Nicky Felix is an Italian expat-turned-Brighton-based fashion entrepreneur with decades worth of business lessons to share. As the founder and owner of Box2, which began as a retail store for sizes 12 to 34 in Brighton, Felix speaks to GrowthBusiness about knowing when to seize opportunities like making the leap to e-commerce as early as 2005, and more.
What does your business do?
Box2 is an online womenswear store that offers a large selection of beautiful ladies clothes ranging in sizes 12 to 34. Our target audience is aged 40-plus and we cater to all shapes and sizes. We source and design our collections mainly from factories in Europe, using quality fabrics predominantly made in Italy and Lithuania.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
After living in Italy, I returned to the UK in 1982 and I needed to find work. I already had some industry experience from working in my ex-husband’s clothes shop based in Naples; there was also a gap in the UK market for authentic Italian clothes. So, it soon became obvious to me that I should replicate that sort of boutique.
I had £2000 saved, which I used to open my shop in Brighton in 1982. At first I only sold clothes, which I bought and imported from Italy, but gradually I found the German market was perfect for my clients. I started to go to shows in Germany and also met many suppliers from Holland, one of which still makes for me after twenty-five years!
Eighteen years later, in 2000, we bought the domain name Box2.co.uk, and a website was created so we could sell on-line. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that we made a big leap from selling in a physical store to exclusively online. We moved from the shop in Brighton to purpose built warehouses in West Sussex, to solely sell through our website. We have come a long way since our original days in Brighton: today we have over 7000 square feet of office and warehouse space and a staff roll of ten.
How did you know there was a market for it?
When I set up my business in the eighties there were a lot of small, independent, successful boutiques. This was before the likes of chain stores such as Zara, H&M etc. took over the high street, and so as long as you had something different and appealing, there was a good chance your store would be a success.
Initially, we used the Italian clothing range as our unique angle, as the pieces were very different from what UK fashion retailers offered and the prices were much lower.
However, in the late 90’s we started to realise that more and more of our clients were asking for sizes above a 16. By this point, we were buying in Germany, and it was easy to source sizes up to 28. Admittedly, with some trepidation, we began to offer a full plus size range. Now we have over 40,000 clients on our books, and we pride ourselves in accommodating to our customers, ranging from every size in between 12 and 34.
How did you raise funding, and why?
As I mentioned, I had £2000 already saved up, and I applied for a loan from HSBC, who lent me another £2000. That has been my only investment in thirty-five years and I have remained with HSBC since the beginning of my business venture, as they have backed me since the start.
Describe your business model in brief.
After over 21 years selling on the high street in Brighton, we realised that more and more of our clients were external tourists visiting Brighton, rather than residents. We started to note their details to send them postcards and newsletters etc. to keep in touch. This then moved onto sending out mail orders when new stock arrived and now this has grown into a mail order e commerce business with no shops.
Your lowest point was…
I’ve never really had one, it was tough in the recessions of the 80s and 90s but I just cut my cloth and got on with things.
Your highest point was…
Being a finalist in the Entrepreneur of the year awards in 2009.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t over stretch yourself. Believe in your product. We would never sell an item not up to our standards.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Maybe retired with one of my children at the helm of a much bigger company.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
I wanted to work in the stock exchange when I was at school, but a holiday romance put an end to that!
If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
I often think I should have opened a string of shops, but the staff problems it might have brought, put me off, but maybe now I would have a chain.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
Do what you enjoy, with passion, so every day you wake up and love your life.