Find your niche and make the leap

Kuljit Thiaray, founder of online ethnic marketplace Desi High Street, believes it is time to give the ethnic retail market a leg-up online. Here she describes her plans for a niche version of Amazon Marketplace and how she will convince technophobic storeowners to start selling online.

I have always wanted to start my own business but until now never took the leap. Although I have always worked and been quite successful in my career, I have a nagging feeling I should have gone straight into business after graduating university.

Now as I am approaching my 40’s and as a mum of three, I’ve finally taken the decision to launch my business, Desi High Street. It is in its early stages and we have only just launched the prototype website to the public, but the first signs have been really positive.

My idea is for an online marketplace where independent shops selling ethnic goods such as clothes, food and accessories can upload their items and sell to a much wider audience than they can from a physical high street location.

An untapped opportunity?

This section of the British economy is not well represented online and one of my reasons for starting the business was my own frustration at not being able to find a range of things I wanted through existing websites and easily in one place.

The market has taken off in India but in the UK it lags behind and ethnic shop owners have been reluctant to embrace ecommerce. This is due to several factors, including a lack of technological understanding and fears over the laws affecting distance selling.

I want to support small businesses and help them get more exposure across the UK. Other marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon are large and catch-all but they don’t promote this niche very effectively.

So we want to digitise what is a mainly non-digital industry in the UK. The site works similarly to the ASOS marketplace, which is a section of the clothes retailer’s website where boutiques can upload and sell their own products.

In return for access to the Desi High Street audience, we take a small commission of the price of each item sold. We have introductory fees for now, while we build interest and traffic to the site.

Growing digital skills and adoption

One of the biggest barriers to adoption among retailers in this market is a lack of knowledge of digital trends and many businesses are operating the same way they were when they were founded 30 or 40 years ago.

In my research I’ve discovered there are broadly three categories of shop owner: those with limited technological knowledge and no support, those with limited knowledge but have relatives who are more savvy and who can help, and those who have embraced digital to a degree with things by retailing through social media or via their own websites.

For this reason, we have made the back-end of the website as easy to use as possible. If you can post a photo on Facebook, then you can upload a product on Desi High Street.

For the first two groups – those with little or no technical skill – we plan to give technical support directly, and coach them through the set up process. One of our key objectives is to help these businesses to sell online successfully by giving them the ecommerce skills to do this.

The site has just launched but we already have big plans for 2016. In the next 12 months I want to establish a proven sales track record, support new retailers and actively look to secure investment to further our growth. I also want to start working on a new version of the website quickly; one that includes a new design and more features for users.

It’s amazing how far we have come in a few short months since the business was founded and we started on the path to launch. I hope that the next six months will be similarly transformational and that we can get some major successes under our belts in this New Year.

If you are weighing up a decision to go into business for yourself, I would argue that there has never been a better time than right now. I waited a long time before taking the leap and I couldn’t be happier that I finally did it.

Learn more about Desi High Street here.