Mumpreneur Profile: Laura of JojoMamanBebe

Name of Business: JoJo Maman Bébé

Maternity & Nursing – Baby & Child – Nursery & Toys

Laura and her sons
Laura and her sons

Your Name and Age: Laura Tenison MBE, Founder & Managing Director, age 42

Tell us about your family

I have two children and would have liked to have at least four! I am married to a Chicago Law criminal defense barrister.

What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?

Before launching JoJo I was working in Brittany, France. I have always been involved with design, fashion and retail.

What were your own experiences of feeding your baby?

Running very hands-on company and not wanting to be a part-time mother, I was concerned about how I would juggle the baby and my work. When I had my first child, 13 years ago, JoJo was a very small company and I could not take maternity leave or afford a full time nanny. I brought the baby to work with me and he spent a great deal of the day sleeping – which of course meant he wanted to play most of the night! This was great apart from the fact I really survived on virtually no sleep. However, it meant I could breastfeed him at will. I am extremely lucky to have had this chance.

When did you launch your business?

JoJo was launched in 1994.

How did you get started?

I had sold my previous business based in France and wanted to offer some decent maternity wear alongside a collection of baby styles with a French nautical style theme. I had noticed the gap in the market for interesting styles available to pregnant women, especially by mail order and decided to fill it. The bank matched my start-up capital of £50,000 which was the proceeds from selling my business in France.

What research did you do before launching?

I carried out a huge market research survey – far too big! I handed out about 10,000 questionnaires to new mums trying to establish what they really wanted from my new collection. After reading 100 responses, I realized I should have only handed out 1,000!  Maternity wear was in biggest demand and our nursing collection followed.

How does the business help mums to breastfeed?

We offer more nursing styles than any other multi-channel company in the UK – with everything for for breastfeeding including fashion style, cleaverly cut to allow discreet nursing. Our collection includes dresses, tops, swim and sleepwear and of course lots of bras. In addition we offer a great breast pump – after years of research we still consider the Medela pump to be the most effective and best value for money. We have a selection of nursing cushions, which are really helpful for mothers with a tendency to backache – as I had. Plus we offer a great value nursing chair and footstool which is a very worthwhile investment if you intend to nurse your baby for several months.

How do you promote your business? What has worked best?

JoJo is multi-channel, we have a free 200 page catalogue which we are happy to send, call 0871 423 5656, a website and 23 stores across the country.

What has worked well about your business?

Our attention to detail, good quality clothing collections and innovative products ensure we are unique in the market. Our products are designed in-house and unique which ensures we have little competition.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?

Opening stores is extremely costly and obviously in the current economic climate funding is hard to secure. However, we are determined to remain an independent company for as long as possible. Our company ethos is to put a great deal of time and effort into our staff, our customer service and our company charity. These values are expensive and obviously cut into our profit margins. We are determined to pursue our goals to grow the company without diluting our brand ethos, which means we will almost certainly continue to expand organically.

How do you fit in work with the family?

JoJo is naturally a child friendly company. We try to allow school work patterns with many of our teams working hours around their children. We try to employ parents and in some cases our employees work from home via computer log in. I have this option wherever I go and ensure that I can always respond to my emails – even on holiday. I work from home most evenings so that I can spend time in the house with my children – I often stop work at 4pm, collect them from school do homework, dinner, baths, etc, then get back to work. Fortunately my husband also works from home a lot in the evenings – we have a study each and leave the doors open so we can talk to each other as work!

What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?

Expect to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for up to 5 years before you make any money. Every penny needs re-investing and even now I take very little money out of the business, despite a turnover of £20M.

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