Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Start-Up Stories: Success is in the bag for Canby

David Gould had spent many years working as a web producer for internet giant AOL. A reorganisation of the company meant that his division was closed down and David faced the prospect of redundancy. Like thousands in his position, he had little idea of what he would do next. But a trip abroad and a strange bag of scarves proved to be a life changing experience.

For Gould, one thing was certain - sitting in an office answering to someone else wasn't for him.

"I knew that I wasn't really happy and I didn't want to work for other people. I wanted to do my own thing," comments Gould. Selling a product was an attractive option and the only problem was finding the right merchandise.

In December 2001 he decided to invest some of his redundancy money. Spurred on by previous trips to India, where he became fascinated with the people and culture, he booked another four-month trip hoping that he would find inspiration for his next venture.

During a visit to a market, Gould bought some silk scarves and like the thousands of women on daily shopping trips across India, he placed them into locally produced jute bags in order to carry them easily while he continued his shopping. On his return to the UK, Gould walked the high streets of London looking for buyers.

"I took the scarves in jute bags around the local boutiques. I went into one shop and the owner said ‘they’re not great, in fact they’re terrible but I like the bag," says Gould.

Encouraged by the unexpected interest in the bags Gould was determined that he had 'found' the right product. He returned to India and travelled around Calcutta visiting factories and chatting to suppliers.

"At that point they were just all crazy looking bags with mad designs," he continues, "It was the manufacturers who told me they were eco-friendly and it was then that a light lit up in my head."

Jute is a 100% biodegradable and natural fibre. The crop takes very little out of the environment and needs minimal input from pesticides or fertilisers. The final product is also very strong, durable and versatile.

Gould finally ended up with a supplier he felt understood what he wanted, would give him support, and was able to provide quality products.

Back home, he set about establishing his company. He found that a previous job as an editor of business advice books came in very useful. He knew where to look and he consumed as much information as he could to help go it alone.

Gould came up with a novel idea of settling on a name for his new company. "Business is a very dynamic world and I knew I probably wouldn't end up where I anticipated I would," he says, "So I thought - I can be anything, which became Canby."

Initially Gould found it hard to find money for his new venture so he took the risky step of remortgaging his flat and putting the equity into the business. This did the trick and he was able to find low-cost premises in Acton, west London.

Following advice found in books, he researched his other support options and the Portobello Business Centre proved to be his saviour. He was allocated a personal business adviser who steered him in the direction of available funds. With a low-interest loan and a £1000 start-up grant Canby was ready to roll.

The information he had learnt from local producers gave Gould his market. Offering an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic, he targeted the fine food stores and organic shops of London. 'Notting Hill institution' Mr Christian's Deli became his first customer which to this day provides cheese, wine and pasta in packaging supplied by Canby.

One year on, Canby has an impressive assortment of off-the-peg bags as well as a bespoke range of packaging. His client list is also growing by the day. Organic supermarkets such as 'Planet Organic', fine food outlets and delis, soapmakers, farm shops and even a convention organised by music industry legend Tony Wilson have all used Canby bags and packaging.

Looking back, David acknowledges that at times it has been hard. He points out that setting out on your own is not for everyone. It's a high risk strategy and it takes a certain type of person with guts and determination to pull it off.

He has also had to put in long hours to get the company off the ground. A whole week of 12-hour working days is a common occurrence and he hasn't had a holiday for a year.

Being in charge means Gould is now responsible for the day-to-day administration of the business, something he wasn't concerned with in his days working for a major multi-national company.

Over the past 12 months he has had to cope with increased government regulations and occasional import problems. Having his main supplier thousands of miles away means bags not arriving on time or in an unacceptable quality is one of the biggest headaches.

But despite the problems Gould has not let it get him down. "I have to say I’ve never felt like giving up. I’m determined. I believe in what I’m doing and I know it’s a viable business."

Three months ago, Gould also became the proud father of a baby daughter who has certainly made him put things in perspective. He feels that he has even more reason to succeed, and she has also given him a whole new depth to his life outside work by helping him to relax.

Reflecting on the past year, the self-styled 'Jute evangelist' says the positives far outweigh the negatives and he wouldn’t change his experience for the world.

"I admit the price of success for me has been personal. But I'm much happier. I have freedom. Now my successes are mine and my mistakes are mine. I have no-one else to blame and no-one can steal my success," concludes Gould.

Source: www.mybusiness.co.uk

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