Shouldering the drive and passion

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Amanda Briskin is a true innovator. She started Mimco 11 years ago with $5000 and a design for two handbags and just sold the company for $45 million. She bucked the norm many times while building her handbag and accessories company and now tells Amanda G

Amanda Briskin

Amanda Briskin (right) is a true innovator. She started Mimco 11 years ago with $5000 and a design for two handbags and just sold the company for $45 million. She bucked the norm many times while building her handbag and accessories company, and now tells Amanda Gome that she will be leaving Mimco in a few months and is very excited about future possibilities.

By Amanda Gome

About five years ago, I introduced Amanda Briskin at a conference. She was harried and exhausted. Later she complained that she was so busy she never had time to even drink a glass of water.

Last week that hard work paid off – the diminutive 35-year-old sold her leathergoods and accessory company Mimco for about $45 million.

Now she tells me that after spending the last 11 years working ridiculous hours to build Mimco, she will soon be a free women. “I will be working at Mimco for a few months to do whatever they need, but I don’t know what’s next,” she says. “I have no plans.”

Briskin broke many rules building her business. Many Gen-Ys spend about 10 years in a profession before branching out on their own. But Briskin spent just two years in a marketing and operations role at an IT company before she left at the age of 24 and used $5000 of savings to start Mimco, inspired by her childhood name Mim.

While many entrepreneurs start their business because they see a gap in the market, Briskin left because she wanted to run her own business. She came from an entrepreneurial, determined family.

Both sets of grandparents were Holocaust survivers, with one pair running a property development business and other a manufacturing business. Why handbags? Well, she used them and says she understood them.

The beginning sounds simple. She made a few designs and once she got the nod from a store or two, got the bags manufactured in China. But in fact Briskin had an innate sense of design and knew what the brand was to be and who the customers were.

Then again she bucked the trends. She decided to distribute her bags through gift shops instead of fashionable boutiques, which brought her a lot of attention. Her lawyer husband David joined the business to oversee operations and they added products to her range including hair accessories, jewellery and hairpins.

They also expanded distribution to include department stores, expanded geographically, and then in 2001 hit the jackpot when Sex And The City’s Sarah Jessica Parker walked around New York with a Mimco purse.

But soon they faced many of the problems that can stop fast growing businesses in their tracks. But they responded quickly – after problems with quality control, they learnt to closely check the quality of products shipped straight from China to export markets. They also built strong relationships with distributors so the distributors clearly understood the brand, customer and strategy.

Nevertheless, the growth was exhausting and put huge pressure on cash flow. Attention was distracted as they chased a myriad of opportunities and they were eventually forced to pull back from international expansion and jetison an internet retailing venture

Briskin also realised that she had lost some control over her brand, with her products being stocked at more than 200 boutiques nationally but her distinctive handbags being lost among shelves of other bags.

They bought in private equity investors, Daniel Besen and Richard Blumberg, who invested $1 million each to help the cash position and provide further expansion funds. And Briskin went back to basics – focusing on opening her own retail stores, introducing more luxurious products and improving margins by charging more. Handbags that used to sell for $100 were retailing for $350.

By 2003, Mimco was exporting to US, Britain, France and Japan. Revenue was estimated to be about $10 million, though revenue from exporting had fallen.

By 2006 it appeared that Briskin had at last got the strategy right. The company had expanded to nine stores, had 100 staff and revenue was estimated to have doubled to $20 million. Mimco was only selling through David Jones and their own boutiques. Briskin had very firm control over the brand and was very sure of her design and creative direction.

A representative of David Jones explained in an article that Briskin was considered part of the David Jones fashion family. Her strengths? She could read what’s right for the market, create a highly desirable label, oversee very good product development with great colour, design and materials.

By 2007, Mimco has 17 stand-alone stores, 34 David Jones outlets and employs over 200 staff. Briskin has always been cagey about talking revenue or profit. But we estimate that if she got a sale price of $45 million, her revenue was not far off that figure, meaning she has doubled revenue in the last few years. Amanda and David Briskin could make as much as $30 million after selling their 60% stake.

Gresham Private Equity, the private equity arm of Wesfarmers and owners of Witchery, will add Mimco to its stable of brands and is planning to expand the range of handbags, jewellery, beach hats and accessories by opening 10 stores a year.

But Briskin will not be part of those plans. She has not agreed to a work-out clause that ties many entepreneurs to their former businesses. Instead she is packing up and expects to be out of Mimco by the end of next month. Her marriage with her husband David broke up recently, although she denies that had anything to do with the pressures of business. In fact, she says, her hours in the past few years eased a bit. “My days became more fluid.”

What is truly remarkable is that at the end of the Mimco journey, Briskin sounds like she did at the start, talking about the passion and creativity that have defined her business. “I was completely stimulated and found it was about getting the brand and the vision right. And I am so bloody proud of my team!” she says.

Time will tell whether its new owners can take the brand to the next stage of growth without her.




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