“I’m always reassured by how Fortus helps me make informed business decisions" Charlotte Jamme, Mia TuiFind out more
Creating a successful new brand of accessories from scratch takes bags of determination. You also need to know who to turn to when the sharks are circling, says Mia Tui’s Charlotte Jamme.
For Charlotte Jamme, the road to creating a luxury bag empire began in 2010 with a frustrating long-haul journey. She had two small children and a bottomless, black travel bag. When she got home she set out to create a stylish alternative designed to easily find what you needed, whether that was a milk bottle, nappies, keys, or even a passport.
She was living in Vietnam, so she sent a “childlike” sketch off to a local manufacturing contact – and got back what she describes as, “the most hideous bag you’ve ever seen”. Undeterred, she took a new prototype for a test run on her summer travels. It proved her concept worked, and she began the search for a local contact. The result was a new partner, Vân, who continues to help her manufacture in Vietnam to this day.
No such thing as overnight success
By the end of 2011, Charlotte had designed a couple more styles of bag and started manufacturing a batch of 3,000. People who got their hands on her designs loved their style and practicality, especially mums who’d been crying out for better baby bags. “We got some attention at trade shows and great reviews from the mummy bloggers we sent samples to,” Charlotte says. “But despite this, we were only selling a few.”
At one point, Charlotte was ready to give up.
Then, in 2012, winning the Mother & Baby award for ‘Best changing bag’ led to a listing with John Lewis and JoJo Mamen Bébé. It felt like the business was on the cusp of great success. And this was when she began to hear from people who wanted to ‘help her take the business to the next level’.
Diversification, but not at any cost
Her partnership with Vân was going well, but she kept hearing about how having one factory was a ‘weak link’. So, she found a new contact who promised that he could manufacture her bags in China ‘by the container’. Charlotte did receive a container, but as she unpacked the product destinated for the shelves at John Lewis and JoJo Mamen Bébé, she realised the quality was so poor they’d never be saleable.
“That was a terrible moment. There were a lot of tears. I’d lost £45,000 and my business was on its knees. I contacted Vân, who I’d kept in the loop, and ask her to help me – fast. And she did,” she says.
Angel in the wings
Charlotte felt the only way forward was to find a capital injection. She presented at an event for angel investors looking to take advantage of the Government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS).
“An investor promised to give us £300,000 in return for 51% of the business. It meant I’d lose the controlling stake, but I felt it was my only option,” she explains. She assumed she’d receive business support from her investor, but soon realised that they didn’t care if the businesses succeeded or failed as they received their tax incentive either way. She looked elsewhere for help.
“My bank referred me to Fortus. When I sat down for that first meeting with Mark Standish and had an honest conversation about my plans for my business, it was –an eye-opener. It was the first time anyone had asked me those kinds of questions.” Mark advised Charlotte to walk away from the agreement with the angel investor. “He told me that I’d burn through that amount of money in a few months and then I’d have to give up the company. Thankfully, he helped me negotiate my way out,” she says.
New business horizons
The Fortus team worked with Charlotte to get the business back on track without an investor. “I had too much stock, so Mark told me to sell my way out of the problem,” she says. She stopped supplying the big retailers and began to look for more suitable outlets.
By 2016, she’d talked her way onto a presenting slot on QVC’s shopping channel and discovered a natural stage presence. Suddenly, she was selling thousands of bags in minutes. She also invested in Facebook marketing, and discovered it was the perfect vehicle for reaching out to her loyal following.
“Fortus make sure our information is joined up and I have what I need to plan ahead"
Looking to the future
Today, the six-employee business has a turnover of £2.5 million and Fortus continues to support its growth.
“An ongoing challenge, is to improve the quality of the business’s management information” says Mark Standish, Fortus Head of Corporate Finance.
“This underpins all our decision making, but for a small business, Mia Tui is remarkably complex: materials are sourced in one country and sent to another for manufacturing. The final product is then imported to the UK. Keeping track of the numbers is a challenge, and discrepancies in the figures can undermine profitability.”
Charlotte says she is reassured by how ‘on top of the numbers’ the Fortus team is, however. “They’re making sure our information is joined up and I have what I need to plan ahead. That means we’re able to focus on consolidating the business, moving it all onto one premises and creating a mail order catalogue.”
Wider service offering
Fortus is also helping in other areas, such as HR. “We’ve had problems with a couple of staff members in the past and Fortus not only helped us to solve those issues but makes sure we have the right processes in place to avoid them arising again,” Charlotte confirms.
And, thanks to their investigations into the use of materials such as recycled bottles, Fortus also identified R&D Tax Relief opportunities. “That has allowed us to invest back into the business and encourages us to look to be more sustainable, which our customers love,” she says.
With the Fortus team behind her, Charlotte feels like the business is on track to continue achieving great things. “They act like they’re part of my own team and I always feel like they’ve got my back,” she says.
From start-up to success
I love working with Charlotte. She’s a creative force and an inspiration to many other business owners. She’s hugely in demand on the speaker circuit because she’s honest about her mistakes, as well as her successes.
I’m pleased to say that Fortus is continuing to help her grow her business in many ways, from business planning and improving her management information to establishing robust HR processes.
We’ve also been able to help her through some specific challenges over the years. One manufacturer delivered unsaleable samples and refused to give her money back.
We’re now working with her to find more suitable contacts in manufacturing centres around the world. Helping her negotiate her way out of an unsuitable agreement with an angel investor who wanted a 51% stake in the business was hugely satisfying. He threatened to sue her for £50,000 for not taking his money, but we helped with that too.
Looking to the future, we’ve established online systems which link into her accounting system, so the management information we use is more robust an in ‘real time’. We’re also looking at how she can finance the purchase of new premises to bring everything under one roof in 2020.
It’s an exciting time to be working with Charlotte. She’s a bright person with a hugely creative streak. The team and I look forward to continuing to help her drive this fantastic business.
I feel like Fortus is part of my team: they’ve always got my back
Charlotte Jamme Mia Tui