Alison Banton founded Brooke & Shoals Fragrances in 2010, creating luxurious scented products for the global market from her base in Greystones, County Wicklow. She has since grown her team to 10 and has mare than 300 stockists for her products across Ireland. Expanding into Europe and, most recently, the US, has highlighted her brand's international reach. Here, she reveals the opportunities and challenges she faced when scaling up her business.
What's the unique selling point of Brooke & Shoals Fragrances?
"We're an Irish company that's fanatical about designing innovative fragrances for scented candles, diffusers and body products. We're also passionate about quality and making everything in Ireland because so many people have outsourced everything to Asia over the past few years."
What do you think are the main challenges facing businesses, especially start-ups that want to scale up?
"Anyone can come up with an idea and start a business, but to scale up, there are a number of key things you need to have in place. The first is having the right staff resources - and in the beginning, that's very difficult because you don't have the cash flow to find the people you need. Cash flow is such an important issue with a product-based business like mine because you're investing in raw materials and then selling your product to retailers and giving them credit. Another challenge as you scale up can be to keep yourself emotionally and physically strong and motivated because you need so much energy if you're the driving force behind the company."
If resources are tight, how can a business square that circle?
“For a business to survive in difficult times, they have to look at their overheads and see how they can bring those down. Are there savings to be made? Can you increase your margins on your sales by getting better prices on your raw materials? You should be on top of your costs even when business is going well.
"For any business to grow, you need investment, which you'll get either through debt financing - in other words borrowing the money or through equity financing, which means getting someone to invest in the company."
"I think the very nature of being an entrepreneur is that you have to have an appetite
for risk - but make sure it's a calculated one"
Alison Banton, Founder and CEO, Brooke & Shoals Fragrances
What attitude should entrepreneurs have towards financial support?
"Financial support is a necessary part of expanding a business, especially one that's product-based. If you go down the borrowing route, it’s mostly a matter of making sure you get the right value for money and that you can afford the debt you're taking on. If you choose an investor, the deal has to work for everybody, and you need to be sure they can bring some value to the table.
“In the early stages of the business I was on the Irish Dragons' Den. Two of the dragons wanted to invest, and they were looking for 50% of the business. While I said yes on the show, when we got to discussions afterwards, and I found out what they were planning and how they would contribute, I realised there was no way I would give them 10%, let alone 50%."
What should an entrepreneur's approach to risk be?
"I think the very nature of being an entrepreneur is that you can't be averse to risk. I know so many start-ups fail through the product or service not being what the market wants, the owners not running the business properly or not having the energy to keep going. You have to have an appetite for risk - but make sure it's a calculated one. Don't re-mortgage your family home so that you're out on the street if it doesn't work. When I started my business, I was still had a full-time job for the first year to make sure I knew it was going to work."