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Apr 12, 2018

Boutique Business - serving a sophisticated or a specialised clientele

Sport is something that evokes emotion, high expectations and results – and the same applies when you’re in the business of sport. Fiona Bugler talks to two boutique businesses owners about passion, expertise, quality and putting the customer first

You may think of a boutique as a small shop selling fashionable clothes, it’s also defined as a business serving a sophisticated or a specialised clientele. And in the business of sport it seems the tailor-made service or product is in demand, with more start-ups created by those with a passion for their sport, who are reaching out to people who share their passion. In this business, the customer is the focus, and expertise is a must.

Santi Brage, who runs Got To Tri (https://www.gottotri.com/) triathlon camps emphasises that the customer always comes first. “Traditional coaches often treated their athletes with disdain, using the stick not the carrot and telling them it’s my way or the highway, but when you are offering a coaching experience and a holiday, things are very different. We look at the whole person, and find out what their goals, desires and plans are. We get to know about them and their life at home. And even though we promise to take them out of their comfort zone, we also remember they are on holiday, and take care of providing transfers, accommodation and make booking as smooth as possible.”

Like many boutique business owners, Santi has transferred and fine-tuned his skills from previous working life into the business of providing bespoke holidays for triathletes. “I’ve run businesses before, prior to this I ran a business providing services for insurance providers, and I have a good understanding of supply services and regulatory requirements, which is important when you’re working with travel companies, and organising the transfer of bikes as well as customers. I, along with my four colleagues, also have sound business knowledge, good financial acumen, but most importantly we all recognise the customer is central to everything we do,” he adds. Santi also has a passion for the sport and practises what he preaches, training up to 20 hours per week, as well as being part of a large network of local triathletes.

Kevin Scott, is one of a team of four founders in a collective business, Tresca bikes (https://www.trescabikes.com). They’ve applied their passion to engineering and designing a bespoke bike that they believe competes with the leading high spec offerings. “Working long hours, and into the night, we’ve engineered and designed an aluminium frame bike that we’re happy to say we’ve optimised for comfort and performance.” Kev, who also coaches an all-female roller derby team (http://londonrollergirls. com) using detailed analytics, brings with him a keen eye for detail. He says one of the stand-outs of his business is, that ‘Cycling is our passion not our job.’ The London based collective have created a bike that Kev says, is ‘completely bespoke. Every single part of this bike has been designed. The tube profiles, the dropouts and all of the geometry. We’ve successfully brought highlevel engineering to a product that has mass market appeal,’ he adds. “We’ve optimised our product in a way that we feel most brands are not doing in this sector of the market. We’ve got rid of old fashioned negatives around an aluminium frame to provide a comfortable and efficient ride. Because we’re small and specialist we’ve managed to apply engineering that’s usually only available at a higher sales point,” he explains. And because they’ve cut out the middle men by selling direct to their customer online, or via their network, they save on overheads bigger companies cannot avoid.

Being part of the community

Making your hobby your business has obvious pitfalls, including seeing things through rose-tinted glasses and mistaking your passion for hard facts and a detailed business plan, but there are obvious advantages. First and foremost is that you have your network of customers in place and market research can be done on the ground. As well as participating in the sport, Santi is a former chair of his local triathlon club in Brighton and now chairs British Triathlon South East and is working hard to drive participation in the sport. His camps include weeks for clubs with their members as well as individual coaches from his network who want to connect all their clients.

An eye for detail

But passion won’t work if you don’t have an eye for detail. When you’re offering a bespoke, boutique business you have to enter the head of your customer and leave no stone unturned. “It’s really important for us, as a group of designers and engineers, to be able to confidently say we’ve designed our frame from the ground up. We know how every single component of our frame works and we are proud of what we have designed,” says Kev. Talking at the Tri and Bike Show in London in February he says, “We could have brought an open model frame to the show with a couple of tweaks, a fancy paint job and our logo on it, but we couldn’t stand here and be able to tell you how it works.” “We’ve found the best number for our courses are up to around 12,” says Santi. “Bigger than that and you can dilute the service on offer. We’ve had customers who’ve come to us after attending bigger, competitor courses who’ve said they’ve learnt more in one day with us than they have in a week on a bigger course.”

Defining Your Purpose

In an age when ‘millennials’ are demanding that brands have a higher purpose, a direction that isn’t just about making money or growing their business (see the February issue of Sports Insight), smaller, boutique business have an advantage. They can put a personality to their vision and can clearly define their values, their mission and be confident that their team share their vision as owners and staff are very often working on the ground, closely together. The ‘Why’ is a key component of Got To Tri’s business plan. “Everyone we employ and those we work with share the same Why?” explains Santi. “We want to encourage people to participate in triathlon, be healthier, happier and have a great experience whilst they’re with us.”

Be Reactive

When you are your business, you can be very reactive very quickly. “We sell direct to our customer, both through our network and online, and so we can get feedback quickly. All our engineering is in-house, and we can make modifications and adapt our product as we grow. Working with an independent mechanical engineer independently and designing products for the sport we love means we’re in touch with the coal-face. He’s able to detach himself from the shiny and show us what works,” he adds. Without the ties of a big corporation it’s also easier to find ways to make your passion and beliefs materialise through your business. Santi, who values diversity, is looking at ways of creating a Paralympian camp for athletes who don’t get funding but want to have the coaching, expertise and fun of a holiday training camp.

Seven ways to make your boutique business work

1. Follow your passion.
2.Be the very best at what you do: see what others do and do it better.
3.Define the Why? And make it part of your unique proposition in all your sales, marketing and in the delivery of your product or service.
4.Play to your Strengths: List your transferable business skills and see how you can make them work for your boutique business.
5.Define your personality and tell your story: use social media, videos, vlogs, blogs and real people to share the buzz about your business.
6.Make Customer service your priority and be responsive and reactive to their needs.
7.Price high: boutique isn’t mass market, it isn’t about volume. It’s quality not quantity; think Saville Row not Moss Bros.

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