A long-standing passion for luxurious homeware and interior design became a full-time career for Theresa Akwaboah when she became a victim of the economic recession and was made redundant from her job in the City.
When she put her hobby of designing and making interior and fashion accessories to work and founded Ophelia’s Ghost, she never dreamed the business would grow so quickly it almost overwhelmed her. (A home study course in interior design coupled with a previous degree incorporating engineering & architecture, she concurrently launched herself as an interior designer.)
Struggling to meet demand
A mail order company specialising in interior design, interior accessories and luxury homeware, Ophelia’s Ghost quickly caught the public’s imagination and Theresa found herself struggling to meet customer demand.
Theresa contacted Pre-start and Start Up services co-funded by the European Social Fund and London Development Agency – which referred to her local enterprise support agency, the East London Small Business Centre (ELSBC) for help.
“Business got off to a flying start thanks to an advertising insert in Vogue magazine,” said Theresa. “The flyer – coupled with an advertising feature and a presence at the Spirit of Christmas consumer exhibition – sparked an overwhelming demand for catalogues, generating a massive 60 per cent return in enquiries when the best we expected was two per cent.”
“Six thousand catalogues costing £2 each were being mailed out, taking a huge chunk out of the £16,000 funding I raised from the Phoenix Loan Fund and the Prince’s Trust. Overnight, cash flow had become a major concern. But my business adviser came up with a solution. He suggested we start building the e-commerce side of the business, and it is paying off handsomely,” she said.
After undertaking a business diagnosis of Ophelia’s Ghost and the challenges Theresa was facing, the key piece of advice from ELSBC was to expand the on-line side of the business. ELSBC conducted an on-going mentoring programme to help Theresa develop an e-commerce mail order solution on her website. Theresa has since formed a partnership with an e-commerce specialist to enable customers to browse and buy with a click of a mouse.
While the e-commerce business was under development, Theresa saw an increase in demand for her interior design consultancy work – projects that include houses for London’s glitterati, luxury properties in Mallorca and four units in the new Chelsea Bridge Development. Ophelia’s Ghost is exceeding all forecasts laid down in the business plan and demand for products and services are much higher than Theresa ever anticipated.
Much of Theresa’s success has been put down to her mentoring sessions with East London Small Business Centre, which not only helped her in developing the online business, but also with book-keeping, cash flow and accounting training.
Since launching Ophelia’s Ghost from her Rush Green home in September 2002, Theresa has successfully exhibited at major trade and consumer exhibitions, completed bespoke commissions for various leading shops globally and has recently been nominated for Business Plan of the Year Award. She aims to officially launch her interior design services in conjunction with House & Garden magazine in summer 2003 and is well on track to achieving her goal of leading the market in customised luxury interior design.