What is your business?
A local independent children’s clothing and accessories shop. One of my current suppliers is a family-run business specialising in beautifully hand-finished 100% cotton nightwear together with an assortment of soft toys including their lovable rag dolls. This company is supportive to various charities including ‘Mobile Crèches’ in India and ‘Chestnut Tree House’ a children’s hospice.
A second supplier works under the Fair Trade scheme with women in Bangladesh ensuring employment and fair wages are paid for the lovely quirky and organic soft toys they produce. This supplier is presently opening a school in the rural region of Khulna funded by sales of their knitted toys. Fair trade extends from this supplier through my business and ultimately on to my customer. It is important to me that the goods I stock are of a high quality, a little bit special and good value for money. I have made a conscious decision not to stock rows and rows of clothing in the same style but smaller quantities in unique designs from birth to approximately eight years of age.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up doing what you are doing now?
A mother of one and a grandmother of two I come from a banking background. During my time with the bank I had many roles including cashier, customer service official, mortgage lender and I spent a number of years as a lender in the small business sector. After 38 years of full time employment I availed of the bank’s voluntary leaving scheme two years ago. The business idea arose in a very simple way. A friend gave my new born granddaughter a present of a coat which I loved. I hadn’t seen anything like it before and being aware that Whitehead didn’t have a shop that provided children’s clothing I started to research the company involved.
Did you always want to run your own enterprise?
Having been in full time employment I hadn’t thought of opening a shop however recently I became aware of a group of ladies in Whitehead who were successfully heading up their own businesses and when the opportunity arose to start up a business alongside these enterprising ladies I was happy to do so. Whitehead is now a ‘happening’ place with lovely individual shops and it is a pleasure to be part of it.
What skills/qualifications do you require for this role?
An ability to interact with customers and effective communication skills are useful. A positive confident and determined attitude is beneficial along with the skill to work both independently and alongside others. Computer skills and knowledge of book keeping and banking are a bonus but I feel self-motivation is most critical to the success of any small business owner.
Has your business been affected by the current recession?
Having started in the business recently albeit in an improving economic recession, I am aware that the purchase of luxury items has suffered over recent years and that is one reason I strive to develop a loyal customer base ensuring that the goods I supply are both affordable and of excellent quality.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when setting up and what support did you get?
My biggest challenge was going ‘back to work’ after a two-year break although what I do now just doesn’t feel like work. I enjoy going to the shop each day and meeting either my own customers or the ladies who pop in to the wool shop beside me. I have received terrific support from my family and friends which included the building, painting and moving of furniture to the shop premises and the initial ordering and setting up of stock. My daughter who was the most encouraging was instrumental in developing the whole business venture and kept coming up with interesting ideas and answers.
On a business level Carrickfergus Enterprise has been very supportive, giving me valuable advice, introducing me to my own personal business mentor together with letting me have access to a number of online support seminars. It is reassuring to know that there people there who can help especially with areas of book keeping and taxation.
What three tips could you offer those considering starting their own business?
1. Develop a business plan and talk to Carrickfergus Enterprise about your ideas before going any further.
2. Ensure initial financing and family support is in place. Invariably set-up costs will always be more than you originally budgeted for so double check those figures.
3. Look around you – visit competitors and consider what your unique selling point is i.e. what sets you aside from the rest.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
As it is important to support local industry and especially the small business sector I would like to source some quality clothing or gifts crafted in both the North and South of Ireland. I am keen to build my own customer base and get the message out there that Whitehead has so much to offer today’s consumer.
What do you get up to in your free time?
I spend as much time as I can with my family and especially my two grandchildren – at four years and 12 weeks old they are great fun and keep me on my toes! I’m a fair weather gardener who likes to read knit and sew. I enjoy historical dramas and nights out for meals or shows with family and friends. I used to do a lot of walking but don’t seem to have the time now other than a quick trip to Whitehead lighthouse with Ruby, my collie.
If you could swap places with anyone who would it be and why?
I don’t know that I would want to swap with anyone however there is an eclectic mix of people I admire for many reasons. This list would include the singers Sarah McLachlan and Eva Cassidy; the writers Victoria Hyslop and of course Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. In fashion I think Coco Chanel had an interesting life and in the world of cosmetics I admire Bobbi Brown for her natural and organic style.