Despite the attraction of big business – the glamour of an executive title in the corporate world or the excitement of turning a simple idea into a massive success – the tangible, financial and emotional benefits of keeping your business operations relatively small in scale are undeniable.
According to Reza Motani, Managing Director at BLU, providing a niche offering is the key to business success today.
“The path to success is not linear – you have to be innovative and daring enough to bring something outstanding to the mix, in a way that still meets people’s needs and provides solutions to real-world challenges,” he says.
“Dreaming big is one thing, but entrepreneurs – especially young designers entering the fashion industry – also need to understand how impactful the ‘compact’ business model can be.”
Improved customer experience
Where customer interactions with large companies often come across as robotic and impersonal, small businesses can afford to pay closer and more personalised attention to the customer’s overall experience of the brand, showing a relatable and ‘human’ side.
“Keeping business operations small gives you the time and means to engage directly with customers. In an era when the Internet serves as the new shop window, customers’ expectations have shifted – people are looking for meaningful and rewarding interactions with your business, and won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere if they feel that you aren’t truly listening to them,” says Reza.
“The business of ‘fast fashion’, for example, is a multi-million Rand industry that is difficult to infiltrate or compete with, and so we took a different route – we stuck by our principles of offering quality over quantity, and I believe that’s the direction most businesses today are headed towards.”
Creating a business that is aimed at penetrating niche markets also addresses the problem of consumerism perpetuated by corporates and larger companies, which Reza believes is responsible for the lack of growth and inaccessibility within the fashion industry.
The freedom to experiment
The small business environment offers more room to explore new and unconventional territory. Small businesses in the fashion industry are especially geared to take advantage of these opportunities, because trendsetting and innovative design relies heavily on bold business choices.
“When we first started BLU, we wanted to give people something different, and we wanted people to understand that there is validity – over and above the monetary value – in opting for an ‘investment piece’ when it comes to fashion,” says Reza.
“Many would have argued that it wasn’t the right economy to start a high-end fashion boutique at that time, but smaller operations open the floor to bigger opportunities in spite of the risk.
“For instance, because we have the freedom to explore new and interesting avenues, we’ve been able to expand BLU from being a simple retailer to an experimental hub – we’re collaborating with local artists on exciting new concepts in-store, and even exploring how to use the space more creatively. That’s the beauty of boutique – the sky isn’t even the limit.”
Breaking down barriers to entry
Up-and-coming designers and fashion-enthusiasts know how challenging it can be to find your feet in a cut-throat industry like fashion. This mainly comes down to the issue of building a good reputation among the big brands, which is understandably difficult when you are fresh out of fashion school and have no real industry experience or portfolio to speak of.
However, starting small and focusing on satisfying specific market needs lets you tap into opportunities that bigger industry players might not be able to. With the growing demand for high-quality, locally-sourced goods and services, small businesses are in a better position to hone specific skills and offer South African consumers the alternative, high-quality and edgy fashion items they really want.
Access to mentorship
Reza believes that the compact business model can even be used as a platform which allows young people to engage with experienced professionals and gain insight into the industry.
“Added to the flexibility of the small business environment, there’s more room for young would-be fashion entrepreneurs to engage with mentors and learn the ropes of running a business first-hand,” he says. “It’s a tough industry to break into, but small business entrepreneurs have the capacity and the space to improve the situation, because they are so much more closely connected to the communities around them.”
Following the success of his own business ventures, Reza advises young fashion entrepreneurs to stick to their principles and work on building brands and businesses that they truly believe in.
“It’s a tough economy at the moment, and businesses have a challenging task ahead of them. We’ve seen so many shopping malls popping up, and with that comes the international ‘fast fashion’ labels that offer affordability for lower quality, taking business away from local talent. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that businesses keep innovating and trying to find interesting ways to delight their customers.”
Author: Reza Motani
About the author:
Reza Motani is the Managing Director and Co-Owner at BLU (Brands Luv U). Balancing a lifelong passion for business with a love for fashion and food honed during his travels in Europe, Reza plays a central role in every aspect of the business, including daily operations and business development.