"Start Small And Often!"

Beryl Hobbs, Hellerslea Fabrics, Newport

I started small.

My husband was at work, I had young children and we needed more money.

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I put my sewing skills to work. I bought my first sewing machine with £33 my granny left me.

I took in clothes to do repairs and alterations for neighbours. Word spread and soon I was doing quite a lot. Then I started to provide alterations for local tailors. It all got so successful, I had to make a change.

So we started buying fabrics in London and making clothes to order. And that got busy too. 

Eventually, I decided I needed somewhere bigger than my front room at Hellerslea, in Caesars Road. The queues had become quite an obstacle course. 

I noticed a shop to rent on the High Street in Newport. I bought the lease for £6 per week – for 21 years. I must have been confident! 

It worked well and the landlord suggested I buy the whole shop. My first reaction was – “it's too much money!”. But I was offered a loan and the bank manager also said yes if I could guarantee  £1000 (in the 1960's - worth over £10,000 nowadays). My Mum did that for us.

Then I became famous for being the first on the Island to make quilted coats...

Commentary by Dave Simon

The New High Street

The town centre has suffered.

Numerous national chains have closed. Banks are all but gone. Charity shops – while they do a great job – devalue their neighbours offerings.

Online shopping is so convenient. And cheaper, often, too.

But CarpetRight had a “sharp deterioration” and Toys'R'Us has closed. Out-of-town megastores are losing their appeal. And online stores like Amazon are turning to bricks-&-clicks.

To survive, retail businesses must adapt to changing consumer demands and competitor developments. Not only with new products and services, but also with new marketing and selling strategies.

The Internet is not the enemy. High Street businesses can exploit the Information Highway to amplify promotion channels. It costs much less than most other forms of advertising.

And it can help you understand consumers and give them what they want, how they want it nowadays. This can help you:

  • benefit from them recommending friends to you

  • respond to unfair online criticism

  • persuade customers to return to you for their next purchase

  • reduce complaints and deflect anger away from twitter and facebook

  • increase the amount they happily spend with you

  • reduce returns and reduce after-sales costs

For more inspiration: 21 Ways To Stop Online Competition Sinking Your Shop

My Early Beginnings

My first job was as a typist. I'd trained in shorthand and business skills at school. 
That wasn't because I knew I wanted to go into business – I was just attracted to the course. In those days, there were small shops on every corner. Family businesses were a way of life everywhere.

Later, married and with young children, I had to find a way to make some money for the family. My husband worked, so I needed to do something that worked around 4-year-olds when my mum couldn't babysit.


Constant Development

In my industry, fashions lead commercial developments. 
Every time I pushed forwards into a new area, competitors caught up. Then they bit into my profit. But I'm a determined person so I kept on going, searching for the next way forward.

As a seamstress, I turned my hand to different forms of work. Family, neighbours, new customers, tailors and then becoming a tailor. In each area, I started small and built up a volume of work.

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Constant Learning

As a business owner, I also had to learn as I went. Taking on the shop was the best decision I ever made for my business. 

I did not know much about leasing and buying commercial properties. I had to seek advice. And when my solicitor advised me against what seemed like a good funding option, I had to think seriously about the implications.

But we got in and I took £200 in the first week - that was so exciting! And such a relief.

Self-Reliance Is Vital

Working for the family, I've always felt that profit was 100% important. That's why I was in business – it was a very simple. I was absolutely determined to find a way I could make money.

Throughout, life in business was always long hours and hard work. Again, it was determination that kept me going. But when you know you are doing it for your family, it just feels natural.

These days, youngsters are allowed to expect to be helped, so they are almost prevented from trying to work for themselves. As a child, I had to walk 4 miles to and from school. Doing that daily creates a capacity for grit and resilience. You learn that you can often do more than you think you can.

Yet More Change

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But after a while, I realised that competitor shops had started to bring in cheaper clothes. That was because manufacturers increased standardised mass production methods. So I started to focus on sewing projects for people with unusual shapes and sizes.

And then I went over to selling fabrics and sewing accessories. We drove up to London and even Manchester to buy from wholesalers. We still buy regularly from one of the original men in London. We've become friends over the years.

We extended into the back garden. And we opened up the upstairs as a hairdressers. My daughter had just qualified and so it was obvious to let her start up in the salon. And later, we extended it out over the ground-floor extension.

Pushiness And Politeness

I didn't get much advice. People used to assume that shop-owners were rich, so they were the ones who were expected to give other people business advice. That meant I had to think everything through for myself.

I tended to be impulsive and bossy about big decisions. My judgement usually came out alright, so I got more confident as we went on. It has been pretty reliable for the 60 years since I started out.

But also, I think it was important that I worked hard to be likeable. We always welcome customers warmly and give them lots of advice along with their purchases. I'm sure that's one reason we became quite popular.

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