INTERVIEW | SIERRA OF BABUSHKA BALLERINA
Name: Sierra Ramke
Location: Sydney, Paddington
Current Title / Company: Company Director, Creative Director, and Designer
What was your first job out of university and how did you land that position?
I worked in two roles as I graduated from Fashion College. One was working at a Luxury boutique in sales, working with collections such as YSL, Prada and McQueen. The second was working for a menswear company as the State Visual Merchandiser. Both roles were part time so I was fortunate enough to wear multiple hats each week, which kept things exciting, creative and diverse. I applied for both roles with very little experience but a hell of a lot of passion.
What inspired you to create your business?
I’ve always been a bit of an introvert and a hard worker and have wanted to own my own business since I can remember. Growing up I had a tendency to do my own thing in classes at school and coincidently failed in collage for lack of attendance. I realised that while I’m a committed worker, I am far more committed to working on my own projects in my own way and that doesn’t always work for everyone. I believed I would be far more successful in my career and life if I set up a place where I could write my own rules, create and be 100% myself.
While I imagined a fashion boutique and brand, throughout my career I had a taste for the Bridal industry, which inspired me to merge my passion for fashion and individual styling to an industry that was a little more traditional and less innovative. I wasn’t too sure if my concept would resonate with the Bridal world but considered it my mission and fortunately I have had the pleasure to work with so many Cool Cat Brides who represented our vision.
Take us through a day in the life of your business?
Babushka Ballerina has two locations one in Brisbane and Sydney. I also design and manager three Bridal Brands so there is never a dull day in BB. If I am not overseas styling editorials or working with our Shanghai design team, I am based in our Sydney office.
Our office is based in Sydney where we have a small Customer Service + Production team who are working on some very exciting projects. Coffee is on flow and Justin Bieber is playing in the background on days where we just need to vibe some cliché pop songs to get the moral high.
Our QLD & NSW styling team arrives in store at 9am to prep up for the day and get on top of a long list of emails. We start our bridal appointments from 10am- 5pm each day.
Has anything surprised you about the journey to creating your business?
I launched my first company at 22 years old, so many things have surprised me along the way. I think perhaps the biggest surprise was learning about people. Your biggest asset and downfall can be your team. You can't always make everyone happy, but you have to keep agile your management techniques to work with different personalities. The greatest surprise was how impactful the right and wrong person for the job can be and how different coaching techniques can trigger a positive and successful environment.
Obviously, your business has grown! So, let's talk money. Tell us about the intimidating process of finding funding for your business. Any advice for women who need to find funding for their own startups?
Starting early in my career made funding a nightmare, I worked 6-7 days a week in my existing job to save as much as I could to invest in the start up. I set up side projects to sell clothing on EBAY to make a little saving for the big kitty, I pulled everything I could to save, but there is only so much you can pull together in a certain amount of time and I knew that my business had to be launched sooner rather than later.
As I was 22 years old with no assets to my name, no bank would invest in a business loan for me, irrespective of my detailed business plan. It was devastating so I had no other option than to go to my family. I prepare the presentation for my parents in the same way I spoke to the bank, disclosing my financial projections, minimum repayment plan, maximum repayments and promised all loaning’s would be repaid within 24 months, based on the minimum income expectation. They agreed to the plan on the basis that I get everything in order and repayments set up within a short term. The loan was paid back in 6 months, which was a relief, and we have been fortunate to grow organically since.
There were a few things I was adamant about when getting funding’s:
- No partnerships. I’m not great with partnerships and I wanted to avoid this at all costs. You don’t have to partner up with someone just to gain finance. Funding is one strong element to the success of a business, however, hard work and commitment is perhaps the greatest. If both parties are equal in each avenue then you’re set for success.
- Clear the burden in a sustainable means; I was adamant about cleaning up that debt as soon as possible within sustainable means. While I wanted to clear the loan within a few months of trade, I knew that that would leave my company potentially vulnerable. So it was cleared within a longer term allowing good cash flow.
- Build a strong credit history; as no bank would loan to my start up I considered this family loan an official agreement, which I could potentially use to prove my credit history and responsibility for later loans and credit card applications. I treated the loan professionally and it has worked favourably with my relationships with the bank to date.
Your business has developed quite a following. Can you tell us a little bit about marketing your business? How did you spread the word?
We post on our social channels religiously and keep the content consistent with our vision. In relation to marketing we are very conservative with our investments as we priorities our budgets in creating beautiful social content that our following will respond to. As the Creative Director I coordinate editorials around the world with our latest in Rome, Italy. Keeping our content innovative is great for our BB community and also something that is respected by our media buddies.
We do launch some marketing campaigns with media outlets that have a following and consumer base that aligns with our product so the strike rate is higher. Word of mouth is paramount, and incentives should be devised to create word of mouth. It is such an old-school strategy but your biggest asset in marketing.
What do you think is the key to the success of your business?
Hard work - everyone in the company has to be committed to working hard. We are still a small business and not a corporate company that can allow any fallbacks. Every minute, every day, every customer counts.
Resilience - you have to be willing to pick yourself back up after a tough day, difficult customer, and slow week. If we have had a mini bridal melt down our next appointment is a first time client so our stylists have to bounce back almost immediately to give that next client 110% excitement.
Agile Strategy - you can’t run a business without a path and strategic route. While your path may transition in years to come, the general outline gives you something to work towards. If you business route is agile then you will continue to evolve.
Passion & Love – If you don’t love what you do every day then it’s time to rethink. Passion sees you through the extra hours of work and is unmistakable when your customer feels it. Our most passionate stylists are the most successful in store and always have great feedback.
Best advice you ever received?
I’m constantly watching business lectures and so many CEO’s have triggered great advice. I think one of my favourites was Mark Cuban “ Do your homework and know your business better than anyone, otherwise someone who knows more and works harder will kick your ass'.
I wish I knew how to ….. Speak Mandarin fluently
What is your coffee order? Skinny Latte
TV show do you wish was still on the air? Will & Grace
Next travel destination? Back to Los Angeles in June
What advice would you give your 23 year old self?
Get ready for a rollercoaster ride, buckle your belt, choose your team carefully, bootstrap your finances, be agile, be flexible and never give up. You’ve found your calling…Go for it!