Turning the tables

Analisa Ariss talks to Workingmums.co.uk about setting up her business Maddi Alexander.

The tables have most definitely turned for Analisa Ariss. Four years ago she was working at a buyer at an ethical superstore. After setting up her business Maddi Alexander, a luxurious, natural home fragrance, bath and body brand, she has had to do presentations before buyers at stores such as Fortnum & Mason. “It is slightly surreal being on the other side as a supplier,” she says.

Analisa started her career as a department store manager in Sunderland and was a buyer there up until 2004 when her first daughter was born. She then worked for two years as a freelance and had her second daughter in 2006. In 2007,  she got a job as a buyer at ethicalsuperstore.com and worked on a range of projects including a beauty project, where the idea to produce luxury, natural beauty products which were ethically made sprang from. Her first product was candles, but from there she has developed into handwashes, body lotions, shower foams and more.

In 2009, there were redundancies at the store due to the recession. Analisa went to the owners and told them about her business idea. They allowed her to transfer to customer services and work there two days a week while she built up her business. The job gave her some background in distribution. “It was like a form of training,” she says. She worked there for around seven months, getting experience in online payments and other skills. She left as she felt she needed to put more time into her business at that point. “That time in customer services was fundamental in helping me,” she says. “The owners could see that I needed that little bit of help and they gave it to me.” Also vital were sessions she attended in London for women in business set up by the magazine Marie Claire. “They kept me going,” she says, adding that she left some early samples with the magazine’s beauty editor. “She wrote about them and told me to go for it,” says Analisa. That gave her the confidence to apply to the big department stores like Fortnum & Mason.

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She used her savings to start the business and says her background in buying ensures she is careful with money and manages her cashflow tightly.

She spent 2010 developing the business which she named after a fictional character. Maddi Alexander has her own blog. “The concept is that life is demanding and if you have half an hour to yourself in the bathroom you can become someone else. It’s about treat products and chilling out.”

She tried it out at a local Christmas fair and had to research everything from the fragrances she would use to the lab she needed to develop the fragrances to a factory which could produce a small initial run. “That was challenging, “ she says. “So many factories would not do such a small run, but I just kept persevering and eventually I found one.”

By 2010 her children were aged four and six. Her youngest was in school nursery and finished at 12 every day. Her parents and mother in law picked her up regularly so that she could have two full days of work a week. “It was really hard,” she says.

Time

She launched in 2011 at Fortnum & Mason, no less, with a pop-up spa. The following day she was at home holding a birthday party for 30 children and organising party bags. 

Asked what was the main challenge she faced setting up the business, Analisa says simply “time”. She would often get phone calls while she was with the girls and had to let some go to voicemail until she could find a quiet moment to call back. One time she recalls getting a phone call from an 0207 number while she was with the girls. She took them home, gave them some chocolate and ribena and settled them down with a DVD. She then went into the utility room to ring the caller back. It was a press officer at a department store. “The first thing she said was ‘you might have to excuse me as I have my little girl here’,” laughs Analisa. “Everyone is in the same boat.”

Support from her friends and family has been “fundamental”. “There are times when you don’t sleep well and you’re so busy juggling and family and friends keep you going,” she says before adding that she has loved every minute of it. “It’s a different type of stress. Working for someone else there’s the stress of having to be there at your desk and the guilt if you have to leave. No matter what you do there’s stress, but working for myself gives me the flexibility I need.”

Analisa says she survives the work life juggle by making lists. “I do a list on Friday nights for the week ahead. I have all the school things for the week ready on Sunday night,” she says. The children now go to after school clubs or are picked up by their grandparents most days. On Thursdays, Analisa is in London visiting her stockists, including Fortnum & Mason and Urban Retreat in Harrods, potential collaborators and journalists or in Harrogate where she has just launched.

At the moment she works with copywriter, designer and PR people on a freelance basis to keep down her overheads and because she recognises that her strengths lie in product development and sales. In the next six months, though, she thinks she will need someone to work full time in the office she rents for meetings near Newcastle airport.

Mentors

Analisa says one piece of advice she would pass on to other would-be entrepreneurs would be to never be afraid to ask for her. She herself has had a lot of support from Tracey Woodward, Commercial Director at Urban Retreat after winning a partnership with her in the 2012/13 Marie Claire ‘Inspire and Mentor’ campaign. “It’s been a huge benefit,” she says. “Having someone you can ring or email is fundamental in the early stages when it’s so easy to make mistakes and you can feel quite vulnerable.”

She herself has encourage several local businesswomen and meets up with them regularly to provide support and bounce ideas around. She says she would like to do more of this.

Analisa has just been appointed one of the first Specsavers everywoman in Retail Ambassadors – a new initiative to raise the profile of careers in retail and create role models of the women who are achieving success. Her immediate plans are to keep on developing the business, including expanding abroad.

When she was at the launch at Fortnum & Mason she bumped into Dragon Deborah Meaden and talked to her about the business. She bought a bath oil and tweeted about it. “I started getting international inquiries through that tweet from as far afield as New Zealand,” says Analisa. Her first international foray is planned for the United Arab Emirates in a few months’ time. “I’ve got the foundations in place and now I need to build from there,” she says, adding one parting word of advice to other women in business: “Don’t give up. If you have passion and drive you can achieve what you want. Just keep going.”





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