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Living her dream

DETERMINED ENTREPRENEUR: Toks Aruoture

BACK IN 2004, Toks Aruoture, a former medical rep-turned interior designer, started scouring the Internet looking for business opportunities.

She had always wanted to start her own business. But when the opportunity came, it was on the other side of the Atlantic.

Aruoture found a shop for sale in Buckhead, an upscale area in Atlanta.

A year later, she and her husband bought the store, called Punkin Patch, and emigrated with their four children to embark on a new adventure.

The shop already had an established reputation for children’s interiors – bedding, furniture and accessories and Toks set about familarising herself with the rudiments of the business while adding her own touches along the way.

Things moved along smoothly until the recession bit in 2008. Then she had to make some big decisions about whether or not to keep the shop going.

In the end Aruoture made the decision to transfer the business online and move the family back to England. Realising that there was a gap in the market for luxury children’s furnishings, she set up the British branch of Punkin Patch. The new company also offers a diverse range of products from stylish baby slings to carriers, baby bags and leather changing bags.

“The best out there was Mamas and Papas and the most common Mothercare, which meant that people wouldn’t be able to have a room bespoke to them like a celebrity nursery or Hollywood style child’s bedroom and that is what we’ve promoted with our UK arm,” she explained.
Like many minority owned businesses, Aruoture’s key challenges in this new chapter of her business adventure was finance. She did not receive any help from the banks.

“I started the online version of Punkin Patch at the beginning of the recession and I had to find creative ways of getting things done,” she recalled. “Family and trusted friends were a great help and I believe blood and sweat can make up for a lack of funds at times.”


POPULAR PRODUCT: The Cinderella Cot, one of Aruoture’s most popular products

There were other challenges as well. She had to learn new skills and push the boundaries of her creativity to build a new website for the company.

CAUTION

But for her the biggest challenge was herself.

“I was overly cautious about the colour of my skin. I refused to put my picture up on Twitter for a long time as I thought my customers wouldn't want to do business with me. Thankfully, with some advice from a business mentor I got over that,” she revealed.

Today, Punkin Patch is a luxury brand that counts celebrities and royalties among its fan base. The company works with a number of European suppliers, distributing their products all over the world. The American branch is still going strong and consultations are an important part of their work.

Despite the company’s current success Aruoture works just as hard as when she just started. “The stakes are higher now,” she said. “We are a lot bigger than we were four years ago and now have a name to protect. Because I am always raising the bar it feels as though we are not ‘there' yet.”

Asked to describe her personality for the business world, she responded: “Tenacious - not giving up in spite of challenges. Ethical - as I’m very big on business and personal ethics and being a people person - as it’s so important for excellent customer relationship management.”

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Toks Aruoture’s top six tips for start-up businesses:

1) Work in an area you're familiar with or better still passionate about. If you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life again.
2) Take care of your health. Most start-ups tend to begin with just one person, you. If you happen to fall ill often and can't be on the job your business may not take off. This applies to those with and those without health issues.
3) Start small. It is tempting to splurge and keep up appearances with expensive stationery and a fancy office, use your home as an office for as long as you possibly can and create your own stationery for free using Microsoft word or other free templates.
4) Networking is important as the more people you meet in business, the more likely you are to make connections that are mutually beneficial. In addition to that you can learn so much about business practices from others.
5) Control your environment. Nothing kills motivation more than being in a negative environment. The company you keep, the material you watch or read and your physical space all play a great role in building or hindering your success. Physical and mental clutter is distracting.
6) You can always make money but you can't make time. Manage your time wisely by having a business and marketing plan and working with them.

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