Sunita Anchan
By tapping into budget-friendly décor services segment, UAE-based Indian expat Sunita Anchan hits sweet spot in floral industry. Here's how Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Like several other small business owners, UAE-based Indian expat Sunita Anchan had been working a full-time corporate job in India for over a decade before venturing into the highly competitive world of entrepreneurship in Dubai.

However, the lessons that drove her to explore business ownership not only taught her how to manage the day-to-day money-related challenges of running a start-up, it also keeps her motivated to stay invested, both financially and personally.

“Work career spanning 15-plus years with many ups and downs taught me the fundamentals of managing finances for the future,” revealed Anchan, who worked in public relations (PR) and event management in India before she moved to the UAE.

Long before taking the entrepreneurial route, Anchan recalled starting out as a PR executive fresh out of college, after which she moved up the corporate ladder and took on a managerial position handling five to six client brands.

Learning to earn, save and invest while young

“Belonging to a middle-class family, saving a small portion out of the salary was priority as well as mandatory due to a childhood instance. When I was around 16, a medical emergency with my father was an eye opener, where his savings came handy,” she revealed.

“I lost my father a year later when I was 17 and he was our only earning member in the family. Post this to run the family, my mother and I started doing small, odd jobs like stitching, providing tiffin services and tuitions to small children. We used to budget all our groceries, expenses, earnings and what to re-invest into our small home-run business.

“These made me understand the importance of earning, saving and investing,” added Anchan, who in 2014 went on to co-launch ‘Arpan Flowers’, an online-focussed retailer that provides artisanal floral arrangements and fresh flower subscriptions across Dubai.

Arpan Flowers
In 2014, Sunita Anchan went on to co-launch ‘Arpan Flowers’, a retailer that provides artisanal floral arrangements and fresh flower subscriptions across Dubai.

What was the initial investment for an online flower shop?

Anchan revealed that the initial investment was not much, as her husband and she started the business as a purely online portal with limited services and products.

“We started with an initial investment of close to $50,000 (Dh183,649), which was mostly used for setting up the e-commerce portal and initial back office and IT infrastructure,” she explained.

How was the business’ initial investment funded?

The initial investment for the business was from Anchan’s personal savings. “I invested all into this and after 2 years when we had a good understanding and customer base, we raised a small fund of $200,000 (Dh734,597) for scaling up.

“For scaling up, I needed extra support, hence I took on board my long-time friend as a business partner. Currently also we have reinvested some more from our personal savings to upgrade our technology set up. We are now ready for substantial expansions within UAE and GCC regions and will be again looking for strategic investments.”

Challenges faced when starting a decor business?

When Anchan started the business with her husband in 2014, the market had a few flower shops.

“It was not an organised market. I wanted to fill in this gap and bring in convenience, in a more organised way, of buying fresh Indian flowers and customised event decorations. We knew that the future will be technology driven and hence we developed our website, offering Indian and cut flowers along with home delivery option.”

The website also offers subscription for flower home delivery, a concept that was not available then, she added. “The challenge was to find the right vendors and suppliers, since I was a woman it was difficult to get them to trust me in a male-dominated business sector.

“Within few years into the business, I also realised that the market did not have many options for budget friendly décor services, and I wanted to fill in this gap too… that’s how the décor services took birth. Again, the challenge was to find the right resources to be able to deliver with quality.”

Sunita Anchan
When Sunita Anchan started the business with her husband in 2014, the market had fewer flower shops.

Overcoming challenges of a woman entrepreneur

Anchan also revealed how it was particularly challenging to be a woman entrepreneur when she started out, given that there weren’t many taking the entrepreneurial plunge then.

“Being a woman in a male-dominated business, I always had to push barriers and make inroads with customers and event companies. One of the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs face is balancing work and home life, and mine was no different, as my two children were toddlers when we started.”

How much does it cost you to run the business on a monthly basis?

On an average, the current operating cost per month is a little below $10,000 (Dh36,729), Anchan noted, but added that during the seasonal peak the costs are proportionately higher.

“We understand the need for funds to manage the right cash flow for running an online or brick-and-mortar business, and hence we have always maintained cash reserves for at least two to three months of operational cost and we manage to rotate it.

‘We keep our focus on receivables [amounts owed to a business, regarded as assets], work on keeping our inventory as low as possible, especially when it comes to perishables. Since it’s an online business, we know our demand in advance and this helps in planning our products and stock respectively. With five to six years of maturity in this business, we have a good understanding of demand and supply, and this helps us plan better.”

5 quick business tips to help fellow entrepreneurs start a business on their own?
1. Focus on ideas that bring value and solve a societal need, while being a scalable model (capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand)
2. Gather enough capital to start and sustain the business for at least 2 years.
3. Seek to commit full-time, while studying and researching the market in detail
4. Good marketing is the key to increase sales revenue and growth
5. Invest in hiring value-added, hardworking talents and/or resources
Stock Dirhams
Anchan revealed that the initial start-up investment was not much, as her husband and she started the business as a purely online portal with limited services and products.

Do you invest the money you make in your personal life?

“I am personally focused and invested in the flower business and hence not looking at investing in other aspects but yes, my husband does invest in other tech-driven businesses and a few assets as well,” added Anchan.

“When we have the right funds, I would look at investing into businesses that fall in the DNA of my current business. We have plans to make our own product brands and would like to offer organic or eco-friendly décor options. We are currently scouting for various options in the decoration service, which can be economical.”