SME catches up with business partners Donna Clarke and Stephan Pavlou of MastaPlasta, an award-winning company based in North London
Tell us about MastaPlasta. What exactly do you do?
Donna: The idea behind MastaPlasta emerged when Stephan and I were running our own furniture company, designing and selling sofas and chairs. In fact MastaPlasta came about thanks to all the people that came into our shops not to buy! They all seemed to have one question: I have a hole in my sofa, how can I fix it? More than that, they had been to the upholsterers and leather restorers only to discover that mending a small hole in a sofa was more expensive and time-consuming than buying a new one. It’s the reason our landfills are overflowing with perfectly good furniture, and it was a problem we were all too aware of ourselves. If a sofa in our store was damaged, it instantly became pretty much unsellable. We had to bear the cost of taking the furniture back to our workshop and reupholstering it.
Stephan: As the financial crash began to bite, we gave ourselves a brief to create a repair product that could enhance rather than just repair, that was easy-to-use (no heat, no tools, no hassle), effective and cheap. The result was MastaPlasta, a “Band-Aid” to fix holes, burns, ink stains and rips in sofas – and so much more: car seats, leather jackets and bags see a lot of MastaPlastas. And customers have used them on some strange things – antique bellows, ballet shoes, inflatable beds…
When did you begin trading and what were the challenges in the early days?
Donna: We first had to get production sorted and we were determined to do that in the UK. When we approached manufacturers with this idea, we ended up meeting with the kind of people who were willing to look at a strange, novel product and take a chance – we’ve been with the same production team ever since! There have indeed been many challenges but, as a company, MastaPlasta has genuinely been putting smiles on our faces from day one. We are constantly developing our product. Initially we launched two colours in seven designs; we now have ten colours in ten designs. This includes two designs targeting our US market, the bald eagle and the stars and stripes, plus plain options. The sizes vary from 5 x 5cm to 28 x 20cm.
Stephan: We began trading right at the end of 2009. We launched a website and got brilliant feedback immediately – comments like: “Genius!”; “Why did no one ever think of this before?”; “The only thing better than a MastaPlasta is the name – brilliant!” We had zero budget so this feedback was our best publicity. We also did our own press releases and got into a few national newspapers and interiors magazines. In 2012 , we became a top holiday retailer on Amazon US, and soon after we became one of the first UK-based companies to be taken up by Amazon Retail – wholesaling to Amazon itself. We now work with some brilliant partners in the US.
You’ve since gone on to win some pretty impressive awards. Can you tell us what they are and how did it feel to win?
Stephan: This year we received two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise – for Innovation and for International Trade. The judging is an in-depth process and we were so proud that we had been scrutinised – from our export sales figures to our accounts – and found to meet the exacting standards. In fact we were the smallest of just five companies to win two awards, and the only company in London.
Donna: Stephan got to chat to both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace. And we headed straight from there to Westminster Palace – for an awards ceremony celebrating Intellectual Property champions. The next day, we just wanted to do it all again. It was just like a dream.
What do you think sets you apart from the competition?
Donna: An original idea means that you get a head start on the competition – they are the copycats that come later! We use our patent and other Intellectual Property rights, plus membership of the brilliant ACID (Anti-Copying In Design) to good effect.
Stephan: We love what we do and I think that is infectious. Suppliers and our wholesale customers feel like part of the MastaPlasta family and we are always ready to support each other.
Where do you hope the business will be in, say, five years’ time?
Donna: That will be 2022! If you check our birth certificates, I think we will all just be grateful if we are still around! We do have a new product coming out as part of MastaPlasta that I can’t wait to see up and thriving. And we have a whole new invention in the works.
Stephan: It’s all about increasing sales for MastaPlasta. We have lots of plans for online expansion in the works but it also means more large end-users like restaurant chains and also bricks-and-mortar stores.
If you had to sum up your approach to business in three words, what would they be?
Donna: Passion, honesty and commitment – sounds like a marriage!
Stephan: And fun – and ignoring three-word rules!