Husband and wife team Vicki and Ian Ashman were the senior partners in an international law firm – before they sold part of the business, left the city life, and set up a luxury knicker business.
Selling off part of the law firm allowed them to take an early retirement in their 40s – but they soon found that it was impossible for them to switch off from the business world. They set up a number of successful businesses – including building houses and venturing into rare diamond dealing before setting up luxury knicker business Scrumpies of Mayfair – launched in October 2017.
Vicki and Ian spoke with Business Leader Magazine about the challenges faced when they moved from law firm to starting up a luxury lingerie brand.
Tell us about the background of the business?
We moved to Dublin in 2010 to open the international office of Walkers International and then three or four years later part of the business was sold, so we left the law firm and both retired at ages 46 and 44, respectively.
We quickly came to the conclusion that being people of leisure wasn’t so easy and we needed some challenges so we entered into a number of ventures such as trading in pink diamonds and we built 11 houses in Dublin. Eventually we set up Scrumpies of Mayfair, knicker business.
We were talking about opportunities and one of the things I thought was the knicker market is stale with all the same classic style, with a lot of companies doing three pairs for a tenner and then there’s the really high end £200 a knicker, which you’d feel terrified to wear. We were talking about how the market is probably more open to talking about knickers now. There’s no fear in buying knickers anymore. I thought if we could design nice knickers, not expensive ones, but special ones, that people could wear everyday, that would be the way going forward.
Tell us about what else sets Scrumpies of Mayfair apart from the rest?
Our marketing concept is that all the knickers are based on apples. There’s golden delicious, gala, pink lady and this gives them a different personality. The idea is you think about the person you’re buying for and relate them to the name of the product. This shows a bit of personalisation along with a quality knicker that are really well designed.
How difficult was it to start up the business?
Setting up this business with no background at all would be something I think that most people would run away from. Obviously we have had business experience but the subject matter is entirely different. Any business which starts needs to have infrastructure and that needs to be implemented from day one, otherwise the whole thing could fall down.
There has been a learning curve with starting Scrumpies and part of the reason we went into this business is because it would have been very easy to go and do something law related. But the whole point of retiring from that sector was so we didn’t go back to it.
Did you conduct much market research when setting up the business?
We didn’t exactly go out and get formal research but we had a look at who the competition would be, how they were marketing things and what they were producing. We looked at the knickers market and found it was very healthy, but I don’t think there are any direct com-parables to our knickers. We are as much a luxury gift as we are lingerie.
What has it been like to run a business with your partner?
We have worked with each other for a while and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses but the key to doing it right is to acknowledge what each person is good at and also accept that the way one person goes about something may not be the way the other does. This can present a management challenge because in a traditional organisation you have a boss and someone who is the underling of the boss following orders as it were. But when you’re a married couple you can get yourself in hot water if you start trying to order the other person around. It’s about good communication and understanding. Remembering manners is the key and that you’re not constantly talking about business. Switching off is needed.
What would you say to any business owner which is looking to move into a new sector?
We were new to retail and it was important for us to take advice, to listen to the veterans of the industry. But at the same time if you want to do something new it’s really important to stay true to that vision. Take advice but don’t feel hindered by what’s gone before because the market wants something different and fresh. If you’re just repeating what everyone else is doing then you’re not doing anything new. There needs to be a balance there I’d say.