INTERVIEW: Rebecca Christensen, entrepreneur
‘My dad said that if you think you can, you will. He was spot on’
After a hectic morning lugging a suitcase around the city, Rebecca Christensen is in need of a drink and a well-earned break. This is not a tale of a tired Edinburgh tourist. Rebecca has just finished handing out the last of 2,000 shopping gift guides to clients and would-be clients of her online voucher business, Love From Indie St.
Stopping off at Wellington’s in George St she explains how the business is maturing nicely with 70 of the city’s niche retailers signed up, some in sectors she didn’t initially target when she put her idea into action just under a year ago.
“I thought I would get fashion boutiques and restaurants, but we now have toy and book shops, adventure days out, those places that appeal to families,” she says. “A big target is people living overseas who want to buy a gift from Scotland that is a bit different.”
lovefromindiestreet.com is a simple idea that is of its time. The gift voucher industry is worth £5 billion and much of it, along with other retailing, is now online. As more people choose to buy this way more shops want to make their products available to an internet community. For Edinburgh’s independent retailers it offers a locally-based route to market.
Rebecca is used to the business of getting the message across. She worked in the cooker-pressure communications department at Standard Life during the demutualisation debate. It was the birth of her daughter that made her re-assess her work-life balance.
She saw an opportunity to combine new technology and shopping trends with a desire to protect locally-owned shops that are also under attack from the majors . By creating a voucher-based gift service she was able to offer them a service to a wider audience that they may have struggled to achieve working on their own.
Contrary to the notion that the business focuses on a female audience she says a large proportion of customers are men.
“Men love it,” she says. “I had one male customer recently who bought all his Christmas presents in five minutes.”
So far her client base has been built up by one-to-one emails, pop-up shops and trudging around the city to spread the word about the venture. She is also doing markets which have taken off in the last few years.
She also has an entry test for those wanting to be part of the lovefromindiest.com community. She admits it is hard to define, but she resists any firm perceived as a chain, or which does not meet the quality threshold.
Her latest move, however, could help take it to another level. She is close to unveiling a deal with one of the city’s biggest employers to provide staff vouchers. An announcement is due next month.
The business has been self-funded but she says she is looking at expanding elsewhere, that she is talking to a private investor and is considering a crowdfunding campaign.
“It is popular with companies and employees alike because we all like little rewards. Vouchers also help to engage employees who tend to appreciate something they can spend on a gift more than a few extra pounds in their wages.”
She adds that getting the city’s employers involved in a scheme that links up with the city’s independent shops is a way they can help the local economy.
“It will be a game changer for me. It shows belief in the concept,” she says.
Birthplace: South Shields
Education: University of Glasgow
Career highlights: Communications director Nucleus (2007-2013), PR Manager Standard Life (2005-2007) Graduate trainee at Standard Life (2003-2005)
What inspired you to set up the business? A blue vase! And a desire to create an opportunity for independent retailers to take a part of the gift voucher industry
What makes you angry? Uninspiring gifts!
What advice would you give start-up? Speak to everyone you know and trust about your idea, use it to perfect your pitch and to find any problems with your proposition.
What is the best advice you have been given? That’s a tough one. I have met so many amazing and inspirational people whose advice has been massively influential. I think overall though it all points back to my dad. When I was growing up he always told me ‘if you think you can, you will, if you think you can’t, you won’t’ and he was spot on!