Conversation with Online Jewelry Boutique Chez BecBorn on the beaches of Antigua, in a mad fit of love for her new hubby and a growing frustration with her high powered lawyer job, Rebecca Doyle tossed her ball and chain (aka blackberry) into the sand and said: "Damnit! I WILL do something with my life that makes me incredibly happy!" which is how the fabulous London based online jewelry boutique, chezBec.com, came to be...(thank god, as the jewelry is so refreshing!)
Ok, she didn't toss the blackberry into the sand, as she's too practical to lose a perfectly good blackberry, but she did declare then and there that she would open an online jewelry boutique. After consultations with her new husband, her step father, and anyone else she would captivate, Rebecca formed her company name and strategy for success.
Just after being approached for this interview, Rebecca and Chez Bec was celebrated on DailyCandy London. So before you dive into her easy-to-shop-in site (and get a special FashionMista discount...details are below), here's a glimpse into the brains behind the pink.
Talk about the part when you were a corporate lawyer lying on a beach in Antigua with your Blackberry in your hand, and you thought "To hell with corporate calls on the white sandy beaches of Antigua…"
That holiday to Antigua was a real turning point in my life for two main reasons. First and foremost, I had met the man of my dreams, the very same gorgeous man I married 8 weeks ago in a fairytale wedding, and there was no way I was going to let him slip through my fingers! Secondly, I guess I had just reached the point where I realized that there had to be more to life than working all hours that God sends in a job that was not giving me any time off or any job satisfaction. Antigua really was the holiday of a lifetime, a fabulous treat from my husband, and I resented having to work while I was there. It was a breaking point for me.
So how did you make the big switch between being a lawyer and deciding to launch the online jewelry boutique? When I say "how," I mean what enabled you? Did you set it all up while you were still at your job? On the weekends? Did you have loads of savings or cash out your 401K?
As soon as I got back from Antigua I incorporated a company and got the legal logistics in place. Being a lawyer all that was relatively easy. The next stage took slightly longer and I spent every spare minute, evening and weekend for the next 6 months trawling through website after website checking out my competition and looking for a web designer who could build the site I had perfectly pictured in my head. I resigned 3 months after we got back from Antigua. It was a terrifying moment. I knew I didn't want to be a lawyer anymore but my boss and I were great friends, and still are, but that made it even harder. Plus, I was giving up a tremendously well paid job with great prospects to go it alone in the jewelry world, a world which I didn't really know much about, other than my longstanding love of all things beautiful and sparkly. But I wanted to set up my own business more than anything in the world and I didn't enjoy being a lawyer so I had to go for it. So far, Chez Bec has been financed out of mine and my husband's personal savings.
Where did the name come from?
My step father came up with it. He is a great reader and is always coming up with quirky puns and phrases. He suggested a few names but Chez Bec was my favourite by far. If you take it as a literal interpretation from the French language, it means House of Bec. I am known as Bec or Becks to pretty much everyone that knows me so it was just perfect!
What kind of research did you do before opening up the boutique? Do you have book recommendations? Did a small business association of some kind help?
I read a few books written by entrepreneurs and they inspired me and gave me the confidence to go for it. Other than that it was all down to endless research on the web. Plus I phoned and emailed the owners of a few other web boutiques and they were kind enough to share their pearls of wisdom and potential pitfalls with me. That was a great help.
Did you need start up capital? If so, how much?
I did but this was funded out of mine and my husband's personal savings.
Did/do you have outside investors? How did you approach them?
I don't have any investors at the moment but I am considering taking one to expand the business. I have put some feelers out in the City through my old contacts so I'll see what comes of that.
Did you have a business plan? You must have, you're a lawyer! If so, did you write it, or did you hire or work with someone to write it?
Of course I have a business plan. Lawyers love paper! I wrote it myself with lots of input from my husband. I bought some books about how to write a business plan and I found some useful example plans on the web. It didn't really take that long to put together and it was quite fun doing it as it enabled me to really focus on all aspects of the business.
Did you form an LLC or sole proprietorship at first? What was your reasoning?
I set up a limited company. Given my legal background I wanted to get the legalities sorted right at the beginning. My husband and I are the directors and I am also the company secretary as I know how to do all of the filings at Companies House.
Who runs Chez Bec? Areas of your site are so fun – a competition to celebrate your new marriage; the Boys Gift Guide for shopping for his girl; a very important "most wanted" page – do you need to run these fantastic ideas by anyone?
I run Chez Bec myself. I have a lot of help from my husband. Plus I have a wonderful accountant, a great book-keeper and a fabulous PR girl. And a great circle of friends and family who I bounce ideas off and who regularly come up with new ideas and suggestions for the site. The idea for the Boy's Gift Guide came from my husband and it has been a great success. I update the most wanted page regularly with the pieces that are flying out of the boutique. It's funny as everyone seems to want to buy what everyone else is buying!
Have you hired a publicist? If not, will you?
I have a part-time freelance PR girl who works alongside me on the PR side of things at the moment. Although I am considering launching a full scale PR campaign soon and I will contract a PR firm to do that for me as they have the contacts and the time to do it properly.
How do you find your super unique, "must-have" pieces? What are your qualifications?
I am always on the look out for new and up-and-coming designers whose stunning collections catch my eye. If I love it and would wear it I'll stock it. If I don't I won't. I carry a little white book around with me at all times and I am always scribbling things in it. I have been known to go up to people in the street or in bars and ask them where they got their necklace or earrings from.
Do you have a great story from the Boys Gift Guide?
It was my husband's idea. When he suggested it I ran it past my brother and all of my male friends and they loved it. And it has been a tremendous success so far. I think most boys find the idea of going into a jewelry shop to buy a gift for their girlfriend or wife or any girl a bit terrifying to be honest. The fact that they can submit a simple form to me and I will then hand pick the perfect piece for them is just so easy. No embarrassment and no harassment from eager shop staff.
Do you think about opening a brick and mortar store? Or is the online boutique fun enough for now.
I am loving the online boutique! The online market is growing so fast year on year and it still has a huge way to go. I hardly ever shop on the high street now. Online you have such a wide choice and you don't have to battle the crowds to get it! I really do think it is the only way forward. Having said that, I think a shop would be fun to have as well so who knows what might happen in a couple of years. Watch this space!
Are all of the jewelry pieces made exclusively for chez Bec?
No, only the Vanessa Maxton and Harriet Rouse collections have been designed and made for Chez Bec.
How do you handle your online orders? Do you have a certain time of day where you stop and fill orders? Do you have order fulfillment for you?
I do the order fulfillment myself each day. I don't set aside a set time to do this. I just have to fit it in along with everything else. It's a bit of a whirlwind at times but I am naturally a very organized person so that helps me stay in control!
About how much time per week do you spend fulfilling orders?
I spend a part of every day fulfilling orders but how much time depends no how many orders come in. It does fluctuate. Some days are busier than others.
Do you have a buying schedule? Meaning, do you buy for the season, or whenever you see a must-have, or both?
I do both. My collections change seasonally but I also buy those must-have pieces whenever I see them and when the budget allows. I don't really have much patience so when I see something I want on the site I have to buy it there and then, I can't wait!
How involved were you in creating your website?
Right from the initial concept of Chez Bec I had a perfectly formed picture in my head of what I wanted the site to be like. I wanted it to be chic and elegant, clear and simple and easy to use. My web designer was brilliant and he built the site just as I wanted it. I worked alongside him throughout the whole site build and we tweaked and changed things and played with different ideas the whole time. It was great fun but a little stressful at times as it took so long! The site build over ran by 3 months which put the launch date off track. But then these things always take longer than one thinks. Especially if you are a perfectionist like me and want every single little bit to be 100% perfect.
What shopping cart do you use (if you know)?
A good one! I'm afraid I have no idea what it is called. My wonderful web designer built it and incorporated it into my site for me.
What bookkeeping software do you use (if any)? Or are you an Excel wizard?
I don't use any as I have a great accouontant and book-keeper that do that for me. In the beginning I set out to do it all myself but there are just not enough hours in the day and I am not that good with numbers!
What advice do you have for a person thinking about or starting an online boutique?
Think about what you want to do very carefully and do your research. Make sure you have people around you who will support you in your new venture. It is a lot harder than it seems and you often end up working longer hours than you did before. If you are set on the idea of having your own online boutique, I would say go for it. The rewards are immense and there is so much job satisfaction. It is the most challenging thing I have ever done but I am the happiest I have ever been. I love it!
Eleanor Roosevelt said "Do one thing every day that scares you." What's been a pretty scary thing that you've done so far that has lead to a great success?
Setting up Chez Bec! I gave up a high-flying career as a City lawyer to set up an online jewelry business. It was, and still is, absolutely terrifying at times but I love what I do. I am a much happier person and I go to work every day to do a job I adore.
Chez Bec has given FashionMista readers a special 10% discount until January 1, 2007! Enter FM10 at checkout. Start filling your Christmas carts!
Take your pick of fun places to shop on chezBec.com:
Chez Bec's Most Wanted
The Boy's Gift Guide (nudges for the men)
Competition to Celebrate Rebecca's Marriage (seriously)
PS: In case you're wondering about how Rebecca met her supportive hubby, I got the answer:
It was quite random really. My husband is Scottish and was working and living out in Sweden on a work secondment. My best friend is Swedish and we were in Stockholm with a group of friends celebrating her birthday. One night, we went to a Scottish bar (the only Scottish bar in Stockholm) and there I met my gorgeous husband. He was there to meet a mutual friend of ours. It really was love at first sight for us both and 8 months later he asked me to marry him and I of course said yes. We married 8 weeks ago in a true fairytale wedding.
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