Over the weekend, I (@saejung_oh) got to officially tell my story. The story of a shopaholic who had no self-control, but was driven enough to start Oh Rent Me. And here is my story, along with some tips for those who are also wanting to start a business.
So how I first started Oh Rent Me, was purely for selfish reasons. I wanted the latest designer fashion, but didn’t have the income to sustain my addiction. My friends would always ask to borrow something from my closet all the time, and at this point my shopping addiction had got out of hand. I thought if my friends were wanting to raid my closet, why not open it up to strangers, and charge people to rent from my closet. And that is exactly what I did.
My fashion addiction started from a young age, during high school whenever I would see something I liked I would save up my money from working part time, and purchase it secretly. If my parents found out, I would be in big trouble. They would always tell me I shouldn’t be buying so many things. The shopping addiction got as bad as me having to get things sent to my friend’s house instead of mine in the hope that my parents would not find out! I guess old habits die hard, but I wouldn’t change it for the world as it is what drove me to start Oh Rent Me.
When Oh Rent Me first started, I was studying full time at the University of Otago, funnily enough I wasn’t doing a business degree, in hindsight I wish I had! I was studying towards my Bachelor of Science majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology. My first challenge came when trying to balance a full time academic degree with running a side hustle.
I am going to break down how Oh Rent Me went from a side hustle to a full blown business. My first ever designer piece was a RUBY dress I had bought in Dunedin during my first year of University for my Brother’s 20th Birthday (Pictured above). Soon after, I slowly built up my designer collection, until I had about 6 garments. From this point I got sick of my friends raiding my closet all the time, and me having to do the washing and caring of my own clothes after they wore it. I created a collage of my small collection, and started posting them on Facebook groups. It quickly gained a lot of interest. With the profits I made from renting them along with my studylink money, I bought more and more. My collage image of my collection became larger and larger. I thought to myself, instead of using other Facebook groups to advertise my clothing, why not create one just for my own clothes. I brought this up to my partner, as I needed help coming up with the perfect name for my brand. I remember this exact talk we had, throwing around ideas of what the name for my business could be, we wanted it to be unique, but tell everyone what we did. When he suggested, “Oh Rent Me”, I was completely sold, he had incorporated my last name into the service we provide. This was the moment, Oh Rent Me was created.
My first ever collage.
Most of my first rentals came from other students at University of Otago, I didn’t want to branch out too much just in case something went wrong. They would come pick them up from my flat, or meet me somewhere at University. Then they would drop them off to me once they had worn it. Once I created my own Facebook group, interest grew from other parts of New Zealand. I would be shipping off 10 orders a week within the first couple of weeks, and a few last minute pick ups. Starting off using Facebook was a cheap way to gain momentum for a business idea. It has no initial costs to start, and no commitment. My side hustle began expanding very quickly and I found it rather messy and tiring to keep track of my orders and customers through facebook. It didn’t have the capacity to document orders online, and this is when I roped in one of my friends who was studying Computer Science degree to help create my own website.
This is what my images looked like on my website.
I had no clue in regards to where to even start, there wasn’t a website platform 6 years ago that had the capacity to cater for the renting field. I researched and researched to see which website platform would be best for Oh Rent Me. We decided on Shopify, it was simple and easy to set up, apart from incorporating the calendar function. Once a website is set up on Shopify, it is very easy to maintain, and add new products yourself. This was appealing to me, as I would be getting something new each week. My friend had to teach himself a lot of coding work that was required to set up my website, as you see, it wasn’t as easy as setting up a website for a BUY and SELL. My business model needed a calendar function which allowed my customers to book one product multiple times over time. This custom coding did take us awhile to perfect, personally I don’t even know how my friend ended up doing it, as that is not my expertise, but he made sure it worked. My first website was very simple, it showcased my products, and allowed our customers to proceed to checkout by selecting a date of rental. To this day, we still operate using Shopify. Our current website has a lot of other capabilities that we have incorporated to make it user-friendly and provide more services.
One of my later collages, before I launched my website.
I had no idea how to run a business, I didn’t even know I had to register my business. Obviously if you are earning from your side hustle above a certain amount, you are required to register it with the companies office and start paying taxes. This was something I had to do extensive research on, and had to decide how I was going to register my business. For those of you who do not know, I’m going to simplify the process now. So basically when you register your “side-hustle” with the companies register you can classify your business one of three different ways; sole-trader, partnership or a company. There are pros and cons of each, which I won’t go further in detail about. Then you pay to register your business, this only costs around $70, including checking whether your business name is original, or too similar to someone else’s. Then from there, I suggest strongly getting an accountant on board early on in the business. For a small business this could be roughly $250 per month, if you want my honest opinion, definitely money well spent!! I wish we got in an accountant from the get-go, as it is now quite a headache trying to explain what was happening years back. Now, because we have a very good accountant all I have to now do is pay myself, staff and code money going in and out on Xero. For me, I was lucky when I first started that my father was a financial account manager, so he filed our taxes with IRD each year before signing up with an accountant.
Always make a to-do list, I am a super organised person and thrive off working off a to-do list. If you break down the big picture into achievable steps, it takes the stress out and allows you to feel like you are achieving a lot! If you just work off a massive goal, you are likely to get fed up with not getting any results, but if you break it down into small tasks, you’ll more likely stick at it longer to achieve that bigger goal. The next task for me was to set up a business bank account. Originally I thought I should just set it up with the current bank I was using, as it made sense. It was a bank I was familiar with. However, once I researched into all the banks that offer business banking, there were pros and cons to them all. I recommend doing your research when it comes to setting up a business bank account. For example, we use ANZ because they offer business advice and free seminars to their customers. At the time this was the vital plus that made us choose ANZ. From them, we soon learnt that even IRD offer free business seminars in most cities around New Zealand. My advice to you if you are unsure about something, go attend these seminars. What do you have to lose. We found these seminars super helpful in regards to what a business was required to file each year with IRD.
I continued to run Oh Rent Me while studying full time, however, during my last year of University, I decided to pursue a postgraduate Honours degree in Psychology. This was an obstacle, where I had to decide my potential future in the Science industry, or my future with Oh Rent Me. I wasn’t ready to make such a decision, and lucky for me, I didn’t have to. I continued to study my Honours degree, and passed on the daily running’s to my partner, Brady. This way I really did get the best of both worlds, without him my business would have come to an end that year. I was still running the social media, the website work, but Brady was in charge of all the daily aspects of running the business. I was a terrible boss at this point, something I would recommend against, going into business with your partner. This really tested our relationship, he would tell you that I was a nightmare to deal with, whereas I see it as, “my way is the right way”. I was stretching myself pretty thin this year, if I wasn’t pulling all nighters studying, I was running errands. That year I also thought it was a great idea for myself to also get a part time job as well!!! So I was working as a support worker, 20 hours a week, studying full time for a postgraduate degree, AND running my business part-time. I don’t know about you, but credit is due where it is, and I cannot thank Brady enough for the support he had given and still continues to give me.
At our Engagement party, we are getting married Jan 2020
I originally wanted to become a Clinical psychologist, and at my last year of university, the reason why I took the part-time job was to improve my chances of getting accepted into this competitive programme. Sadly, I didn’t get in that year, which meant Brady and I had a decision to make in regards to where to live in New Zealand. We were getting quite sick of Dunedin after 5 years being there, and we were happy to move where my studies would take me. I had made the decision to apply for a one year Masters programme to help my chances of getting into Clinical psychology the following year. We were tossing up between; staying in Dunedin, Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington or Hamilton. We decided for the sake of my business and for the Masters programme, the best decision would be to move to Auckland. I had applied for my one year Masters programme, and also signed up to volunteer for a group of people living with Aphasia. When I was volunteering, I had realised that I signed up to the wrong Masters programme, so I decided to defer a year and focus on Oh Rent Me full time. In hindsight, this was the best mistake I could have made. Risking running Oh Rent Me full-time hard decision for us, as we were living by ourselves with the business in the other room, and we were not getting paid from the business, apart from it paying some of the rent. We hustled hard this year, and managed to get Oh Rent Me cranking, Auckland was a completely different market to Dunedin. I wasn’t getting as many last minute orders or pick ups, as apparently people in Auckland are more organised as it takes so long to get anywhere here.
During this first year in Auckland, a good friend of mine had brought to my attention, a business like mine could be eligible for a government grant. I was quick to do my research in regards to this, because who doesn’t love free money right?! This is actually quite a funny story, I just started googling Business government grants, and the first website I came across seemed legit, but later found out that it was a scam website. Their process was to sign up to their website, which ended up being Australian based, but the url had gov.nz in it, red alert one should have gone off. They also were asking me to pay around $450 to sign up to their website, alert two. I gave my credit card details over the phone to a random number in Australia, alert three. Once I did gain access to their website, I came across a grant I could be eligible for, so I got in touch. From there, I met with a lady who asked me to explain my business and how we are going, she then was very quick to approve a $5000 grant towards paying for a business mentor. It wasn’t a grant where they give you free money for nothing, and for you to spend it on something not related to focusing on your business growth. At this meeting, I brought up to her that I came across this grant, through this dodgy website, she confirmed with me that it was a scam. Tip, if it feels dodgy, trust your gut. I cancelled my VISA card the next hour after this meeting.
Through this business mentor we learnt a lot, and he gave us direction to head towards. He also made us question, why does our business exist, and what we were hoping to achieve. A common phrase in business, if you do not know the answer to something, seek someone who does. And that is exactly what we did. It is important to be able to recognise what your strengths and weaknesses are within your business, this way you know where you need help in. Then seek the right type of help!
One of the many struggles I had throughout my whole journey with Oh Rent Me, was that no one would take me seriously. I have been bullied by bigger companies, others taking advantage of your business, and I also started to figure out who my real friends were. I know that people don’t mean to do it consciously, but being a young women, when I first started out I was only 19, people in the business world wouldn’t look at me twice or give me the time of day. I just learnt to have a thicker skin, and make yourself heard, be more confident. Your business is who you are, portray the badass women that started it all.
Our first year in Auckland was also the year that a big player in our market place had come into direct competition. I knew that we had to make a change, as I was afraid if we didn’t adapt to this change, we would be drowned out by this competition. This was when a friend of mine, had introduced us to a potential investor. First meeting I was so nervous, I was meeting a well known and respected member of NZ, I walked out feeling very good about myself and what I have achieved so far. He requested a second meeting, and the rest is history. We soon had a partnership which would allow Oh Rent Me to scale, and to scale quickly. We went from owning 150 garments to around 400 garments. It wasn’t only just the investment which allowed Oh Rent Me to grow. I was now part of a team, and being a part of a team does wonders for a business, and your mental health. You aren’t alone anymore, not that I ever was.
We got too big within the first year of being in Auckland, and the room that had our garments in it, was no longer big enough. We needed a new HQ, so we found a villa in Central Auckland. And we kept growing every year, until it wasn’t a business that could be operated in a house. And now we have our own shop front, in Parnell.
From what started out at 6 garments at the back of my closet, to taking up more and more of my closet space, to filling out a small townhouse room, to filling out a big villa dinning room (I mean this was A BIG ROOM), and now to a 150 square metre showroom.
Where do I see myself in the next 5 years? Hoping to shop up a storm!!! Old habits die hard!
But seriously, no matter what I do in the near future, I have so many skills now that are so transferable to so many jobs out there. Who knows what my future will hold, but I do know that I have achieved something most people dream about achieving.
Reflecting back on it, the tips I would give to people starting out in business are:
- Find a passion you love, and see how you can convert this into a business. I know harder than it sounds. My passion was shopping, and it just got out of hand!!!
- Do your research. People ask me all the time in regards to how I got to where I am, and how I learnt and taught myself so much. RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. Be ready to read a whole lot of crap, be ready to confuse yourself with proper English. Because I sure as hell did. But this is so important.
- Be adaptable. You never know what may happen in the near future, if you don’t adapt you will fall behind. And people with a lot more money may come into your market space. Adapt, be better, offer something different, and keep your current customers happy. Be prepared to diversity or be prepared to die
- Don’t be afraid to admit you need help. Lean on your partner, or your close friends. Without my support system I could not be where I am today. My parents never wanted me to pursue my business. And it was the HARDEST thing I had ever had to do to go against their belief and recommendation
- Celebrate the small wins. Look back and congratulate yourself. You have DONE it. Without celebrating these small wins, you will just drive yourself nuts. People tend to always focus on the negatives, and are so quick to judge you. So give credit to where it is due.
- Ask questions. You don’t learn if you don’t ask. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone successful, they all started somewhere. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, you become who you surround yourself with.
- Be a doer, don’t just write it down. Actually ACT on it. Nothing has happened from people saying “oh yeah, that’s a good idea”, actually implement it. I am always a go getter, I think about the consequences AFTER I have put things in motion. This can be a positive and a negative, but that is just my nature. And on this note, I challenge you, you are here because you have ambitions, but don’t let them be just that. Take that, grow it, own it, and make that shit your future.