Dana Elemara on starting rare oil company Arganic 

In 2012, Dana Elemara started Arganic, offering rare argan oil, grown exclusively in Morocco, to the cosmetic and food industries. She talks to SmallBusiness.co.uk about her company and how it began.

What had you been doing prior to starting your Argan company?

After I graduated with a maths degree from King’s College I got on a graduate scheme for Goldman Sachs, which I didn’t enjoy, but it taught me how to network and work long hours.

I moved to Dubai for a bit and worked in a management consultancy, after which i decided I wanted to set up on my own.

I came back to London, doing some work in the marketing department of King’s College. During this time I was thinking up ideas for a business.

A family friend was raving about argan oil and how she couldn’t get hold of it in the UK, which interested me enough to book a trip to Morocco where it was produced.

What happened next?

I learned about the product and loved it. I realised I could make money from this because it’s a big deal now in the cosmetics industry.

I eventually found a producer which supplies major cosmetics companies and one of the main argan oil suppliers in Morocco. I managed to negotiate UK exclusivity with this producer which was obviously huge.

I approached a local business centre in London which put me in touch with an adviser who was an expert in import/export.

It was good to find someone to give me direction and help break it all down. Initially I thought I’d have to have a partner because I was afraid of taking it on alone, but with that support I was given the confidence to continue on my own.

How did you finance the business?

I didn’t have much in the way of savings so I got a commission-based demonstrator job in (London toy store) Hamleys and managed to earn enough over the Christmas period to cover my start-up costs of around £5,000.

I spent the money on travelling, trademarking the business name, and website and branding costs. Now, I am looking for grants and crowdfunding to raise more money.

How was it all marketed?

Twitter was massive for me. I also entered competitions and won an award for my product. I appeared on Food Network. I was also shortlisted for the Shell Livewire Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, one of only two women nominated. By the time I did my first trade show in September a lot of people told me they had heard of my brand.

What has been a big challenge?

When I came up with the name Arganic it wasn’t taken, but subsequently a couple of people tried to set up with that name. Luckily I learned the importance of trademarking from a free business course I went to at the British Library. I had bartered with a solicitor who agreed to draft a legal letter for me for £150 instead of £600, and that worked on two occasions.

Cash flow is also a problem. I have to pay for my stock up front and have just signed a big client who won’t pay me until 45 days after delivery, so I have to order stock about two months in advance to make sure it arrives on time, pay for it and wait to get paid myself.

What is the goal for turnover?

At the moment I’m doing just £2,000 a month, but I’ve just signed a client who will be spending around £30,000 a year. Next year the modest target is £60,000 but I think i’ll do more than that, all I need is one medium-sized cosmetic company on board which I am confident of securing.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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