In March 2017 the struggle to find a luxury but meaningful present for a close relative in hospital gave husband and wife, Manveel and Ras Deol, the idea for a new ecommerce business.
Like many entrepreneurs a lightbulb moment can be life changing, but before this comes a lot of hard work, research, mistakes and learnings. Here, founder of BuildMyGift.com, Ras Deol, shares her journey and reflects on the challenges and rewards of the past year.
After much research into competitors, the audience and the market, we took the leap and registered with Companies House. I was still working in HR and Manveel was continuing to work for the family business, so we knew making BuildMyGift.com a success would involve hard work and long hours, but after months of talking about the possibilities, we were both passionate about the business, and it is this passion that drives us forward.
With no experience in branding and marketing we knew we wouldn’t be able to launch this business on our own, so we met with agencies to make our concept a reality. Working with a branding agency and seeing our ideas become something tangible was exciting. As well as getting the branding right, we also began to build our product portfolio – enlisting brands such as Kate Loxton, Hotel Chocolat, Kate Spade and Cowshed.
Our packaging design was complete and we started working with web developers to launch our website, with the target of the end of September. As an ecommerce site getting the website right was essential – you only get one chance at a first impression.
Four months in and our first batch of branded gift boxes arrive. Holding these in our hands got us excited about what’s to come and for the first time we felt like business owners. But then came our first major setback, with photo shoots to hold, suppliers to source and a website to finalise the September launch was starting to seem unrealistic.
After agreeing to push the launch back, but with Christmas edging closer we had to seriously consider how we were going to launch the business. We had a great concept, fantastic products and an easy-to-use website, but these alone wouldn’t sell products – we needed to shout about BuildMyGift.com loud enough to get cut through during Christmas. At this stage we began meeting with PR agencies, with one month to go until launch we felt this would be the best way to make the desired impact.
Two months later than originally planned, BuildMyGift.com officially launched to the public on 8th November and on the same day we got our very first sale. The media coverage began pushing BuildMyGift.com to Christmas gift buyers and our luxury gift boxes were included in national titles including The Metro.
We were both still working full time and with Christmas orders coming in we were dedicating evenings and weekends to making our business a success. We began to realise that this was going to take a lot of time, energy and effort, but we stayed motivated because of our passion for the business. However, sacrifices had to be made, which included missing out on Christmas parties and seeing friends and family. But it was worth it and on December 23rd we let out a sigh of relief as our final gift box was sent out.
A difficult time for any retailer, especially one that launched six weeks earlier, the January slump hit us and we had a very slow month in terms of sales, but we knew we had to use this time to plan. We had been so focused on getting our offering ready for Christmas we barely had time to think about future gifting periods. We learnt that as a business we had to stop being so reactive and to be a success we had to be planning at least six months in advance.
Making two major business decisions, February felt like a landmark month for BuildMyGift.com. Firstly, we decided to differentiate our business offering; while continuing to focus on B2C to drive sales, we also began targeting corporate, wedding and events gifting, as we had identified a gap in the market. The second decision was for me to give up my day job to focus 100 per cent of my attention on the business. Becoming self-employed was one of the best decisions we’ve made, if not the most scary too. Working for yourself has some significant challenges, such as the long hours, unpredictable finances and no team to guide and motivate you, but the rewards are amazing and plentiful.
Less than six months after launching, Holly Willoughby described our gift boxes as “Christmas stockings for mums” as part of a Mother’s Day gift guide round-up on This Morning, which generated a 300 per cent spike of visitors to our website! With the feature going out just three working days before Mother’s Day it was all hands on deck until 5am to fulfil the orders. Due to the sudden surge in orders there were a few logistical errors, which we rectified and learnt from. We aren’t naive enough to think it will be smooth sailing, mistakes will be made, but what’s important is how we rectify them.
With the lack of ‘natural’ gifting occasions we experienced another slump, which again gave us the time to take a step back and look at how we can improve our offering. We listened to our customer feedback on Trust Pilot and worked on diversifying our product range, and introducing new brands and box sizes too. Although quiet times can be worrying for a start-up business it is essential to use this time effectively. Giving us another boost though was our first corporate order. The decision we made in January to diversify our business was finally paying off.
Looking at ways to promote the business we have committed to participating in several events this year, as well as hosting a pop-up store in a major high street retailer. Events are a new area for us, so we are excited to see the impact it will have on the business and we are already in the planning stages for these, as the last twelve months have taught us you can never be too prepared.
Twelve months since registering BuildMyGift.com as a business and our lives have completely changed and we are seeing our dream become a reality. We are still very much in our infancy, but have already come such a long way. Each day we are learning new things and streamlining our business, but for now we are still packing every single box ourselves, which still brings the same excitement as our very first order in November.
About the author
Co-founder of BuildMyGift.com Ras Deol holds a Master’s degree in HR Management and has worked for luxury goods conglomerate LVMH – Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and the BBC. Known for her attention to detail and creative finishing touches, she decided to take her ‘gift for gifting’ to set up BuildMyGift.com – a service that goes beyond conventional gifting, creating an impressive andmemorable experience.