Theo Paphitis has the passion to succeed
When Dragons Den star Theo Paphitis was in Norwich earlier this week to open his Boux Avenue boutique Emma Harrowing grabbed a few moments of his time to find out the secret to his success.
When I told several of my friends who have their own shops and businesses in Norfolk that I was meeting Dragons' Den star and retail entrepreneur Theo Paphitis I was met with the same resounding response – ask him how I can make my business more successful.
The retail guru has become an idol amongst most people who run their own small businesses. On television, Theo is seen working alongside his fellow 'Dragons' to help turnaround the fortunes of one-man bands and those with business or product ideas, and from the overwhelming response from some small businesses in Norfolk, Theo could, in fact, be seen as a saviour of entrepreneurialism in the UK.
With an empire that spans retail, property, finance and consumer goods, this accolade is far from an exaggeration. The high-profile businessman has been instrumental in providing a launch pad for many small businesses and he has turned around the fortunes of high street retailers such as Rymans, which he still owns, and La Senza, which he sold in 2006.
'It was sad to see La Senza suffer last year, especially as we had bought it when it was struggling and built it up into a successful business,' says Theo. 'It was a difficult decision not to intervene and help them again, but then I always try not to look back. I do, however, have a passion for the lingerie industry. Ever since I bought a struggling traditional lingerie shop called Contessa back in 1997, I knew that this was the industry for me. Of course, back then it was all new to me, but I quickly found out how the industry works and it is a great industry to work in – also being a boy, it's a great product to sell!'
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Now Theo has another lingerie retail project in the bag, with his 10th Boux Avenue store opening in Norwich Chapelfield Shopping Centre earlier this week. The boutique store opens almost a year after the first Boux Avenue store opened in the Trafford Centre in Manchester. To Theo, it is like all his birthdays have come at once.
'The opening of this store in Norwich makes this our 10th store in the UK, so we are officially a chain, which is exciting stuff,' says Theo. 'It was always on our agenda to open a store in Norwich as the city is one of the top 10 shopping destinations in the UK.
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'For me, every time I have visited Norwich I have left with a feeling of disappointment. It's that Delia's fault! I'm a Millwall supporter and we are always thrashed by Norwich City! Seriously though, Norwich is a great place to visit as there is such a diverse mix of shops here.'
And now Boux Avenue is among them. It's a business that has brought Theo right back into the heart of the lingerie shopping sector once more, but with La Senza struggling and stalwarts such as Marks & Spencer dominating sales on the high street, how does he see Boux Avenue succeeding?
'Boux Avenue fills a gap in the market,' says Theo. 'Obviously, it is not as big as La Senza or Marks & Spencer, but that is its charm. It is a boutique store where service, good quality products and providing a luxury environment for women to shop is paramount. It's all about creating a unique shopping experience.
'We also offer an online store and a concierge service in store where you can pick up your goods.
'We are opening another store in the UK this week and we will be opening stores internationally in May. Business is good at the moment and we are looking at the long-term plan of the business – after all, this is what I have invested in.'
Underwear is on the Norfolk retail menu at the moment. Norfolk fashion designers Alice Bodgener and Jane Kenning showcased vintage-inspired bloomers at Norwich Fashion Week in March, Anglia Fashion Fabrics on Magdalen Street hold knicker-making classes in its Make Place venue and students from City College Norwich are embarking on a project with ethical underwear brand Pants to Poverty. Nationally, Mary Portas's Kinky Knickers have tried to revive the British textile industry with British-made pants sold in Boots.
The latter is someone Theo has been outspoken about since Mary Portas was given the role by the government to look into the failing state of the British high street. He was reported to question the credentials of the 'Queen of Shops' as the saviour of the high street, saying that he wouldn't be taking advice from a 'window dresser'.
Today, however, Theo is in a pensive mood and seems interested that some of Norfolk's up-and-coming designers are taking an interest in the lingerie business.
Theo says: 'It's good to see young people interested in retail and taking an interest in British made lingerie products. As for her (Mary Portas) – she can do what she likes.'
Theo continues to help up-and- coming businesses in the UK on Dragons' Den and through an initiative he has set up on social media site Twitter. Small Business Sunday (SBS) gives small businesses the chance to be chosen as Theo's top six businesses of the week. The winners have the honour of being retweeted by Theo.
'Times have changed and it is important for businesses to embrace these changes and social media is one of them. I set up the Small Business Sunday (SBS) awards after being inundated with requests from small businesses to retweet them. I wouldn't say that I'm rescuing them as they have to do all the hard work, however retweeting them can give them a leg up by giving them more exposure.'
Norfolk businesses who are SBS winners include Mila Jewellery, set up by Victoria Constable and knitwear designer Diana Clarke, who set up Peggy's Collection in Dereham.
'All of the winners are invited to small business support network events,' says Theo.
'The last one was in Birmingham a few weeks ago and it was inspiring to see so many people that are passionate about what they do.
'We have also set up an SBS website so that winners can find other small businesses in their area. It's important to have a local network of like-minded business people around you, especially if you have set up business on your own.
'Many small businesses are lonely establishments, the focus is on selling and there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day for actually marketing your business. Small businesses need to help themselves as no one else is going to do it for them. You need to have a product that people actually want, a way of distributing this product, such as a shop or online presence, a website and, importantly, passion. You need passion for your product, for your business and the passion to succeed.'
Find out Theo's top tips for a successful business by watching our exclusive video.