." Youngman gave up his job in publishing and joined the firm in 2005, handling the marketing, finance and IT side of the business. Hush's strategy is to engage with customers by providing lifestyle content, such as recipes, film reviews and travel articles.
"Hush is very editorial," says Youngman. "It's not just... about product, it's about the lifestyle." The brand has grown a loyal following among mostly 25 to 45-year-olds: last year, turnover rose by 60%, while profits tripled.
Cashing in from locking people up for fun
Hannah Duraid's customers can say they spent Saturday trapped in a sinking submarine with limited oxygen, or Sunday captured by evil scientists escaping with seconds to spare, says Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. But despite the daredevil scenarios, her Sheffield- and Leeds-based business, The Great Escape Game, is less covert ops than The Crystal Maze, the popular 1990s television show in which contestants solved puzzles to escape from locked rooms.
"Sometimes people will arrive apprehensive, thinking they're going to be locked in a small box, but they always come out buzzing," says Duraid, 26. She and her boyfriend, Peter Lacole, were inspired after playing a similar game on holiday in Malaysia. Back in Britain, the offerings didn't match up, so they launched their own in 2015. The Great Escape Game currently has 14 rooms across three sites, with prices ranging from £13 to £26 per head. Players have 45 minutes to escape.
"We've ramped things up a notch to create a truly immersive experience," she says. "It's more like a Hollywood film set, so our Submerged' game looks and feels like the room of a submarine." The firm, which has 47 staff, turned over £1.2m last year.
How a costly cricket bat made an entrepreneur
Finding that he had to shell out £60 on a new cricket bat left Alex Lovn feeling stumped, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. "It occurred to me that wasn't what it actually costs," Lovn explains. Although he was only 13 at the time, he contacted the Indian manufacturer and bought half a dozen for £6 each, then resold them for £60.
"The cost of doing business was getting told off by the deputy headmaster," says Lovn (now 30) he had broken the rules on selling items in the playground for more than £10. But it had sparked his interest in retail. After leaving college, he spent £13,000 of his savings on buying soccer goal nets, and then selling them to sports clubs and schools near his home in Oswestry, Shropshire.
In the year to September 2016, Lovn's business, Net World Sports, made a pre-tax profit of £1.8m on sales of £11.6m, which rose to £18.2m last year. The company has also developed its own-brand sports equipment, such as Vermont tennis-net posts and its Forza football range, which has proved a hit with customers, including Premier League clubs.After all, "what's the legacy value of selling someone else's brand? If customers buy your brand and they want itagain, they can only come back to you".
Ingvar Kamprad the man who democratised interior design
Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Swedish furniture chain Ikea who has died aged 91 "democratised interior design", Alice Rawsthorn, ex-director of London's Design Museum, tells the Financial Times. By commercialising "the Scandinavian modern design aesthetic", Ikea grew into a $54bn empire, although Kamprad claimed his own wealth was far lower.
Kamprad was born in 1926 on a farm in a "harsh, agricultural and punishing region" of southern Sweden, which may have instilled in him his well-known frugality, notes Caroline Roux in The Guardian. He began selling matches at age five. By 11, he had made enough from selling seeds to buy a bicycle and a typewriter. In 1943 he started a mail-order firm, Ikea (an acronym for his initials, farm and village). He sold stationery, then furniture.
Years later, when an employee took the legs off a table to fit it in the back of a car, Ikea's association with flat-pack furniture was born. But it wasn't all straightforward. Ikea's tendency to undercut rivals resulted in a boycott by Swedish firms, forcing production to move to Poland. That led to business deals over vodka and Kamprad's battles with alcoholism. In 1973 the family moved to Switzerland to avoid "tax consequences", as he put it.
In 1994, Kamprad apologised for his past links with Sweden's far-right. In 2010, digging deeper, journalist Elisabeth sbrink learned that in 1943, aged 17, he was a recruiter for Socialist Unity, a far-right party during the war. "Kamprad's image and Sweden's continue to reflect each other," says sbrink in The New York Times. "Without shadows, without disgrace, and without any ambition to come to terms with their past."