How I Started an Interior Decor
and Home Accessories Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Ana Saprygina, I am a professional interior designer and founder/director of Goscandi. Goscandi.com is a London-based online shop offering a handpicked collection of Scandinavian interior decor and accessories. From kitchenware to living room textiles, home fragrances to high-quality organic body care products and more.
The main idea of the shop is that all of our products work together in a single interior. So you can keep revising us, knowing that there is always something here for you. It features small Scandinavian design brands who create quality products from eco-friendly natural materials. They all focus on sustainability and function.
The only two people working on this project is my husband, who helps me out whenever he is free from his day job, and I, doing this full time. We also have a website developer working remotely from Lithuania. As this is a very young business, we are at a very exciting and tiresome stage. We have to utilise all of your skills to keep this venture going.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I am a massive fan of Japanese minimalist design, that is driven by a clear purpose and unified idea. I believe this philosophy helps a lot when you try to build a brand of your own. It helps to clearly define who you are and what your vision is. Another passion of mine – Scandinavian design, that teaches you to appreciate simplicity, natural beauty and small things in life. Add those two things together and you get a blend of warmth and practicality, you get Goscandi.
Goscandi is the type of business where all my professional skills, life experiences and hobbies come together quite naturally. In a way, I planned it to be the most enjoyable activity, that eliminates the things I don’t like and allows me to focus on my favourite hobbies, like photography, design and shopping.
There were a few pivotal events in my career that lead to where I am now. First of all, I studied for six years in Vilnius Art Academy to become a professional interior designer. Straight after university, I started my sole practice and soon realised that Lithuania is too small and conservative for my professional ambition.
At the time, it was tricky to find customers who would appreciate my love for minimalist design and could afford the type of brands and materials that I wanted to work with. I moved to the UK and faced the same thing that many immigrants have to deal with – lack of connections, knowledge of the local market and in my case, the English language. Starting from scratch isn’t easy, but it often gives you challenges that lead to new opportunities.
While searching for a long-term job, I found a place in one of the interior design shops in Barnes, London. There I’ve learned everything there is to learn about the trade – from customer service, buying patterns, working with suppliers to running an online shop. I was absorbing everything, not knowing at a time how useful this experience would prove to be.
Eventually, I left the shop as I found the job of my dreams. I became a part of a small interior design agency that I was a massive fan of – YAM studios. We shared the love for Scandinavian minimalism, aesthetics and passion for design in general. I worked on the projects that I didn’t even dare to dream about, and I had a chance to learn from the most professional, meticulous and hard-working people in the industry.
There was one aspect of the job that was particularly relevant to the creation of Goscandi. I was browsing through endless online home decor shops, and I noticed how very few of them were truly user-friendly and straightforward to use. Flashy discounts, horrible fonts and questionable design that most of the time didn’t leave up to the name or the idea of the shop itself. I thought how hard can it be to create a simple collection of things that you would love to revisit. The short answer is – very hard! But that was the moment when I decided to give it a go.
The concept of Goscandi was born, and now I had to find time and money to do it. Building my own brand sounded so exciting that I made a drastic decision to leave my favourite job. My husband and I decided that the best time to pursue your dreams is now, so I dived into the unknown and GoScandi was launched.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I think the toughest challenge of starting the business is the launch itself. It is hard to go from ideas to action. You believe that your concept is not developed enough, that you need more time to prepare, more research to do, build a better website, find a better supplier. It is a never-ending process of preparation, especially for such a perfectionist as I am. But the lesson is that you perfect things by doing and not by dwelling on them.
There was a second challenge of starting a business – finding suppliers that are right for you. I had a few contacts of bigger brands that were selling everywhere. They were affordable, had a decent product, but it just didn’t feel right. I was struggling to find better partners because a lot of them would want to see your shop up and running before they allow to buy their product. And Goscandi wasn’t up and running, because it didn’t have the collection that I truly loved.
We started going to trade fares hoping for a chance to talk to suppliers face to face. This strategy worked. We could pitch our ideas and find likeminded people who produced amazing things. It is easy to spot good suppliers – they ask you as many questions as you ask them, they care about the distribution of their product. Often these are small, family-owned brands, the kind of people we wanted to go into business with.
Putting finance together is tricky. We had no investors, we collected our modest savings and took a few loans. In our business, we have to buy bulk, which is always a gamble. It can be a calculated gamble, you can be very smart about it, but the reality is that you can never be 100% right about the outcome.
Also, when you start, you don’t get good deals on payment systems, deliveries and storage, it all comes at the cost, and unless you sell volumes, the premium doesn’t go down. I believe this shouldn’t discourage you from starting a business, if you are focused, you can sort it out. And some models don’t require much investment. You may need to be patient to allow yourself time to grow without pumping tons of money into your startup.
Finally, however good your shop is, people are not willing to buy unless they trust you and building trust takes time. We treat our customers with respect, we value their time. Often this means more expenses on our side, trying to deliver quicker, to offer discounts, to create a more appealing presentation, but it does pay off. It is so rewarding when people appreciate your effort. Respecting your customer is key to a successful business, I truly believe that.
Who is your target market?
The majority of our customers are women, around 80%, which is quite a surprising number. It might have something to do with how advertising algorithms behave, but it is higher than we expected. The average age is around 25-35 years old, again, the typical audience for Instagram. The numbers may change when we start exploring different means of advertising, but we still predict it is going to be around 70% women, 30-45 years old, with a reliable income.
Our products are not super expensive, but they are also not the cheapest on the market. We offer Scandinavian designers goods, which, by definition, comes with added cost. When we were building a profile of our potential customer, we were envisioning someone who had his basic needs covered, who had a passion for design and someone who appreciates quality over quantity. They follow interior design blogs, and self-decorate their homes, following the professional advice.
Another category was interior designers and stylists — the type of group that I was a part of when I was in the industry. So I know their pain. Unlike many retailers, we offer trade discounts and a wider variety of goods that are not in stock but can be quickly sourced to order. All it takes is a quick email with the type of things they are looking for, and we can sort it out.
We do realise that Goscandi has a very niche audience, and we would probably be much better off selling mass-market products, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my vision for profit. I would rather stay true to myself and wait for the like-minded customer to discover us.
The trend of Scandi design is growing amongst the UK audience, and there is a significant number of people who are looking for just the type of shop that we have, which makes us all happy.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Goscandi is still very young, and we are in the process of building our community and the pool of customers.
We found that Instagram is the most effective promotional platform for us as we pay a lot of attention to photography and aesthetics. Even if people are not buying, at least they can appreciate what we do. This means a lot as well. We do collaborate with bloggers and influencers, some of whom we find and some are getting in touch with us because they love what we do.
Above all, we prefer to work with like-minded people, this makes any advertising more genuine, and the audience can always sense a lie. We never intervene with what they say or ask for the script to approve. We noticed the stories involving unpacking work best for us as people get a better sense of how the products look like in real life. The funny thing that we noticed is that people tend to buy the same stuff that bloggers receive from us: same colours, sizes and combinations.
We also try to advertise in magazines, we have a presence in most social media platforms, and we have had a significant increase in customers through word of mouth.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I think every business has to be honest, genuine and approachable. This is who we are, and people do notice that eventually. Yes, we are small, and it is easier for us to keep track of every single order, address issues early and be pro-active, but there are only two of us, so it does take an effort.
As a consumer myself, I hate when service providers hide their contact details, so you are left alone to deal with your problems. There is no excuse for such treatment. If something goes wrong, like the payment doesn’t go through or the delivery is late, I feel physically sick, I can’t find peace until the situation is resolved. I don’t want our customers to make an extra effort to purchase our goods.
We position Goscandi as a stress-free shopping experience, so we have to leave up to our promises. The better you treat your customers, the more likely they are to come back. Being greedy doesn’t work. Being disrespectful can ruin your business.
Sentimental value is also significant and often underestimated. Reward your regular buyers, encourage those who are in doubt, respond to comments on social networks and give honest answers even if this exposes some imperfections in your business. This will all add up as you build your image. We are playing a long game, we don’t try to up-sell. We sacrificing immediate profits for the benefit of building a trustworthy relationship with our customers.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Goscandi is small. Two people in the best-case scenario. I take the role of a creative director, making sure we are in line with our style and vision. I research potential suppliers, act as a buyer and build our collection. My husband is dealing with issues, helps out with public relations. We do photoshoots together, travel to trade fairs together. Luckily, we have an excellent set of skills, that allows us to run business. We are both creative people, we have similar tastes, and we are often on the same page when it comes to decision making. We make a good team, this helps.
I believe that everyone in the company has to know exactly where the business is heading and why certain decisions are made. Be transparent. Everyone has to be on the same page. There must be trust among business partners. If you feel that something is off from the beginning if you disagree on fundamental things, then this partnership is not going to work and the longer you are in business together, the more cracks will appear.
We have known each other for a long time, so this is a huge advantage. However, if you start a business with someone you don’t know, try to get to know them better before you fully commit. We are a startup that has all the freedom it needs, as we run things ourselves. We risk our own money, and we sacrifice our own time and space.
Talking about space, our flat is our office, our photography studio and partially a warehouse. So working conditions are not ideal, but they are most certainly fun, and hopefully, we will be smiling about it as we become a more grown-up business. On the other hand, my workplace is close to home, so the commute is quite convenient.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Our website is built in WordPress, maybe there are better options there, but our developer was most comfortable with it at the time. We also use several additional eCommerce plugins to make our goscandi.com website user-friendly and straightforward.
Our finance and accounting are done in Quickbooks, as it is simple and can be integrated with our bank account. But we may move accounting to Sage in the future, as Sage Pay and PayPal are two payment systems we have on our website.
We use Google sheets for spreadsheets and other google products as it is cheap and reliable.
Photoshop and Lightroom are being used a lot as we do most of our photography and retouching ourselves. There are things you can’t compromise on, like security, finance and your customers’ experience. Everything else is helpful, but might be unnecessary when you start.
It is unlikely you will be able to predict a full list of software you end up using. There is a huge choice, and you can easily splash out a significant part of your budget on it if you are not being smart. Research and compare, don’t go for a pro or premium versions unless you can’t live without it. If a piece of software saves you a little time, don’t bother.
If it saves you a ton of time and makes a user experience significantly better, this is something for you. For example, we chose a server for our website, that was respectable, reliable, wasn’t cheap, but, we soon realised that it was quite slow. We didn’t have a choice but to spend money again on the much faster server. Those extra expenses helped us to retain customers and quickly paid for itself.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
First of all, we eliminated a lot of potential mistakes while we were preparing to launch Goscandi. We changed the business model several times, and we changed suppliers, we researched a lot as we wanted to set it up correctly right from the start. Plus, I had a full-time job while doing all that, so our preparation took a long time.
goscandi.com is way too young to give you a detailed analysis, but there were a few things that we didn’t expect to encounter. The whole concept for our business was to enter the market with a high-quality, hand-picked collection of designers decor and accessories. We wanted to promote an authentic Scandinavian family owned businesses and their modern take on home decor. Now, this does naturally mean a higher price tag.
We were sure people would be willing to pay money for it. But the reality is, people won’t spend money unless they know you well. On the other hand, there is a huge demand for cheap, flashy stuff. It sells well, and it is frustrating and quite the opposite of what we want to do. And we know that our customer is there, we just need to find each other. And this leads to another discovery. Advertising.
Well, it didn’t come as a surprise, but you need to budget for advertising. Probably more than you think. You just have to cut through thousands and thousands of your competitors. We can’t spend much so we have to be strategic.
One thing that proved to be true is that quality content helps. People are more willing to share your ad with their friends if it looks great or funny, depends on what you do. It might be a single picture or a clever line of copy, but it has to be something worth clicking on. And as they click, your goods and services have to leave up to their expectation.
One mistake that we’ve made was that we didn’t have our Facebook Pixel set up correctly and as a result, we didn’t utilise a lot of data, we could have used to improve advertising. There is one choice you have to make when you start with a low budget, is whether to focus on promoting yourself on social platforms or invest time, money and effort into increasing your google searchability. We chose the first route, and we believe it was the right choice.
Eventually, we will have to work on our SEO to increase organic traffic to our website, but social networks gave us a solid start. Another reality check was the number of legal documents and steps you have to undertake to comply with digital security regulations. They are strict but essential to keeps both you and your customers safe. So it is crucial to make it right.
One thing that we wouldn’t change is our attitude and pursuit of quality. This means more spending on our side and no immediate financial gain, but we believe that the result is more important. Small things help to exceed customers expectations and small things that can ruin them, so we decided to set the bar high for ourselves and deliver the best shopping experience we can.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The thing I like the most about running Goscandi is freedom! I can shape and build a thing of my own, without trying to adjust to someone else’s taste or vision.
Goscandi is an art project as much as it is a business project. I can share my love for minimalist design, express myself creatively, utilise the skills that I have and minimise the stuff that I don’t like to do. Another awesome thing is that it almost feels like a computer game. I like to look at business this way. It is more fun.
You have limited resources, a strategy and every day brings a new challenge that you have to overcome to progress to the next level. I love the rush of it. Finally, I love feedback. This gives the energy to keep on doing what we do. I like the sense of growing community around our brand. People want to be a part of it, they want to get in touch, write you an email saying that you made their day. This surely makes my day. It is unbelievable.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
My least favourite thing is financial pressure. The business has to make money by definition. On the one hand, it motivates you to come up with an innovative strategy, forces you to keep on moving. But at the same time, the pressure can get to you. We are risking our own money here, and you don’t get many chances. Most of our decisions have to be right. Everything we do affects our business, and you don’t get that feeling when you work for someone else.
Another thing that I struggle with is that there are still things that are out of our control. We have to accept that. If the delivery company messes up, or we don’t get supplies on time we still have to admit the responsibility, apologise to our customers and make sure this never happens again. We can deal with our own mistakes and improve, but it is harder to deal with unforeseen circumstances. You can never really account for that. Like Coronavirus. Who knew?
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
There wasn’t one particular book or source of inspiration. I never read the books on how to become rich quickly or anything like that. I inherited entrepreneurial qualities from my parent and the rest is more of an intuition.
Goscandi is a result of a life long admiration of architecture and design and my career as an interior designer. My business depends on visual art and to develop an eye for that you have to see a lot of design. Magazines, books on design, exhibitions, travel – all helped me to develop my taste.
To be specific, I love the work of Tadao Ando – a Japanese architect. I am a fan of Norm Architects, a Danish architect design studio and John Pawson, a British architect. Also, it is important to study other businesses, follow their stories. You don’t want to listen to people who are trying to discourage you. Evaluate the risks that you can take and deal with and off you go!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
Our business didn’t reinvent the wheel, on the surface, it is just retail, this is why it is harder to prove that we can be more than that. But I accept the challenge.
Goscandi promotes a certain lifestyle. I see it as more than just an online shop, but rather a platform for inspiration, knowledge, art that also gives an option to purchase things. So as we are perfecting the shop and the collection it offers, we are planning to expand beyond that.
We hope that in three years Goscandi will be a go-to place for minimalist design, whether you want to read about it or buy things to improve your interior. We want it to be a convenient place for professional designers and stylists as well as consumers. And finally, we want this to be a platform that introduces new brands, up-and-coming designers and small independent studios to the market. There are endless possibilities to expand, and this is very exciting.