Have you ever dreamed of opening your own boutique? It’s certainly a popular backup career plan for fashion-savvy individuals. But the reality of owning a shop is much more complicated than simply having an eye for style, as Laura Turner demonstrates.
Laura opened Hero, a fashion and lifestyle store in Hampshire, last year and has worked her cashmere socks off to make the business a success. Within five months Hero had outgrown its original space, and Laura had to move the boutique down the high street to a shop three times the size! I caught up with her to find out how she got into retail and created a thriving, vibrant business. So read on and feel inspired…
When did the idea for Hero come about? Had you always wanted to open your own boutique?
Well, no actually. Owning a bricks and mortar shop was never my aspiration. I didn’t grow up thinking it was my calling. Hero really came from a place of me wanting to do something for myself. I have a degree in marketing, and I used to work in financial services, but before opening Hero I’d spent five years at home bringing up my daughters, who are now five and seven. And, if I’m being brutally honest, I didn’t really enjoy that – I didn’t feel like I had my own identity.
I don’t regret staying at home with them, but it felt like I had stopped working prematurely. And since opening Hero I feel like I’ve found myself again. In a way, I’m able to do it all now… You know, being a mum, but also being a person.
Once you had the idea for Hero how did you go about making it happen?
One of the most fundamental things for me was having a business mentor. It was somebody I already knew, and we would meet informally. They not only gave me confidence, but also pointers into what I needed to look into if I was going to open my own shop.
That was the starting point, and from there I made a business plan because I knew that without a plan there would be no path to follow. A lot of people ask me, “How did you get the contacts?” And I literally sat at my computer searching for brands and reaching out to everyone until I was directed to the right person. It was from the ground up, so the learning curve was so steep.
We’re constantly hearing about “the death of the high street”, so were you nervous about opening a traditional bricks and mortar store?
Well, we have quite a strong online presence too, but I don’t think you can beat the feeling of coming in and touching things for yourself. I’ve always said to the girls working for me that obviously sales are important, but I also want people to leave the store feeling amazing. Even if they’ve just bought a packet of pencils or a candle they should feel like they’ve found something special.
Initially we opened Hero in quite a small shop at the end of the high street. It wasn’t in a prominent position, so it felt like we could open quietly and just see what the feedback was like. That was in October of last year, and things went so well that in March we moved into a larger shop right in the centre of the high street.
What does your typical day at Hero look like?
I go through all of my emails and social media before I take my daughters to school each morning, that way when I arrive at the shop at 9am I’m ready to go. I used to work in the city, where early mornings are de rigueur, so 9am actually feels quite late to me! Once I’m in the shop I’ll be busy all day unpacking deliveries, helping customers and buying for the new season. And, of course, there are all of the boring tasks too, like accounts.
Then, in the afternoon, I go off and pick up the girls from school. Over the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to take a step back from the day-to-day running of the shop, because I’ve got some wonderful people working for me. This means I’m able to focus more on the strategic side of the business and plan customer events for the New Year.
SHOP LAURA’S STYLE
What are the biggest challenges you face running your own boutique?
The biggest challenge over the last year has been balance. Putting all of your commitment into the shop and having a family is hard. It’s really important to me how I bring my children up. I want them to see me as a role model and somebody who works hard, but at the same time I want to be there for them and pick them up from school.
I haven’t really seen my friends or gone out for coffee at all this year, and that has been the biggest challenge. I don’t find the actual mechanics of running a business that hard. I can do that. And if I was at home I could do that. But it’s doing both really well that’s difficult.
And, on the flip side, what’s the best thing about running your own business?
The sense of achievement is just incredible! It’s great to see the reward at the end of all the hard work you put in. And I don’t just mean financially. Every day people come in and say how nice the shop is, or leave lovely comments on our Instagram feed, and I’m always bowled over by those kind of things.
How do you like to unwind after a long day at work?
It sounds so martyrish, but I don’t really unwind. If you own your own business you’re always working. Even on a day off I’ll go into the shop and empty the bins. But I like to do something with the girls every week – even if it’s just watching them at gymnastics or swimming practise. That always makes me humble again.
Which other women working in retail inspire you?
When I was first thinking about opening my own store Donna Ida was a big inspiration. I remember reading that, like me, she didn’t have a background in fashion or retail, but just felt it was something she would be good at. Donna actually hosted a denim clinic at Hero a few months ago and is was like a whirlwind. Her energy is incredible. I just like people who have an amazing work ethic, and who set a goal and work towards it.
But I mostly try not to look at other people. One of the main things I always say to the girls at Hero is, “We’re running our own race.” It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing, but you shouldn’t look sideways. You just need to look forwards.
And, finally, knowing what you know now, what one piece of career advice would you have given to yourself 10 years ago?
One of the big things for me now, compared to ten years ago, is that I am actually “me”. And whatever I do I always believe in my own instincts and have confidence in my decisions. Ten years ago I was always concerned by what other people might think, and I felt the need to do things a certain way because, “That’s the way it should be done.” But now I’ve got the confidence to be myself. You just have to be you and not worry, because there will always be an audience for you.
Shop at hero-online.co.uk, follow Hero on Instagram at @herostockbridge and visit the bricks and mortar store at Nomads House, High Street, Stockbridge, SO20 6HE. All photos courtesy of Hero Stockbridge by Monica Welburn.
And you can catch up on the previous My 9 to 5 interviews here >>