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Rana Harvey – From Chemist to Entrepreneur

Last week we held a Leeds Masterclass at the newly refurbished venue of our West Yorkshire Accountancy Partner Garbutt & Elliott in York.

The event was introduced by Simon Palmer of G&E who gave a short talk on how the G&E business has grown, and how this has been reinvested back into the business and it’s offices to create pleasant working environments for staff.

He then introduced our Entrepreneur in Residence – Rana Harvey of Monster Group.

Rana wanted to talk through two key things:

Highs and Lows of her 12 years in business

Golden Lessons

Her story-the early years

Rana started as a Chemist and whilst doing this she wanted to get rid of some unwanted clothes. Instead of placing them on hangers and taking pictures, she thought that they would sell better if she placed them on a mannequin, and so the journey began…

Looking at mannequins Rana could find two types, cheap and nasty or good but expensive, there was no middle ground, so here was the niche.

In her free time she began to google mannequins, and started looking for manufacturers to speak to. She soon realised that it would be cheaper to buy a bulk of them and took out a loan to cover the amount, although the loan was for more than she needed, to give her some room.

Her first office was her back bedroom where Dazzling Dummies was founded, selling mannequins. As the supplier wouldn’t deliver to her home address she had them delivered to a Yellow storage site, and then rented a van to ferry them home, with mannequins then being stored in every spare space.

Her aim, to sell the container within a year, however this first one sold in only a few months, so a second container was bought and again this sold in 2 months. Then came the big leap, quitting her job.

Rana then took on new staff and a new office space with additional storage, although this was one of the low points as the staff weren’t massively useful, and there were a number of problems. Once this was resolved she then set up shop having customers collecting the mannequins, and not just using e-bay to sell from.

Rana then spent time asking customers what else they wanted and shop counter tops came up, then racking and this sold in a few weeks, which was a quick turnaround.

At this point Monster Group was born!

During the recession, as with most businesses things slowed down, and Rana then attended the Goldman Sachs 10k small business programme. At this point she learnt about a model which she still uses today looking at difficulty vs additional revenue, to understand where growth can come from and helps to prioritise work moving forwards.

This helped her to look at key things to grow the business and supported her expansion as the group have purchased warehouse space, and developed their own offices, whilst increasing their product lines, and trying to keep overheads static.

With the news of Brexit Rana began planning this and realised that a lot of growth came from Europe such as Germany, Italy and France, to support this expansion she then took on native speakers to allow her to market to these areas using the relevant language skills and saw significant increases from each area.

As Brexit date drew closer options for Europe were considered, such as a fulfilment centre or their own distribution centre. The decision, to go with a distribution centre, then came the planning around which country and the Netherlands was selected.

Whilst the decision was significant, with time ticking away and little coming from central government, Rana heard the words of her mentor the late Barry Dodd CBE (introduced to her by Connect Yorkshire) ringing in her ears, and she thought she’d take control and not wait for government to sort it.

She then selected the location, went over and viewed different warehouses, bought it, hired a Warehouse Manager and sorted everything in a month, no small feat!

This she did so she can still trade in Europe and potentially offer next day delivery.

The key lessons:

Recruiting Staff

Rana is a big believer in hiring cleverer than her competitors, and encourages staff to think outside the box, and her interview questions test this to make sure her people have initiative and can think outside the box.

The event was really well received, with a lot of notes and scribbles to help businesses grow!