How many businesses do you need to have before you feel you have become a success or truly know you have found the right one? Call me a serial entrepreneur, someone attracted to shiny new things or a businesswoman with no patience – either way I’m working on my 3rd retail business and still focusing on making my first million! (aren’t we all?!)
Three businesses? “This woman is crazy” I hear you say, “what on earth is she doing?” you ask. There is logic to it, and each one has been a learning curve, and not a disaster story – no bankruptcy or liquidation stories here I’m afraid, but the truth is, I don’t always get it right, or choose the right path, or the right business for me, at the right time. Here’s my story….
Since 2015 I’ve ran (for long and short periods) 3 very different retail business… no dramatic endings to any of them – I’ve either wound one down or signed one over to my business partner… but the third, well I’m sticking with that one, as it’s working, more to tell you about that one later!
The first business was back in 2015 (so we’re not talking years and history of business history!), and I started a business in Vintage inspired clothing, accessories and gifts. It was my first go at my own business, I like vintage style and shabby chic style homeware and gifts. I was running it alongside the first couple of consultancy contracts I had won, so lots of the usual juggling, long hours, but always enjoyable. The business name was cleaver and great, Almost Vintage, but my mistakes here were:
- I didn’t know a huge amount about vintage styles. One of my good friends in graphic design is a vintage expert, she wears true vintage every single day, finds vintage treats and looks fabulous wearing it all. I only dabbled, I wasn’t obsessed, and I wasn’t an expert on all things vintage. I found writing copy for my site difficult as I didn’t know my fit n flare era from my wiggles. I just didn’t really, truly know the market, product or customer base… it was a hobby business.
- On the gift side, the shabby chic / vintage inspired market was huge, and saturated, every retailer was buying the same stock from the same- 4-5 key suppliers. Where was my point of difference, my USP? I couldn’t deliver anything unique.
- My stock holding was pretty extensive. I had a large supplier base (from my buyer training I wanted a wide range of suppliers all offering different products). But the minimum orders were crippling, £500 here and there, I was placing orders to get one style of dress back in stock, but having to spend 40-50% more than I wanted to, to meet MOQs
I realised all of this, knew that I would need to gain a lifetimes worth of vintage knowledge, inject a huge amount of money in the business each season to buy new stock. So, I closed up and enjoyed wearing most of my stock and selling most of my homeware off to cover the cost. All in all, a fun 18 months without too big a loss. Just a steep learning curve.
Biz number two was pretty recent, last Summer. A friend and I bought an existing business run by a friend. The business is fancy dress for babies, toddlers and kids. Gorgeous products. The previous owner was a whizz with SEO and social media, but not great with product development and sourcing. The mistakes here were:
- The partnership was between two people who mostly has exactly the same skills, i.e. product. We had a huge skills gap in SEO and websites. We needed some help.
- We bought the business at a very busy and stressful time – October, and Halloween was a huge part of the range. It was a “hit the ground running” start to the business
- Cash – we had a small supplier base, and since the business was founded 5 years earlier, the market had opened up and we had more competitors. We needed to create out own range of products. To do this we need cash, and a lot of it.
- Speed and Impatience – that was me. I wanted to move at a million miles and hour, my lovely business partner wanted to take the slow and steady route. The difference was that I needed the business to earn a profit quickly, but we realized it would be sometime before we could take a salary.
After a long discussion because I had other things going on in my RBQ business, my partner took over sole ownership of the business. She was quite happy to work slowly and steadily, at her pace, and didn’t need to take an income as soon as I did. It was all on good terms, we meet and brainstorm, I help her out from time to time, and she is quite happy doing what she loves and learning as she goes along.
Business number 3, Virtual Racing Uk. Formed from a discussion with my sister during a challenging time if my life. She was ferrying me to hospital for some treatment and every week we would brainstorm different ideas. Our business isn’t the original, nor the oldest in the market, but we took a concept, ripped it apart and set to work on improving it and progressing it.
If you don’t know the concept, we host virtual fitness challenges each month, run, walk, cycle, swim a specific distance in your own time, own place and get rewarded with a medal. We donate 20% to charities for each challenge. It’s simple really – although my husband and brother in law struggled to understand the concept!
We have just celebrated our first birthday and have reached some key milestones that I wanted to share with you, to demonstrate that adopting a few strategies and rules, can make the difference between an ok and a thriving business.
Grown our facebook page from 0 to over 8000 in 15 months
Grown from offering 1 medal per month to 4-5
Created a lively interactive community on facebook through regular posts, sharing successes and encouraging our crowd to show us their pics, celebrate their successes.
Top 2% of performing shopify sites
25% success rate of recovering an abandoned basket
55% loyal customer rate
What makes it work?
- Niche – we mainly sell one type of product (we have since branched out into a few other related products)
- Market – we know who we want to target, and everything is aimed at them. Yes, we do attract other customers – but they come along organically
- Advertising – we spend a LOT on advertising, but we get a great ROI
- Regular newsletters and updates – they don’t all have to super lengthy either
- Nurture and attend to our crowd. Yes, we do reply to messages at 11pm, we do reply to every email and we do respond to each comment on social media – it works
- Quality – always at the forefront of our products – get the quality right and they will stay loyal to you. We have such a high rate of repeat customers, and now those customers are spending more with us – they have got to know us, like us and trust us
- Be aware of the competition – I regularly seek out our competitors, order from them, look at what they are doing. Without getting upset or obsessive… some hit the mark, others are way off and that makes us feel happy!
- Partnerships are great once you iron out the creases – we’ve had arguments and bust ups, but we now have clear defined roles. We know what each other’s strengths are.
- Set a good solid set of values, what will your business be about, what matters to you and your customers?
Why have I shared my story? Well I didn’t think it right to share just my knowledge about working for the big boys, multiples such as Matalan, Home Bargains, Poundstretcher, LFC and BBC Children in need. You needed to read the small stuff too, because that matters to you, and we have a connection, we’re in the same sector together.
Without the full story you will think… It’s ok for her when she was in that job, she had loads of money to spend, loads of people to help, systems and assistants, big budgets. In some organisations that’s true, in others, it’s not (people wise). Working for the multiples can be restrictive, you can’t be nimble, you can’t buy the latest product NOW, without having to have 5 board meetings and discussing it with 20 departments. But everything I learnt since 1995 has been useful, and I have been able to adapt that knowledge to working my own small business. Some are same principles, smaller budget! Handling multi-million-pound budgets is pressure itself, but it wasn’t my money, and now it is. There’s a huge difference. I understand the importance of thinking out every decision, analysing every penny spent in my business and spending every hour working in my business as efficiently and effectively as possible.
I don’t have an assistant – I have my parents and kids who help me pack parcels, drop off at the post office, I have a great VA who I don’t use as often as I’d like as I’m careful about what we spend, and I have a good network of suppliers… from Helen at the post office to our envelopes and label suppliers. And yes, I don’t spend £1000’s of pounds with them just yet but I still meet with them, explain how I need reliable suppliers and keep them updated owth our business progress…as we grow, so does our spend with them. It’s all about relationship building.
It also helps greatly that my sister and I have complimentary skills and talents, and yes, we had some teething problems, where Dad had to intervene in arguments, but we’re though it no, we trust each other and it’s working. We now have a growing 6 figure business, and we have lots of plans for growth, diversifying and moving it forward. We have reinvested every penny back into the business so far but are able to take incomes from the business. We monitor every payment in and out of the business, handle every email and post every parcel out ourselves. It’s been hard work, but fun, exciting and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I hope my learnings will help you in your business, and this experience will help me in my training and teaching for clients… because I now truly understand all sizes and stages of retail business and appreciate the pressures on small retail businesses.
If you like what you have read, and want to join in and be part of an amazing community of small retailers, why not sign up for my VIP membership club. For £10 per month, you get access to me, my masterclasses, and a monthly session with a guest expert. It’s a small investment to make in your business, that will very soon see your investment turn into growing numbers in your sales. >>JOIN HERE<<