Looking at the personalities behind London’s small businesses.
Alex Torun-Shaw studied Ancient History at university before blagging a job as a Food & Beverages Manager at a luxury London Hotel. He then worked in a bar and nightclub, as a freelance editor and co-founded a children’s residential care home (“don’t ask”).
With inspiration and support from his other half, Zofia, Alex set up Laird Hatters in 2008, a boutique shop specialising in gentlemen's hats. The first shop was on the East End's Columbia Road with two additional shops opening last year in Covent Garden and the City.
How did the business come about?
Hats have always been a love of mine and when Zofia and I were thinking about retail it was always at the back of my mind, though we had been looking at other things (fine wine and coffee shops). When I saw the first shop on Columbia Road, it just seemed to be perfect for a hat concept shop and snapped it up – we signed within 2 days and opened within 2 weeks of first seeing it!
How did the business develop?
Columbia Road was great – we opened at the right time (November) and traded well through a very cold Christmas, but Columbia Road is a unique place and only really trades 2 days a week. As soon as we got through the Christmas rush, we started looking for a 7 day per week location in Central London and found our Covent Garden store on New Row pretty quickly. This time it took a little longer to get in and we finally took the keys of a shell on a Monday in mid-April. We turned it round in 5 days and opened for the Saturday. Covent Garden has been great for us and from there we wanted to extend our every day Premium range and open a Luxury store. Again we took a store in November to capitalise on Christmas, this time in the City at the Royal Exchange.
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
It’s certainly more stressful than working for somebody else, but there’s something about being your own boss which is addictive, and of course, the satisfaction of reaping the rewards of your own hard work.
Who’s your biggest inspiration?
Generally, people who overcome great adversity and develop something from scratch through strength of will and character. I have a friend who, as a teenager, travelled through Europe to escape the Yugoslav War. He now runs his own business, but has always worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week to succeed.
What are you most proud of achieving as an entrepreneur?
Our products. It feels great being able to sell a product with confidence, knowing it’s good. From the beginning, the Laird brand was built on product, style and shopping experience, which sounds schmooey, but we really wanted the experience to be a nice one, like it used to be in the 1950s, where serving a customer wasn’t a chore. We have customers popping in for a chat and that tells us we got it right.
Do you have advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Plan everything down to the smallest paperclip and then add 50%. Having said that, you have to go with your gut; there will always be negatives or things to put you off but at the end of the day, business is a risk and you have to go for it. If you do take the plunge, you just have to give it everything you’ve got to make it work.
You can find out more about Laird Hatters on their website.
Photo (c) Horst Freidrichs
More entrepreneurial people lurk in our archives.