This story is about…
Female Entrepreneur: Geraldine Hurd
Company Name: Betty and Belle
Age Range: 40s
What motivated you to start your business?
It was a desire to provide a truly special experience for ladies who had undergone surgery that was the driving passion behind Betty and Belle. We could have easily gone down the mail order, online route but after almost a year of research speaking to many breast care nurses etc. We knew we had to open a shop. We could have opened an adequate mastectomy lingerie shop but then thought about exactly what experience we would love to have, and decided to create the most gorgeous shop we could imagine. We also have an in-house holistic therapist.
I volunteered for two years with Macmillan cancer care at Trafford general hospital where I met many breast cancer survivors. This gave me the grounding and training to cope with any situation that could arise and the tools to deal with it. The Macmillan team are still very dear friends who are always on hand with advice.
Tell us about your business.
Betty and Belle lingerie shop opened its doors in July 2007 and has grown from strength to strength over the last 5 years.
It was built on providing ladies who have undergone any kind of surgery, from post cancer to cosmetic, gorgeous lingerie in a gorgeous setting. It then widened to incorporate non wired bras, maternity and sports and now we specialise in bridal, bigger and smaller cups.
What is a day in the life of you like?
My day varies so much depending on what aspect of the business needs the most attention. I mainly cover the shop and PR marketing side. My background in lingerie design and graphics means I can design all of the advertising and promotional material.
Most days I work from the shop and fit the ladies that need specialist help (I usually have a team of three ladies at any time that work in the shop on an everyday basis)
I may be contacting hospitals/breast care nurses/mid wives etc. for the post surgery/maternity side of the business and liaising with bridal shops etc. for the direct referral of customers.
I was recently on Radio Manchester the other Saturday and Monday promoting the shop with one of my post-surgery ladies for breast cancer awareness month, then we were at a “Mums and Baby” show where we had a stand on another Saturday, and then a bridal show on the Sunday. On another day I visited the local hospitals to give out new brochures.
Any spare time I am designing our new bridal brochure and creating two new adverts for the local paper, answering any emails and telephone enquiries from our webshops.
What have been the challenges so far with running your own business?
The challenges with a specialist retail business in this economic climate are many. We opened in 2007 just as the recession really kicked in. The initial product choice was tricky but eventually, over the last five years, we now understand our target market and the products we need to stock.
The main challenges are keeping the stock levels down (in lingerie there are a lot of sizes for each individual style) and managing the cash flow. Even though it’s underwear it is still very seasonal. Constantly re-evaluating your business (to optimise sales and deciding which aspect of the business to concentrate on) is always very challenging.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I have a fantastic financial partner who helps me keep a check on the cost of my stock and what I should spend on new seasonal products each year. If you rule with your heart (as I do) then you definitely need to have a business partner or advisor that rules with their head! We constantly evaluate the sales and stock levels.
By having numerous webshops it allows a spread of sales at different times of the year so stabilising our cash flow, without too many peaks and troughs.
I try and prioritise the areas of the business I should be concentrating on according to the seasons and roughly plan what I need to achieve each month (PR/stock take/re design of websites etc.)
What have you found to be the most effective way to get new clients?
Direct marketing. This is definitely the most effective way for my business to get new clients. As we are a specialist lingerie retailer I rely on hospitals/breast cancer groups/surgeons sending post surgery patients. Bridal shops recommend our service for bridal underwear, midwives and mother and baby related businesses send customers directly, I also advertise in sports centres, local newspapers and magazines, and feature regularly on local BBC radio.
What advice would you give to other business owners?
Whatever your initial guestimate is for the cost of opening your business – double it! Factor in your salary. Initially you may not be able to take one for the first 6 months/year, but definitely do not keep this up. You must pay yourself or you have a flawed business plan. Enjoy the job (you can forget to do this when you are stressed with overheads and staffing issues etc.) Surround yourself with loyal staff and make sure you reward then. Even a bottle of wine and a ‘thank you’ card can let them know you appreciate them. Never turn down an opportunity to promote your business even if you are terrified at the thought of speaking at a conference/trade show etc. Free advertising is the best – you are the best advocate for your business so get out there and spread the word. Pay as little as possible for advertising newspapers/magazines etc. Never never pay the initial rate, always haggle and it will drop dramatically. Be prepared to close the business if your are losing too much money. Do not start to remortgage houses etc. if the business is seriously failing. Do not get too sentimentally attached that you cannot be objective. Always take a holiday. The business will not fall apart without you, no matter how essential you may think you are!
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Having a business advisor who can talk through the bigger picture and keep you focussed on the end goal.
Realising that trends can be seasonal and it’s not the end of your business, it may just be a seasonal dip in sales.
Having a fantastic team around you so that you can take time out – lift your head up from the day to day duties and give yourself time to work on the business strategy.
Walk the dogs, get some air and think outside the box – don’t panic!
Great family and friends for support.
What’s your favourite quote?
I know it’s corny but it’s true:
“Turnover is vanity – Profit is sanity – Cash is reality”
Who inspires you?
I do have a soft spot for Hilary Devey
Do you have a business philosophy?
Be brave but not reckless.
Have fun but keep a sensible head.
Surround yourself with people who are the strengths to your weaknesses.
Constantly access the business and don’t be afraid to diversify or even close it if you are not making money.
Get in touch…
Geraldine was the winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the 2012 Specsavers everywoman in retail awards.