A simple idea dreamt up in a tiny one-bedroom flat by entrepreneurs Vicky Alkalai and Olly Ashton quickly led to Britain’s leading fashion chains beating a path to their door.
Debenhams, Selfridges, River Island and other leading high street names were clamouring to stock Vicky and Olly’s “Plastic People”, their self-styled line of funky lighting accessories.
The Plastic People Company was born of an idea inspired by London’s Christmas lights three years ago, when Vicky thought it would be fun to decorate fairy lights with flower petals and other colourful ornaments.
Delighted with the results, the pair hastily produced a small stock for sale at Camden Market and were stunned when the products “literally flew off the market stall”. They stepped up production using their small London apartment as headquarters, factory and distribution centre.
Learning to manufacture efficiently
Vicky said: “We landed our first major customer in River Island, which was fantastic, but when we added Debenhams, Selfridges and Top Shop to our portfolio, we realised that we needed some professional advice on how to manufacture more efficiently.”
Olly and Vicky were directed to Prevista, their local enterprise support agency, the small business advice and support service for the capital. The European Social Fund and London Development Agency co-fund the Pre-Start and Start Up Service.
Prevista began assessing The Plastic People Company’s circumstances and concluded that, for the company to be successful, they were going to have to review their manufacturing strategy and move production facilities abroad.
Changing the business model
Vicky said: “We enrolled on their Business Mentoring Scheme and underwent a diagnostic review to look at problem areas we faced and opportunities for improvement. As a result we realised that to make a success of our business, we would have to move production to the Far East to reduce costs.
“This was a major step for us, particularly with all of the obvious cultural and economic differences with doing business here, so the mentoring scheme really helped fill a gap in our knowledge.
“During the course of several half day planning sessions, the Prevista business adviser provided key pointers to help us with our research. He talked to us about import/export, identifying production facilities and how other companies had made similar decisions. This advice gave us the confidence to take such a big step in fundamentally changing our business model.”
The Plastic People Company is now up and running in China and the first signs are good – Vicky and Olly are already seeing positive changes in efficiency that the switch has enabled.
She said: “Our new business plan has also secured us funding of £100,000 – which means we will now make 80 per cent profit on everything we sell. We have sourced an office and are recruiting two members of staff. In the summer, we are re-launching the company with a brand new image and website – you could say the future is looking as bright as our lights!”