Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

05 November 2015

Question time with Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress

At the age of 25 Oliver Tress, inspired by his love of design and worldwide travels, opened his first Oliver Bonas store on Fulham Road selling beautiful homeware and jewellery.  

Now with 45 stores in London, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Tunbridge Wells & Scotland, (as well as an online store) the brand is bigger than ever. Oliver continues to work with his team and live by the company motto: work hard, play hard & be kind.

We asked him some questions ahead of his upcoming appearance at the British Library on the 18 November

Oliver Tress
Photo credit: Oliver Bonas

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea for my business came to me whilst at university. I was going on holidays to Hong Kong where my parents were living  and I would bring presents back for friends - and so it grew from there. 

What steps did you take to get started?

It was all very ad hoc.  Initially I just brought more products with me, and sold them on to friends.  Next I started selling at charity events and then opened the first shop in Fulham. I bought a second hand till for £60, painted the shop white and opened the door.

How do you decide what products and designs are sold by Oliver Bonas?

We are relaxed about the type of product we sell – whatever feels right at the time.  We want to make sure we love the product. It must be special in some way that differentiates it from products available elsewhere. We passionately believe in the power of good design, so every product must really earn its shelf space.

Oliver Bonas 1
Photo credit: Oliver Bonas

What has been the greatest reward of owning your own business?

The sense of achieving something entirely on your own terms. I measure success in terms of freedom and opportunity.  The more successful the business is, the greater the exciting the opportunities and the freedom to express yourself.

What advice would you give to designers trying to get their products sold by retail stores? 

They must understand their market in terms of retailer and end user.  Is the product exciting enough and good enough quality to move a customer to buy it and tell their friends about it?  And they need to be commercial – is the price right, and can the retailer make enough margin to make it worth their while?


Oliver Tress will be at the British Library during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015 to share his expert business knowledge with you. Joining Oliver on the event panel are Deborah Meaden (Dragons' Den), Emma Bridgewater (Emma Bridgewater Pottery) and Lord Karan Bilimoria (founder of Cobra Beer). Get your tickets here



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