Zoe Plummer didn’t need to win The Junior Apprentice. While it may have been a blow to come a cropper in the final of the BBC programme, it was clear the then 16-year-old student, who spent her weekends buying and selling vintage clothing at markets was going to be successful anyway.
That Plummer, who describes herself as “driven and dynamic”, could be such a convincing businesswoman even while sitting her A-Levels, speaks volumes of her ambition.
Now 18, she runs Victory Vintage (victoryvintage.co.uk), a clothing store in Whiteleys Shopping Centre, Bayswater, with her sister Rebecca, 26.
They were given the opportunity to run a week-long pop-up shop as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week this year. Centre management was so impressed it became a permanent arrangement.
“I’ve always had a desire to set up a shop that was different to the rest,” says Plummer. “Our items come from the 1900s up to the late Sixties and they are all carefully handpicked. Plus, we are in a shopping centre, which is unusual, but it’s been very successful.”
The idea to trade in vintage fashion came when Plummer’s wardrobe began to groan under the weight of her own vintage garb. She sold her collection at markets and jumble sales and rummaged through vintage fairs and charity shops to buy more, and, soon, a veritable enterprise was born.
Having been surrounded by vintage fashion since she was a toddler (her grandmother once owned a vintage shop), Plummer knew the true value of each item she bought and sold. “Doing business is easier if you have a genuine interest in what you are selling,” Plummer says.
“Juggling work and school has only ever been the biggest issue, but you’ve just got to keep focused and maximise the opportunities that come your way.”
David Harvey, 29, is also among the generation of “doers and grafters” the British government hopes will support the nation’s economic recovery.
Inspired by a game called table à l’élastique he saw while on a student exchange in France, Harvey developed his own version: Pucket (pucket.co.uk).
The wooden board game, in which two players use an elastic band to propel small wooden discs through a slot, is now a major player in the games market. “I made one as a gift for my brother who took it to a holiday camp and there was this almost obsessive fever surrounding the game. From that came a collective realisation the game could be commercialised,” he says.
Harvey, who is based in Brixton, had just been made redundant as a wind farm analyst when the plan began to come to life in 2009. He sourced Fairtrade wood from India for his products. This meant he was able to make a modest initial investment in 200 units to test the market. The uptake was exciting, especially at the festive season. “It just sold itself,” he says. Selfridges is now a major stockist.
Harvey, who enlisted the help of his friend Ben Lewis, 27, warns that going into business is not as easy as it seems.
“Things like the dotcom boom and The Apprentice have given people the idea that you can just pick up a vision and it will go viral, but you have to be more realistic. There are sacrifices to make, such as holding down two jobs but only being paid for one.”
Joining Harvey in the ranks of emerging entrepreneurs is Dr Tom Sebrell, 32. He found a niche among the welter of London walking tours with his American Civil War themed walk (acwlondon.org).
The idea was the suggestion of a supervisor Sebrell took on a tour while completing his PhD on Union and Confederate propaganda in Britain during the American Civil War. It was helped by grants and support from Queen Mary University, which takes a cut of ticket sales in return for marketing and office space.
“With advertising costs what they are in London, business is a brutal world to enter into right now,” Sebrell says. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to network like mad and go into partnerships with companies who can help to promote your business. It’s all about who you know.”
More than 50 per cent of the UK’s population want to start a business, but only 5.8 per cent actually do.
Where to go
Advice on everything from writing a business plan to marketing a business can be found online. Try: mentorsme.co.uk; startupbritain.org; businesslink.gov.uk and betterbusinessfinance.co.uk.
What they say
’I was penniless and didn’t have a bank account until I was 30’ – Dragons’ Den’s Duncan Bannatyne proving its’ never too late if you’ve got a good enough idea.
WORDS: REBECCA KENT