Three Inspirational Micro Business Expansion Tales


SuccessIt can be hard to be positive about business in the current climate. Read a paper, turn on your TV or tune in your DAB, and you’ll likely be greeted with a mass of doom and gloom, especially where business is concerned. It can all be a bit bleak.

As these three start up success stories show though, there’s reason to positive, despite all the negativity. Each of them has seen off recessions and countless struggles, debatably coming out the other side stronger.

So, with that in mind, take five, cast an eye over these three tales, and be inspired…

1.  Innocent Smoothies

If you’re from the UK, chances are you’ll have drunk or at very least strolled past Innocent Smoothies in the supermarket. Their story is quite remarkable, when you consider the sheer size of the company now and it’s very humble beginnings.

In the early days, Innocent was the very essence of a microbusiness; the company consisting of no more than three young Cambridge graduates, juggling their entrepreneurial endeavours with their careers in the city.  Convinced they could better what was currently on offer, the three spent six months working on smoothie recipes, spending no more than £500 on fruit and working on their creations in their spare time

Having created an abundance of different flavours and found themselves a stall at a London music festival, the three set about selling their wares, giving their punters a chance to put their put their empty bottles in a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ bin. Yes for them quit their jobs and focus on innocent or No for them forget about innocent and focus on their careers.

At the end of the day the Yes bin was full, whilst only three empty bottles filled the No bin. Quite a ringing endorsement, that. So ringing in fact, the three decided to quit their jobs the following day.

Having found stores willing to take the smoothies on a trial basis, the three had no option but to upscale their production. This in turn brought countless challenges, the three struggling to gain finance and naive at the scale of the task they had taken on. First and foremost, they had underestimated the difficulties in the mass production of drinks, but securing finance was a difficulty, too.

Increasingly, their expansion from a part time endeavour to fully fledged business looked to be doomed.

Thankfully though, others saw the potential of the company, a business angel coming to their rescue and thus alleviating some of the monetary and productional concerns. After this investment, the company went from strength to strength and just over a decade on the company has a 75% share of the £169m UK smoothie market. All in all, that’s not bad for a small business that started from a stall.

2.  Lonely Planet

An inspirational tale for all you aspiring Writers out there, the story of Lonely Planet illustrates that even without financial backing it’s possible to make yourself a success.

Hippies with a capitalist bent, in 1972 Tony Wheeler and his new wife, Maureen, decided to set off across Asia. Here they took avid notes, keen to construct a book when they returned home detailing their travels. A guide book as it were. At that time, a gap in the market existed for travel books focused on the more exotic locations and the Wheeler’s thought they could provide insight that was lacking elsewhere.

With a myriad of experiences and a wealth of knowledge gained on their travels, the couple began their first book of the Lonely Planet franchise named ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’. The book wasn’t a hit with publishers but, undeterred, the couple decided to publish it themselves instead.

Calling in favours from a friend with a printing press, they printed 1,500 copies of the book, folding and stapling each copy themselves. This first batch sold out within ten days, going down a storm and the couple swiftly ordered a reprint, followed by another. It was then it began to dawn on them then how lucrative this venture could be.

With the book proving so popular they began to eye expansion. Two native Brits by birth they had set up home in Australia following their travels so they naturally looked to expand their at first, their India guidebook first published in 1981. Following this they expanded into Europe and North America, leading to the multi-million pound global company they have now.

As their success illustrates, if you’ve identified a niche and carry enough self-belief, it’s possible to take your microbusiness global.

3.  Anya Hindmarch

As a man more interested in football than fashion I’ve got to admit I’d never heard of Anya Hindmarch before researching this article. The fashionistas reading this may well have though, and, as you’ll probably concur, her story is one of ingenuity and perseverance that’s difficult to leave out.

Her entrepreneurial journey began in the late 1980’s when she was a mere 18. Eager to learn Italian and cut her teeth in the handbag industry, she set off for Florence. Here she combined her studies with frequent trips to the local leather markets, seeking inspiration and ideas for her designs. It was in one of these markets that she came across a drawstring leather bag she particularly liked the look of, so, borrowing around £1000, she snapped a collection of them up to sell back in England.

Upon returning home she targeted a range of fashion titles and with a bit of persuasion, managed to persuade style magazine Harpers & Queen to feature the bag as a readers’ offer.

The bag received around 500 orders, so, drawing upon some negotiation skills, Hindsmarch set about ensuring that she had a local factory to fulfil the orders. This left her with a tidy £7000 profit, which went straight back into her handbag business.

As with any business going through expansion, the next few years proved tough. Speaking to The Telegraph earlier this year she referred to her early years as a solopreneur as ‘a baptism by fire’ alluding to the difficulties of getting quantities and such right.

She pulled through those tough early difficulties though and now her company boasts a value of £70 million. As her story shows, a bit of ingenuity and perseverance can take you a hell of a long way…even into the Prime Minister’s friendship circle (She’s a close pal of David Cameron and currently a UK trade envoy).

As all of these stories reflect, even the tiniest microbusiness can reach epic heights, with some hard work, self-belief and perseverance. It’s tough out there but it’s been tough for these businesses too, yet they’ve come out the other side and proven a success.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and give a stunning riposte to Robert Peston and his ilk!

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What micro business expansion stories have inspired you? Please let us know in the comments below.