Spotlight on Angela Tsang of Mandrawer
Today's Spotlight is Angela Tsang of Mandrawer who has just launched her great collection of interior homewares, to go alongside the drinkware, timeware, wall art and accessories she already sells online. You may recognise the "fancy seeing you here" picture below as the first piece I added to my bathroom gallery wall, and I have just added a "bonjour" light box to Alfie's bedroom (more on that later this week). I can't see how anyone can resist the "gin and tonic" light box, knowing that my Instagram community single handedly props up the entire world gin trade.
So, go and hear about Angela's story and if you want to shop the fabulous new collection, there's a link to the website below.
Introduction To Angela
I’ve been a retail buyer for around 14 years and had the privilege of building my career with some prestigious luxury retailers and high street brands. I love every aspect of retail from brand building, to product sourcing, service and making sure the final customer is 100% happy with their product! I can’t walk into a shop without thinking about merchandising, shop floor layouts and where the products have been sourced. It’s a real problem – I wish I could shop like a normal person!!!
I live in North London, originally from Sunderland. I moved to the Big Smoke to pursue a career in head office retail with the intention of staying for 2 years. 14 years later, with a husband, baby and business in tow, I’m still here with no intention of leaving.
Mandrawer is an Online Retailer selling unisex gifts for he, she and home. I think most households have a ‘Man Drawer’. It’s either a place where the Man put’s his most valued possessions like his watch or wallet, or in stark contrast, the drawer in the house where you put all the wires and batteries- used and unused! Either way, it almost signifies the point of life you’re at. You’re so settled, you’ve designated a place for the very special things you own, or the things you’re not quite sure what to do with….
I think most women are guilty of buying their partner a present in a hope that they get to use the present too… Man Drawer is a place where you can buy something that both he and she would like albeit a bag, a watch a scarf or something for the home. I have curated a selection of product which is useful, fun, stylish and of the best quality without breaking the bank. I realise that people work hard for their money, so purchases need to last so I never sacrifice on quality. I love brands with a story and products with provenance - it just brings the whole retail experience alive!
You can find out more about Mandrawer and shop the new collection here:
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I always knew I wanted my own business at some point. I didn’t know what it would be, or when I would do it but I always knew it would happen somehow, one day in something. When I went back to work after maternity leave, it seemed like a good time. I chose to be a working Mum – I didn’t want to just work – I wanted to work HARD and feel challenged to make the hours spent away from my baby count. I loved my job as a Buyer at a luxury retailer. It was familiar with people I loved, but the truth is, I stopped learning anything new. I thought surely at 21…(Ahem… 35) it was too early to stop learning?!? SO, I started to think about what I could potentially do to put myself out of my comfort zone so I could feel challenged again. I loved coffee – so I actually started to look into buying a small coffee roasting business… but it didn’t feel quite right. I thought about buying a franchise…. but it didn’t feel quite right. I applied for new jobs, got the job offers again it didn’t feel quite right.
At the time, our home life had changed also. We had just moved into our new home, we were getting used to paying an arm and a leg for nursery, so our past lifestyle of being able to treat ourselves to nice things here and there started to become a rarity. We could no longer treat ourselves (without guilt anyway) whenever we wanted to but when we did buy something, it would be something we could both enjoy. A piece of art we both liked, a bag we could both use…. something useful for the house. A lot of our friends were in the same position. Bye bye hand bag treats, hello nursery bills! SO, I started to think about curating a product range that both men and women could enjoy. That was the beginning of Man Drawer.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
Man Drawer was very much a dream scenario in my head… a ‘WHAT IF’ I did this… “WHAT IF’… I did that. I’d think about it on the way to work even working on the commute, on weekends, in the evenings…. And when I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I knew it was the challenge I needed.
I started researching in the evenings at the kitchen table after putting the baby to sleep, and taking days off my ‘real job’ to attend trade shows. First came the concept, then eventually after much umming and ahhing the name. I had a logo designed, then I had some business cards printed and started to visit relevant trade shows to see if suppliers would be interested in supplying an online shop with the Man Drawer concept. I was bowled over by the positive response and the people who wanted to work with me. This encouraged me to have a website designed, and things snowballed from there.
3. How did you fund your business?
It’s been embedded in my brain from my upbringing to save for a rainy day. When my ‘real job’ was not giving the job satisfaction I needed, I figured that was my rainy day. I carried on working my job as a Buyer and put what little money I had left aside after paying the bills. My first stock investments were very safe – I invested in a small amount – enough to meet the demand I had forecasted, but also enough to give me the profit to reinvest into more stock. I invested in lines I knew were sure to hit the ground running to give me a quicker pay back. I was able to use the skills I had developed working as a buyer to make sensible calculated decisions although I was very nervous about putting my hard-earned cash into the unknown, but at the same time it felt like the right thing to do….
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
It was all difficult – there were never enough hours in the day and enough money in the bank for the speed I wanted to do things!! My biggest hurdle was (and still is!) confidence.
I have around 14 years of buying experience, but I was always used to hiding behind a big company which already had an established market presence. Starting a business meant I was the brand and had to build it from scratch. When I first attended trade shows, I was too shy to tell suppliers Man Drawer was actually my own company – I felt more comfortable telling people I worked FOR Man Drawer rather than the business was mine!
I still struggle with confidence now, but the great response I have had with orders and support from suppliers and the Instagram community has given me more confidence to carry on day by day!!
5. What help was missing for you?
I found that advice was always plentiful for things such as accounts, business plans, social media strategies, marketing and ecommerce etc., but I have found it difficult to find a mentor who would give me the confidence to go out and do what I knew I could do. Of course, my husband is at hand to say, ‘you can do this!’ but sometimes you need an honest objective opinion to bounce your ideas off (and when I say sometimes, I mean all the time!). Someone outside of your circle to give you a push and to point out the bad and assure you your good ideas really are good ones.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
My first problem I only recently encountered but it really did set me back with time! I have had some products made especially for Man Drawer. When the stock order arrived, it was nothing like the sign off sample I had approved. I did contemplate just keeping the stock order so I could launch the Homeware section in the time I had specified, however, I was not 100% happy with the finish of the product, so I asked for the order to be remade to the specification I had originally approved. The remade product has now arrived and I’m so glad I asked for it to be remade.
7. What have you learnt?
If you’re not 100% sure about something, sleep on it! Whenever I’m not 100% sure on a product or a decision I need to make, I do the sleep test – if I still feel like the idea is a good idea in the morning (or in some cases a week or two later), I know it’s good to go….
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
To not be afraid to admit you can’t do everything and to ask for help when you need it! The early months were a struggle. I was trying to understand things like SEO, Google Analytics and deal with accounts on top of the day to day running of the business and trying to plan for the future. I was trying to teach myself how to do the accounts and reading books on SEO but then I realised these things were not my forte, so I invested in help! This gave me more time to do what I was good at – sourcing product and building the brand. Focus on what you are good at, and get help for the bits you’re not so good at and ALWAYS carry on as long as it feels right.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
What I enjoy the most is finding new suppliers and meeting the people behind the product. We have some great suppliers on board, and like myself, some are just starting out and have some great ideas. It’s great to be able to help each other and meet people who are so passionate about what they do.
I also LOVE the messages, tags and support of our customers and Instagrammers. I still do a happy dance every single time an order comes in or when we are tagged in a photo. I feel honoured that people have chosen to spend their hard-earned cash with Man Drawer.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
I say on a day to day basis it fluctuates from 1-10. There are some really good days when things go to plan, then there are days I think to myself why on earth did I give up a job I loved to start this stressful journey!! Luckily, the good always outweighs the bad. I’m learning new things every day and have been given the chance to work flexible hours to work around family life – a great bonus which makes the harder days bearable!
Nicola Says "Angela identifies a key point, which is to not be afraid to admit you can’t do everything and to ask for help when you need it! The early months were a struggle. I was trying to understand things like SEO, Google Analytics and deal with accounts on top of the day to day running of the business and trying to plan for the future. I was trying to teach myself how to do the accounts and reading books on SEO but then I realised these things were not my forte, so I invested in help!". it's really important to know what you are good at and leave what you are not good at to someone else.
Having a mentor to help as a sounding board is a great piece of advice. When you run a business big or small, there are always moments of "Am I doing this right?" "should I be investing in this?" no-one is 100% confident 100% of the time and so having someone external to your family, who can give you sound advice is very helpful, but often difficult to find!"
Thanks for sharing Angela!
The Girl with The Green Sofa