Your Name and Age:
Allison Graham 43Tell us about your family:
I’ve been happily married to my husband Steve for 19 years although we have been together since we were 15 (28 years!). We have 2 children together, Liam who is 15 and Ryan who is 13. We live in Rixton, near Warrington – we moved soon after the boys were born, to be closer to our parents.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
I left school with 4 O’levels, and went straight into a YTS scheme for 5 years. I had a few administrative jobs, and displayed a natural ability to organise – so I gradually worked my way up to a Managerial position.
When we started our family, I was passionate about becoming a stay-at-home mum, ensuring I was there for them at all times – including organising fancy dress outfits for Book-Weeks, and traditional birthday parties.
As the boys became older and more independent, I started to do some part-time work again just to supplement our income, working around the boys completely. We were mainly living off Steve’s wage – which was proving a little difficult, but with extra shifts and part-time sales work, we just managed.
When I started my own business – it was built entirely on something I could fit around looking after the boys – dropping parcels at the post office on the way to collect them from school, etc.
It was when the business really took off that I decided that I needed to dedicate all my available time to it – and the boys were old enough for me to do that with additional support from my husband, our parents and extended family. It is still tough not being there for every moment, but it is really exciting at the same time – as I know we are building something that is very special.
When did you launch?
I launched Party Delights in 2001 running the business initially from our spare bedroom and garage – I was literally running out of space when the business had to expand into new premises in around 2003.
How did you get started?
I have always wanted our children to have enjoyable birthday parties at home, with themes to suit their interests – and fun and games that the guests would remember. I have never been able to gel with idea of taking them to a generic venue to play in a ball-pool and spend great expense on ‘overpriced’ food and drinks. It just seems a bit soulless.
The eureka moment was born out of frustration – I was trying to source Spiderman themed partywear and I just couldn’t find a complete range of accessories anywhere.
Even the party departments and areas in major toy retailers was sporadic and random – it was a real challenge for me – and I am sure a lot of other parents – who are time pressured and want to get it right for their child’s party.
I went home and started to search online. After fruitlessly browsing through pages of “odd items” for hours, I started to consider the notion of filling the need myself.
What research did you do before launching?
I’d looked in all the major toy retailers and supermarkets as well as online and couldn’t find anything that came close to providing what I wanted.
I realised that I couldn’t just be the only one who struggled with creating the perfect themed party and so it seemed natural to launch a dedicated party website.
After my initial idea I spoke with Steve, my husband, and Paul Shuttleworth our business partner, and the three of us also did a lot of investigative work into fully understanding the products that were available, supply chains, delivery times, postage and distribution and online businesses generally.
How have you funded the business?
We initially funded the business ourselves – reinvesting everything we made to help the business grow. Stock was purchased on our credit cards – and it would often prove a little tricky in regard to the high investment in stock we had to make.
I didn’t take a wage and Steve & Paul still had their full-time jobs and spent every spare moment available working on the business. Initially, the banks weren’t interested but thankfully we had a lot of help from family and friends.
How do you promote your business? What has worked best?
We invest a lot in advertising online – ensuring that we come high up in search results for the top key words associated with parties – that’s essential for any online business.
Key-words can also change seasonally to link to calendar and topical events and so we ensure we cater for these on our website and in our online advertising.
What has worked well about your business?
I think the product range we offer is key to our success. We are constantly looking into new ranges and new concepts to really drive the business forward. I am still heavily involved in the product selection – I have an instinctive feeling when something is right for the site, and often it becomes one of our winners.
We have had only a handful of unsuccessful products but nothing major – it’s a learning curve that we all have to experience. With recently launching “Delights.co.uk” as a wider offer – to all sorts of new products and markets. Wedding Delights is just one direction that we have taken so far, there are plenty more on the horizon which is very exciting.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?
The biggest challenge was working every hour we could to get the business going and to sustain it.
I was lucky as my Godmother and her partner were always on hand to look after the kids.
Before Steve and Paul came on board full-time, they were both working full-time at their day-job’s and then spending evenings helping me out.
It was difficult and we didn’t get a break from it until we expanded into new premises and started to employ more people. We are still very much hands on even today, but with a great team to support us, we are moving towards greater success.
How do you fit in work with the family?
The boys are a lot older and more independent now but when they were younger, we very much relied on family and friends to look after them.
They understand that this is a family business and that needs a lot of our time to help it grow, but they have constant family around them – and Steve and I use our time and working patterns in the most effective way to maximise our family time.
We have a great team of people on board now at Delights.co.uk whom I’m fully confident in and so we are no longer working the 18-hour days that we used to.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?
If you have a great idea and the research suggests it will work then – just keep at it!
I think you know when you’re onto something special and you just need the determination and support of your family and friends to make it happen.
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