This week Luxury Showplace caught up with Freya and Judy Bass from The Handbag Spa in Harrogate and discussed their recent appearance on the BBC’s Dragons Den programme and what the future holds for their handbag restoration company.
Whose idea was it to start the Handbag Spa and what was the inspiration for it?
The Handbag Spa is a family-run business, mother and daughter team. Judy Bass has a background in leather care and started restoring handbags 15 years ago having seen a gap in the market. The business then developed once Freya Bass left university after studying a degree in Fashion Design and Production. The business was set up in the beautiful spa town of Harrogate, a fitting setting for a luxury spa service for handbags.
What previous experience did you have of working in this industry or did you have to undertake courses?
Judy Bass is recognised as one of the leather industries leading leather technicians with a reputation for training and product development. These skills that Judy has built over the last 15 years have resulted in The Handbag Spa having the most advanced and skilled technicians in the handbag industry. The Handbag Spa has a special cleaning system, which was developed in-house and is unique to the company, this results in far better results than any other company in the world.
Can you explain the series of events that then followed to get the business up and running?
With an initial start of two staff, The Handbag Spa has now expanded its team to 7 and continues to grow.
Initially, The Handbag Spa shared premises and workshops with LTT Leathercare and so with their support, the business grew rapidly Since Dragons Den the business is now expanding to new premises to cope with the demand.
How long has the business now been running and how has it been? Has it been harder than imagined or easier?
The business has been running in its own right for 3 years. It has grown extremely fast and has been and still continues to be a fun and exciting journey. Any new business is hard work, but with such a niche market and experienced skillset, we were able to establish ourselves as a recognised brand very quickly.
We have also set up a network of agents through Dry Cleaners and began to work very closely with the dry cleaning industry as this was a missing link in their work.
With the benefit of hindsight, if you were to start again, what would you do differently, if anything?
We are happy with what we have achieved so far and are excited about the future prospects for the company. If we were to do anything differently it would be to stick to a more formulated business plan. As the business has grown so quickly it has been difficult to stick to a structure as business was coming from so many unexpected and different angles and we certainly didn’t foresee Dragons Den.
You are a Mother and Daughter team, how has that worked out? Has it affected your relationship in any way, what have been the ups and downs, disagreements and how have you resolved them etc?
‘It has been an interesting experience and one that we have no regrets about. It has strengthened our relationship and as a mother, I am extremely proud at what Freya has achieved since managing the business – a definite ‘up’. We have not had any major disagreements to date!!’ Freya has had the benefit of Judy’s experience both in business and the leather industry but has been keen to learn the whole way through the process and Judy has benefited from seeing the business through a young pair of eyes
What prompted you or where did the initial idea come from to go down the franchise route? (And subsequently split the company). Was it because you were approached with an offer to take a franchise and subsequently followed that idea/concept?
The franchise has always been part of our original model for the business as we felt the concept was something that could be replicated. As we were the first to promote a truly global brand based on a firm model in the UK the idea of franchising was developed. Once we launched the website we were inundated with requests so knew that the idea was being well received.
Moving on to your appearance on the BBC’s Dragons Den programme, how did that come about? Can you please tell us about the application process, how difficult it was and how long it took?
Freya decided one day to fill out the forms (unbeknown to Mum!!) but did not really envisage hearing anything back again!! We were then approached and asked to pitch to the producers who then went through a lengthy due diligence process before we were finally invited to pitch in ‘The Den’ The whole process lasted about 3 months
Can you tell us how you felt on the day of filming, especially when you were in the lift and about to come face to face with the “Dragons”?
The day of filming was one of the most nerve-wracking days of our lives – very high-stress levels and a feeling of not knowing what to expect. We had to wait from 7.30 am until 1.30 pm before we were called so the nerves got worse and worse.
Waiting to go into the lift and finally face ‘the dragons’ we were kept outside the lift for 10 minutes, which seemed like 30!! Judy paced up and down not realising that we were being filmed the whole time. Once you get in the lift there is no time to even think before you are in front of the Dragons and you have to begin your pitch – we managed to stand in the wrong spot and had to stop filming to move to the right one!!
What was it like to finally be stood in front of them with the cameras rolling, how did you feel and did you feel that you delivered your pitch as you wanted to or were you affected by nerves?
We were very concerned about getting the pitch just right and when we delivered it as we wanted we were very relieved – so much so that I think we relaxed a little too much and then we were a little phased when the questioning began. However, the Dragons all had a smile at the beginning and all said how much they liked the concept of the business, which made us feel a bit easier. Deborah Meaden even said she would use the service. I think nerves had taken their toll and a lot of what happened went by in a bit of a blur.
Unfortunately, you were unsuccessful in getting a “Dragon” on board and securing the funding that you required. This was mainly due to the separation of the franchise model from the main business. Do you regret sticking with that business model even after Peter Jones gave you the option to combine the two options?
We have no regrets about our decision, we went in with a firm plan and idea and we wanted to stick to it. We have worked very hard for what we have achieved here in the UK and were not prepared to share this with a Dragon.
We also felt strongly that the Dragons expertise was more suited to the Franchising side of the business which is why we pitched this and not the repairs. Somehow we can’t see Debora Meaden ever wanting to clean vomit out of a customer’s handbag!
Where does this now leave the Handbag Spa? Have you had to re-write the business plan?
We are now talking to lots of interested investors about the Franchise Company and our UK repairs business has flourished since the TV appearances. There is no doubt that the company will continue to grow at a rapid rate, we have made it this far!
What have you got planned for the future, where do you see the business going in the next 5 years?
We intend to grow the UK operations into the biggest and best-loved handbag restoration brand, whilst continuing to expand worldwide whether that be through Franchising or international branches.