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Q&A: Georgie Cooper, founder of Pretaportabello

Founder of online fashion market Pretaportobello Georgie Cooper has been appointed an ambassador for the Start Up Loans scheme, which provides young entrepreneurs with mentoring and advice on how to succeed. 

Cooper shares her top tips for success with Drapers and her thoughts on where growth in the industry will come from next.

When did you start pretaportobello.com?

The site went live in June 2008 when I was 23, and I ran the company singlehandedly for the first year. My sisters then left their jobs a year later to join me full time when the business really took off. We’ve been rushed off our feet since then, and I haven’t looked back.

How much has the business grown?

The business has grown hugely in product range and reputation since launch. We have over 10 times the number of traders featured on the website than when it launched, and we get enquiries every day from designers wanting to join. The press has really got behind us, and a week doesn’t go by without pret a portobello being featured in the fashion or national press.

How much has turnover increased in the last year?

Over the last year, turnover has remained pretty static due to the economic climate but it’s now starting to grow again as the market gets more confident. Our new website launched at the beginning of the year, and we’ve had a great reaction to that so we’re confident that sales will continue to increase.

What do you think is the most important thing to have with any start up business?

To ‘start’ a business you need a great idea. You need to fill a gap in the market, or meet a need that is not being met. That’s why pretaportobello.com received such a great response. Everyone loves shopping for fashion at London’s markets, but we were the first to put the market traders’ products online. Your idea doesn’t have to be totally unique though, it could simply be that your idea can improve upon an existing business, or serve the market better. The key to ‘growing’ your business lies with good execution.  And for this you need to plan, plan, and then plan some more, and constantly review and evolve those plans. But in doing so, don’t lose sight of the dream, and why you started in the first place.

Where do you think the key area for new business is in the fashion industry – is it still online or should people be looking at other areas now?

Online is such an integral part of the shopping experience now that it generally plays at least some part in most purchases, whether through research and comparison or social media and product reviews.  Mobile is also a growth area - as shoppers take to purchasing on mobile and tablet devices, so fashion retailers will further look to technologies and apps to capitalise on this. The one thing that online cannot totally re-create is the social element of shopping – the sharing with friends or the trying on. And this is where social networking and new technology like virtual fitting rooms come in. 

Where can growth come from?

I think that the experiential side of shopping (be it online or offline) is where real growth can come from. As products become more commoditised, perceived value will come from the user experience so the challenge will be to design experiential ways of shopping. That’s why pret a portobello created the Haggle function – to allow customers to haggle in real-time to secure instant discounts on products across the site. Our customers can really own their shopping experience, plus we give them the buzz that they can get from haggling at the markets in real life. We’re also developing our events strategy to support our online offering in an offline environment. This will be really exciting.

What would be your key piece of advice for budding youngsters looking to start their own business?

Do your research and build a plan. In doing so, talk to as many people as you can - don’t underestimate the benefit of a business mentor to guide you through your entrepreneurial journey. That’s why the new government-backed initiative, StartUp Loans is critical for budding entrepreneurs. Not only do they lend up to £2,500 to young people wanting to start a business, but they provide mentoring and advice from people who have launched their own businesses, been there and got the T-shirt. I’m one of twelve young ambassadors for StartUp Loans, all of whom have started their own companies across a wide range of industries, here to give support to those that need it. Visit www.facebook.com/StartUpLoansUK for more information.

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