A father of three from South Shields has turned his skills in e-commerce into a thriving new business with the launch of two furniture brands thanks to a £25,000 loan from Virgin StartUp and help from TEDCO Business Support.
John Orr (37) worked in online retailing for furniture and homewares for 15 years before redundancy made him take the leap into self-employment to utilise his e-commerce experience. He has now launched two distinct furniture brands with Zuggi – selling unique children’s furniture and Mews – selling country inspired solid wood furniture,
John comments: “When I was made redundant, I knew instinctively that I wanted to remain in online retailing but needed time to consider the right types of products and ideas that would find a successful market in the UK.
“During this time my son turned 2 years old and we set out to buy his first bed. After many hours of research I found that the vast majority of children’s novelty & character beds were being sold at high prices and only in the smaller toddler size, which he would quickly outgrow.”
“I thought if I was having this problem, then other parents would be in the same boat so I began to look at suppliers across the world who could offer bespoke children’s furniture that would suit the UK market and inspire the imagination of little ones from an international supplier. Once I was satisfied with the quality and style of the products I set about planning how to launch the business and more importantly, how to fund it.”
John approached Virgin StartUp, the not for profit organisation and part of the Virgin Group, delivering government-backed business loans to new enterprises. Virgin StartUp put John in touch with TEDCO Business Support and via the Start and Grow programme, John was assigned experienced TEDCO business advisor, Bill Hartshorne to assist in getting the business investment ready and on the road to a successful launch.
John continues: “I worked extensively with Bill as I set about applying for a Virgin StartUp loan to support the business launch. TEDCO works very closely with Virgin StartUp in the North East so Bill was able to use his extensive knowledge to help refine my business plan and plan ahead to negotiate our response to any challenges that might lie ahead. With his support, we were successful in receiving the full £25,000 Virgin StartUp loan and immediately set about securing a supplier contract for the first Zuggi & Mews products.
“We have focused the Zuggi business at this early stage on two main products, a Princess Carriage bed and a Racing car bed whilst the Mews business concentrates more on a small range of country inspired furniture. Both businesses currently sell via major online shopping platforms including Amazon and eBay as well as a select number of high street retailers and the response has been so positive that we have had to effectively doubled our sales forecasts for the first six months of trading.
John was given business advice via the start and grow programme, which is delivered by TEDCO Business Support in the North East and supported by the Regional Growth Fund (RGF). The programme is delivered throughout England by Cavendish Enterprise in areas where there are lower levels of business start-up to help new enterprises get up and running and develop new employment opportunities in the private sector with a range of services, including one-to-one mentoring, business planning and helping new ventures get investment ready.
John continues: “We are able to sell our furniture at only a fraction of the cost of our nearest competitors and the response from customers to date has been overwhelmingly positive. The future is definitely looking bright as we now enter the second stage of our business to seek to move customers from third party sites to purchase directly from our own Zuggi.co.uk & Mews.co.uk online stores.”
Bill Hartshorne, TEDCO business advisor comments: “John has extensive experience in the furniture selling market and is keenly aware of how to sell successfully online. Where he needed help was in getting his business investment ready and that involved looking at the wider marketplace and his business plans in greater detail to ensure that both Zuggi & Mews had the right strategy in place to grow and develop. It has been a pleasure working with John and we look forward to continuing our working relationship beyond the business launch phase as the brands continue to expand.”