How starting a business in tough times made it a stronger prospect

When you’ve opened your business at the height of an economic downturn, there’s not much that can intimidate you. And Emeka Ikechi – who launched his photographic business Vanity Studios in 2009 – believes that the experience of setting up in tougher times has made him a stronger, more sensible, and savvy business owner.

“Starting your business in difficult circumstances gives you good foundations,” Emeka explains. “You have to be careful, and frugal. When money isn’t widely available, you learn to plan for things, and use what you have very wisely.”

This level-headed approach has stood the business in very good stead. The photographic studio, which is based in central London, and provides hair and make-up styling for clients, as well as glamorous photo shoots, started out with two full-time members of staff – Emeka and one other. Six years later, it employs 18 full-time staff, plus several extra freelance photographers and part-timers, and is growing at an enormous rate. Turnover last year was close to £800,000.

In the summer of 2013, Emeka realised that if Vanity Studios was to continue its impressive business growth, the company would need to expand into larger premises. Quite simply, demand was so great from consumers, corporate clients, and commercial customers that the firm couldn’t easily meet it, and people sometimes had to wait for a shoot. While it was a reflection of the company’s popularity and success, Emeka quickly realised this was a situation that couldn’t last.

“This business was set up with excellent service in mind,” he adds. “It’s so important, and is what sets us apart from other people in our industry. When someone decides to have a photo shoot done, they don’t want to wait ages before they can get in front of the camera. So, I realised we needed a bigger studio, and to hire more staff.”

Emeka had heard about Boost Capital from a friend, and got in touch to borrow £20,000 over the short-term just to cover the extra costs of relocation and, in particular, refurbishment of the new space. The enterprise moved to a building in Oxford Circus, and created a stylish, bright environment in which to operate. Having extra capacity meant that the business could bring on board more photographers, hair and make-up people, and marketing expertise so that they could fulfill customer demand.

“A lot of our business comes from referrals, and word of mouth, so you want people to have the best experience possible,” Emeka says. “Moving premises meant that we could double our capacity in response to client demand. What we do is seen as something of a luxury, so it has to feel like a special experience when they come through the door. That’s what we can do here. More space, more staff, more satisfied customers.”

But despite Vanity Studios’ great success, Emeka isn’t sitting on his laurels. He concludes: “There’s always competition, and ours is also a challenging marketing job, persuading people that they can afford and might enjoy the indulgence of a photo shoot. But we also offer a range of services to different audiences, and I want to build up the side of the business that involves corporate shoots.

They’re great because we don’t need to do them here on site, so we have the potential to tap into an even bigger market without needing to move again. I want to keep going, building up our profile. There’s a lot more work to do, but as long as people want what we have to offer, we’ll keep providing it to the best of our ability.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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