[Editor's Note] Milos Bezanov is a second year student currently studying International Politics at King’s College London.
When you think of self made entrepreneurs, names like Alan Sugar almost automatically spring to mind. Entrepreneurship has had a lot of press from shows like The Apprentice and Dragons Den in particular. Yet with all that it's easy to overlook some lesser known entrepreneurs, who make a name for themselves in a niche market. Nikki Hesford is one such entrepreneur. At 25, she has had to go through more than most. A single mother, overcoming cancer, balancing education and work life along the way, eventually moving into business in 2008, her background makes Alan Sugar look like a public schoolboy (something very hard to do!). After interning at KPMG she found herself “unemployable” as her interest in whatever job she took would quickly fade. Thus, it's no surprise that the idea of starting a business and doing her own thing appealed. In 2008 she got started on Miss Fit UK, moving into lingerie soon after, despite having no prior interest (confessing that before Miss Fit UK she would usually wear £3 knickers or a £6 bra). Since then, she says “I never looked back”. I guess that's why I'm here to look back and figure out what makes it work.
You could say that the idea for Miss Fit UK was more of an evolution than a sudden eureka moment. It happened when she was shopping for her job interview and couldn't find a blouse that fit her body type. Like in everything else, she took the initiative here also, “I started prototyping some products for my own use...decided to expand that into a business, which then expanded into lingerie and swimwear too”. A bit of common sense told her that, if she was having trouble, there would be plenty of other women out there experiencing the same. Added to that, she was able to spot the one dimensional marketing of the current brands, isolating her target market; “ there was a lot of focus on “real women” which I felt alienated the young, glamour loving busty girl”. Common sense, work ethic, and an understanding of the niche from having been a glamour model herself. You could say Nikki was the right person at the right place, allowing her to spot the right thing. With this in mind, it was only natural that her prototypes would form the basis of a new business, Miss Fit UK.
This transition was only the first step, as Miss Fit UK allowed her to learn more about the lingerie market; “ At that point I started to realise how amazingly stunning they looked”. From here it was just a matter of taking the “niche within a niche” a little further along by specialising. On the business end, social media allowed for both low cost, effective marketing and good customer-client relations; “ It's a known fact that any form of niche product will find it's success online...(also) facebook and twitter are great for us because we engage...a reply is hours if not minutes away”. Whilst this sorts out the marketing end, what about the rest? Bear in mind that Nikki started Miss Fit UK with almost no prior experience in finding and exploiting a niche market, getting set up, getting funding and all these other steps. Learning all that she could from workshops and enterprise sessions such as E4A (enterprise 4 all), she was able to quickly grasp all she needed..and three years down the line she now gives advice to other incoming entrepreneurs.
Despite her initiative and work ethic, there were, and still are many tough challenges to overcome. Getting funding was tough due to preconceptions; no doubt her gender, age, and even the choice of venture contributed to these false perceptions amongst investors. That said, no matter the challenge, she never let it phase her. When told, after having her child that she'll live on benefits for the rest of her life, she found a niche within a niche to avoid that. Today, her business has become both a manufacturer of clothing and a wholesaler to top high street businesses, launching her new “The Big Bra Bar” website in May. It's clear that her desire to explore the “niche within a niche” is something more than common sense, or business acumen. It's a mentality. It's something she's been doing for most of her life, only difference is now she's not looking for a way out, but a way up. When asked for advice to budding entrepreneurs, Nikki gave the following; “ Sometimes you’ve got to bend or break a few rules....and perhaps more importantly – don’t let others limit your ambitions. Keep telling yourself you can do it. I did”. I'm no expert, but even I can tell that any budding entrepreneurs would do well to take this on board.