My beautiful shop

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  • [PAGEBREAK]Your retail dream

    Siân Rees talks to three women who have opened the shop of their dreams

    If opening your own unique shop is a career move you are considering, these women’s stories could inspire you in to action!

    TV retail guru Mary Portas has shared her top tips on how to make your shop work. Don’t miss out!

    [PAGEBREAK]The Furniture Store

    Karen Nash, 42, is married to Andrew, 46. They live in Farnham, Surrey with their three children.

    Old Job: Airline stewardess.
    New Job: Runs The French Trading Company, a furniture store which opened in 2003.
    First year earnings: Turnover £150,000 (now around £250,000).
    Start up Costs: £20,000.

    “We’ve spent many happy holidays in France and I’ve always loved French furniture, which has a light, feminine feel. One year I bought a sofa table and a small armoire, which I arranged to be sent to my home. I followed that up with requests from a friend, then other friends. Since I had given up work to have children, it was easy for this to spiral into a business.

    I found a beautiful Georgian building, which is perfect to show off my stock, including dressing tables, Valbonne chairs, mirrors and cushions. Initially, I was worried that being off the main shopping area in Farnham might mean we’d miss out on passing trade, but that’s worked for us, as it meant lower overheads.

    Since I don’t have a business background, I’ve made the most of the services offered by Business Link and I joined The British Shops and Stores Association. At first, I got the stock levels wrong, but I’ve now negotiated with reliable suppliers to receive good stock more regularly, which keeps the shop looking fresh.

    I’ve built up relationships with magazine stylists, who borrow goods to use in glossy photo shoots, and we’ve also launched an online service. Our key value is definitely good service and I’m happy to spend hours sourcing a particular item for someone.

    I have four staff and now make a living out of the shop. In fact, I earn three times what I did as cabin crew, even though I work part-time. I get a great sense of satisfaction when the shop is at its best and when it does look wonderful, we sell more.”

    MY WORST MISTAKE Not getting stock levels right at the start.
    MY BEST MOVE Choosing a less central location for a lower lease.
    TOP TIP Don’t over-stretch yourself. Write a business plan and work out your finances, so that you’re not surprised by extra costs.
    IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT MORE, call 01252-723019;

    Don’t miss our ten tips from Mary Portas on how to make your shop a success.

    [PAGEBREAK]The Knitting Shop
    Susan Cropper, 48, is married to Steven, 50, a business analyst. They live in London and have three children.

    Old Job: Art director and graphic designer.
    New Job: Opened Loop, a knitting shop, in 2005.
    First year earnings: Turnover of £150,000.
    Start up Costs: £75,000.

    My grandmother taught me to knit when I was six and my mother had a loom, so our bathroom was always full of wool she had just dyed. I think that’s why I’ve always loved textiles.

    Several years ago, I started seeing more knitting and crochet around and realised it was time to take advantage of it. One morning I woke up and said to myself, ‘That’s it – I’m going to open a beautiful little knitting shop.’

    I was freelancing, so in between jobs I did some research. The yarn available in the UK seemed to come from one producer, who supplied John Lewis, so I had no competition. I flew to the U.S. a few times and met with knitting shop owners. Then I spent months sourcing yarns and developing relationships with distributors. My husband pushed me to make a business plan, which was invaluable, as it made me think about other things like public liability insurance and business rates.

    When I found a charming shop, I jumped at the chance of leasing it and put notices up on knitting sites to attract customers – word spread quickly.

    I work four days a week and have three staff, but for the first year I worked like a demon. I was in the shop all day, went home to make dinner for the family, then carried on until the wee hours most nights. You need to do that to give a business a chance to succeed.

    I wanted customers to walk into my shop and be seduced by the colours and textures of the wool and I think we’ve managed that. We also have a deck outside where people can sit and relax and we hold all sorts of knitting classes and workshops.

    You can’t put a big mark up on yarn, so I’ll never be rich with a shop like this, but I’m proud of what I’ve created and I’m happy, as long as it pays for itself.”

    MY WORST MISTAKE Not hiring a bookkeeper. My husband did the accounts on top of his full-time job for the first year and it was heavy going.
    MY BEST MOVE Hiring warm, friendly and knowledgeable staff.
    TOP TIP Running your own business is very stressful, so try to relax and enjoy it when things are going well.
    IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT MORE, call (020) 7288 1160;

    Don’t miss our ten tips from Mary Portas on how to make your shop a success.

    [PAGEBREAK]The Girly Boutique

    Clare Collard, 40, lives in Essex with her two sons and her partner Steve, 31. She runs Yumyum Jelly with her sister Sally Downes, 43, who is married to Andy, 46. They have two children.

    Old Job: Insurance project manager.
    New Job: Opened Yumyum Jelly boutique in 2004.
    First year earnings: Turnover was £150,000, but they ploughed most of the profit back into the business.
    Start-up Costs: £50,000.

    We have a lot of fun running our shop. When we entered a recent retail awards competition, instead of sending the usual head and shoulder shot, we stripped off and took up Christine Keeler poses behind a large chair. It was worth it for the publicity!

    Sally and I had often talked about opening a shop, but it wasn’t until we found a space in a listed building that we realised how it would work. It’s on several floors and I immediately had a vision of a girly store selling lingerie, jewellery and other gorgeous things.

    Starting up was a struggle. We had to really convince the rather fusty board of old men who own the lease to rent to us. And the banks refused to lend to us, as we hadn’t been in business before, so we had to fund it with personal loans. Before the refit, the space was hideous. We kept costs down by doing a lot of the painting ourselves, splurging on the duck egg blue paint for the exterior and an antique mirror that I think makes the shop.

    We only pay ourselves £408 a month, which is the minimum you can make before paying tax, as we’re determined to plough as much as possible back into the business.

    Before we opened we’d find designers via the Internet. But more and more people now come directly to us, which is great, but you need lots of tact to reject some of the goods. Deciding what to buy is still a process of trial and error and we do make mistakes. We recently bought 700 bright purple feather dusters. They are selling all right, but the feathers are everywhere and we absolutely cannot wait to get rid of them.

    I’m keen to make the shop a real girly club. We have pampering nights for regular customers, with free massages, a glass of wine and discounts, and I’d love to extend these. The shop’s become our life – it’s hard work, but we absolutely love it.”

    Sally says:We want our customers to be so excited when they take away their purchases that they can’t wait to unwrap the tissue paper. However, it’s definitely not a dreamy, glamorous existence. We do all our own ordering, accounts and even deliveries. One day Clare turned up with a dressing table crammed into her car. The legs were sticking out of the windows and her two children were squeezed in between!

    I tend to take responsibility for the display, the returns to the wholesalers and general administration, while Clare concentrates on marketing, PR and the website. She’s always coming up with ideas for promotions, like giving everyone a flower and our card at a local florist on Mothers’ Day. I’ve been on business courses and if we don’t know how to tackle something we’ll research it or ask our contacts. Luckily, it’s working.”

    OUR WORST MISTAKE Mistakenly buying underwear in sizes that wouldn’t fit even a Barbie doll!
    OUR BEST MOVE Poaching our manager Karen Denney from a rival shop.
    TOP TIP Always treat customers well, whether they spend £1 or £1,000.

    Don’t miss our ten tips from Mary Portas on how to make your shop a success

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