Sian Gabbidon is a British entrepreneur, e-commerce brand owner, marketing agency co-founder and public speaker. He also won series 14 of the BBC’s The Apprentice, winning an incredible partnership with mogul Lord Alan Sugar as a prize.
Sian started SNME through Instagram while studying at university and in partnership with Lord Sugar, it has grown into a global salon brand with seven figure retail partnerships including Walmart and Frasers.
Although Sian has enjoyed huge success with her multiple businesses, she came from humble beginnings. As a young working-class woman from Leeds, Northern England, her journey is an inspiration to all generations, especially young people for whom she regularly does speaking engagements and says “I feel very kin to them”.
The pandemic has been a troubling time for entrepreneurs and many businesses have failed, but those that have been able to turn around have strengthened. SNME The Label was originally a swimwear brand. Although the debate had started on how to make the brand succeed during the colder seasons (the UK is famous for its rain and lack of warm weather), Covid-19 ensured that the debate accelerated.
The UK went into lockdown in March 2020 and Sian had a decision to make. There was nowhere for swimwear to thrive. international travel stopped and even spas closed.
The fact of the matter was: “It doesn’t matter who’s behind us and how much cash is in the bank, if we don’t have sales it doesn’t matter. we’ll go down. So very, very quickly I moved into salons. Was it ok what is everyone wearing right now? What’s one product we can sell all year round?’
The move to salons promoted SNME The Label massively and was a disguise of “My mom would never wear our swimwear. It was reversible and aimed at pool party girls. My mom became the biggest ambassador of my salons – always wearing my tracksuits. It just opened us up to new audiences and markets and made us more attractive to retail as well.”
When nine million people watch the finale of a show you win, your brand will grow. For Sian, that meant retailers approaching her to stock SNME. Working with retailers like ASOS was a fantastic opportunity for press and credibility, but it didn’t come without its challenges.
However, the advantage of being in stores is that customers had the opportunity to see a product in real life and this helped build trust. Speaking about this, Sian said: “People being able to come into the store and feel the product and the quality really helped us. We are at par in our weights with premium luxury brands. But I didn’t want to charge people that price, I wanted people to buy things at a fair price, but it’s going to take a long time.”
For entrepreneurs aiming to get into retail, Sian offers some insights from her journey, bolstered by the fact that for her brand, the internet has always been a more successful sales medium.
“It’s amazing to be in retailers to have the recognition and the partnership, but as a business it’s not always necessary or necessary to make that business successful. You have to look at your margins. Your margins are basically, more than being tied to a retailer – depending on who you are, your product and where you are in the market. Do you want to make money? It is not necessary to be in retail, especially as a fashion brand. It depends on who you are trying to become and how you are trying to grow. I’m much bigger for direct-to-consumer than retail.”
Lessons about money
After an influencer post of clothes from SNME The Label went viral, Sian realized that DM (direct message) sales on Instagram were no longer viable and she needed a website. Prices ranged from £10,000 – £15,000 which was out of the budget for a small business back then. Sian decided to invest in herself, “I did a £500 WordPress course and built a very basic website at first. He did the right thing. As I’ve moved on, we’ve moved on to Shopify. Much easier platform to use, great for selling products and very user friendly on the backend. If you don’t have anyone to manage it for you, you can manage it yourself with Shopify.”
Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster and learning from mistakes is just as useful as big wins. Sian described one of her biggest wastes of money was a contract with an agency, “I had a PR agency for a while that focused on international outreach, when I think about it now, the business was not in a position at the time to have an international PR agency. They should have said you are not ready for this yet. It was very expensive and I had to sign up for 6 months so I was hooked. I can look back now and laugh, but at the time it was really frustrating. It builds you as an entrepreneur or as an entrepreneur.”
Burned by numerous negative agency experiences and armed with first class honors in fashion with marketing and production, Sian is on a mission to make digital marketing less cheesy. Anyone can call themselves an expert, recommend a service and lock a customer into a long-term contract. The agency he co-founded, Twenty Twenty Digital provides high-quality e-commerce services from paid advertising, web design and construction, CRM, social media, SEO, content creation and more.
As with many business ideas, Sian saw a problem and facilitated the solution. A very good friend of mine and I worked together because we both had brands and understood the stress of agencies. We joined forces to create one that could do what it said it would, where we hire true experts in their field to truly help businesses reach their potential and succeed.
Use of social media
SNME The Label made its initial splash on Instagram, and we’ve already discussed how influencer marketing propelled the brand from a DM (direct message) sales business to an established online store. Then on the brand’s journey, popular British influencer Molly-Mae Hague was seen wearing the clothes.
Let’s explore how this partnership came about and how entrepreneurs have benefited from influencer marketing like Sian in recent years, “You have to have a strategy, be consistent, be on trend and track performance. In my early years we tried to gift wherever possible. Molly-Mae was a perfect example. We got her partnership scorecard and I nearly collapsed. But we eventually managed to gift her some of our loungewear and luckily she ended up wearing some items and tagging us on social media.”
The landscape has further changed with the growing popularity of TikTok as another avenue for early-stage entrepreneurs to tap markets without having to spend too much, “Influencers and content creators are everywhere. I talk a lot about TikTok because you can do a lot by using trends and working on the creator market without having to pay for any of it. It’s all commission-based, so it’s a win-win for all parties – if a post performs well, everyone gets paid, so it can be a really rewarding platform if you use it right.”
See below for Sian’s online platforms.