Fife Businesses Branching Out!
Carl Morenikeji, owner of Scaramanga, is the fourth in our Businesses Branching Out blog series, where we ask the owners of growing Fife businesses to share their journey so far, lessons learnt along the way and amusing incidents!
Scaramanga is a renowned award-winning leather bag and leather satchel maker and vintage furniture and interiors stockist.
Among other things in this blog, Carl talks about his love for vintage, the dedication of the team and growing their business from a room in his house, to an award-winning company, whose products have been featured in blockbuster films!
1. As a business owner, how would you describe yourself in three words?
Pioneering vintage lover.
2. What or who motivated you to form your business?
I started Scaramanga in 2006 with £2,000. I discovered an old leather satchel in a dusty bazaar in a former British colonial desert outpost in India in 1999 and I also brought back handcrafted leather journals and a few old wooden boxes. People loved its classic style and vintage looks and asked me where it was from. That gave me the idea to set up a business retailing handmade satchels and bags, journals and vintage furniture.
We designed and found skilled leatherworkers, who could make our bags using a vintage style leather using traditional tools and techniques. We were the first to sell leather satchels online and it was tough going selling satchels, so we also sold complementary small vintage interiors like old spice boxes and having boxes.
3. Have you taken advantage of the new age of social media and had tangible results?
Yes, we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pintrest and others to engage with customers. It’s a great way to showcase new stock and get feedback. We recently launched a line of new canvas backpacks and asked people names for the bags – we had over 100 suggestions and comments.
We usually plan to integrate communications across all media so key messages are seen at the same time across different platforms. It’s now an essential marketing channel for us to communicate directly with current and future customers. We identify which networks customers use and try to listen rather than just broadcast sales messages at them. Their feedback has resulted in a lot of new product development!
4. Has a business mentor ever helped you over a major obstacle or make that crucial breakthrough?
Yes, we have been working with a local mentor for the last 5 years. Alistair Summers helps us with a range business functions including: financial planning, budgeting and objective and target setting. He was instrumental in getting many of our business systems in place and managing our growth and transition.
5. How would you describe your business in three words?
Original vintage lifestyle.
6. What are you most proud of about your business?
There are so many ranging from seeing us growth from a business run from a room at home, to winning Retail Business Of The Year, to seeing our vintage furniture in blockbuster films. But without any doubt, we have a great team of hard working employees – everyone is dedicated to ensuring we continue to succeed and reach our goals and targets. I try to get everyone involved with having their say about how the company is run.
Although everyone has their own responsibilities and tasks, people are always willing to help others. We encourage job rotation so people acquire new skills and to ensure business continuity should we experience staff absences. Our average length of service is 3.5 years and we’re adding new people as we grow.
7. What are the three most important things you would tell an aspiring business acorn?
Write a comprehensive business plan and set yearly objectives, budgets with goals and forecasts. Set goals that encourages growth from year to year, but don’t forget to add a plan that outlines how you will achieve your goals. Or else it’s just a wish. Communicate your plan to others and review it regularly.
Identify and know your target customers – doing as much market research on their lifestyles and needs is crucial. Find out how they communicate with their peers. And keep it up to date. We started selling leather satchels and smaller gifts like leather journals. Many of our customers now come back to us to buy furniture for their new homes having bought a satchel 6 years earlier.
Create a brand with clear identifiable brand values – create a set of messages that a customer will see and feel when they come into contact with you business. Most retailers compete against national and global brands with huge marketing budgets, but a small retailer can differentiate themselves from them with a well thought out brand strategy.
8. What is the most amusing incident that has happened in the history of your business?
Sorry I just cannot think of anything that is really funny. Except for this story: I always aim to see the vintage furniture we buy in person, but sometimes when that’s not possible and we occasionally buy pieces ‘blind’. Around 6 years ago I remember seeing an unusual antique painted sea chest from Scandinavia on eBay so I quickly bought it, expecting it to be the kind used by seamen in the early 1900s on long trips around the world to store their possessions.
However, when it arrived it was 15cm long and would hold little more than than a handful of pens. It was an antique chest, but a scaled miniature. Today I check dimensions so what I see and expect is what we actually get. The mini chest is now on my desk!
9. If you started over, what one thing would you do differently?
As a business grows, it needs support from specialists and experts so I would probably have started working with several a little earlier. However, in the early stages of running a business, finance and cashflow are challenges and it’s easy for a business owner to think that they can manage all the tasks and functions themselves.
10. Who’s the most famous or interesting character you’ve met whilst running your business?
We have several very well-known customers around the world, but unfortunately, I cannot really talk about them. However, making classic leather bags and selling vintage furniture means no two days are ever the same and nothing beats meeting some of the characters we acquire furniture and interiors from.
We have well established suppliers, but often people call us and drop in with wonderful unique items to sell. We specialise in antique chests and vintage travel trunks and are amazed by simple items like travel trunks that circled the globe by train and ship 100 years ago. We always wonder what stories they tell and what far flung places they visited during their lifetime.
11. How do you unwind?
Playing with Josh and Ella, my children, and exploring the Scottish countryside. I love reading, but getting into a novel usually only happens on holiday!
12. Why fife?
Emma and I moved to Fife 10 years ago, from Edinburgh. We wanted to settle in the countryside and Fife offered a good balance of wide open spaces and an attractive coastline, with easy access to towns and cities like St Andrews, Dundee, Perth and Edinburgh. We live between the villages of Freuchie and Kingskettle and both have very active local communities.