Hi, I’m Shirley Goodgroves, 44. I’m married to Roger and I have 2 children age 19 and 13 plus 2 older stepchildren and a loopy cocker spaniel called Baxter. We live in a village in South Buckinghamshire. I run Two Birds London which specialises in practice wear and club uniforms for performance sports such as ice skating, roller skating, gymnastics, swimming. Our clients are widespread with one of them being Lone Godbersen, the danish flying superkids coach. Before I set up this company, I had a wide and varied working life doing everything from customer services to project management for a telelcommunications company to interior design. I used to think this was a ‘bad career’ as I hadn’t stuck to any one thing but now running my own business, I’m really glad as I’ve actually got experience in most business departments and this has proved invaluable in keeping all the various balls in the air when you’re a solo entrepreneur.
I got into this business when I got involved in creating and blinging (adding rhinestones) the costumes for my daughter skating team and I was constantly being asked if I could make dresses for skaters at the rink. Based on speaking to those skaters and the other enquiries I was getting, I put together a small stall of dresses in a variety of sizes, styles and colours in February 2015. I quickly discovered that nobody really wanted dresses and if they did, then I never had the right size or colour on the stall or they wanted to make substantial changes to it. It was a bit of a disaster to be honest. What they *were* asking for was if I had any jackets or leggings and so after a major rethink I relaunched with a trial batch of jackets and leggings sourced from a Belgian supplier which did MUCH better. I also offered personalisation of the jackets which was very popular – all the kids wanted their name in crystals on the back of their jackets and even today this is my most popular add on product. The business has grown slowly from very small beginnings and everything that I’ve bought has been funded from my personal investment into stock and equipment.
To promote my business I use social media a LOT – the kids might wear my practicewear but it’s the mums who buy it, and the mums hang out on Facebook so this is where I’ve put most of my time and effort into. Word of mouth is also a big help and so I worked hard to get as stall at as many skating competitions as possible in the first couple of years.
The biggest break I’ve had so far in terms of sales was when a skating shop owner saw lots of people start talking about my skating leggings on one of the Facebook pages and contacted me to ask if she could place a small wholesale order. To be honest, I actually thought it was a scam at first and so didn’t get back to her but she called me a couple of days later and was still really interested. I then had to scramble to put together a wholesale price list as I’d never considered selling wholesale and so didn’t have any paperwork or pricing prepared. From that first small trial order, she placed another 4 increasingly large orders that same month as it was literally flying out of her shops and she’s gone on to become my biggest wholesale customer to date. She’s also become a great friend and I really value her input into my ideas and what she’s hearing that customers want. Having people out there with ears listening for what potential customers are looking for is hard to put a financial value on it but it’s extremely important and helps to shape what new designs I release.
Something else that’s worked extremely well for me was that I decided to offer a sponsorship package for 2 skaters for 2018. I saw this as a marketing awareness exercise and so pushed it hard on all the Facebook skating groups, on my own social media and also contacted all the skating clubs in the UK. It will cost me approximately £100 per skater to offer the package of clothing and accessories that I decided on but since launch on 1st Feb, I’ve so far gained roughly 200 new page likes, my engagement rates have gone from approx 9% to an average of 18% with some peak engagement up at 40% on certain posts. I’ve also gained a steady 1-3 new newsletter subscribers every day and my website traffic is now approx 10 times what is was in September 2017. I ended up sponsoring 4 kids rather than the 2 I planned on and these skaters are now travelling the country wearing Two Birds branded jackets and carrying their competition outfits in Two Birds branded dress bags. They’re also each generating a video diary once a month which means that every week I have a piece of video content to put on my social media / blog which I don’t have to spend time creating. Of course, everyone is looking forward to following their competitive journey over this year so it gives my social media followers a reason to check back in with my pages on a regular basis.
My biggest challenge to date has been finding reliable suppliers that are willing to supply fairly small quantities at a price that I can afford. The first supplier I had got increasingly flaky and orders were taking longer and longer to get to me without any explanation. I even flew to Belgium for a 2 hour meeting with them at the airport to try and get to the bottom of it! In the end, the supplier went AWOL after sending me a box of totally wrong garments, which I hadn’t even ordered, and I lost £1500 on stuff which never arrived. I’m still trying to chase that down but its proving very difficult and so I’m not sure I’ll ever see that money again.
I’m lucky to have my office at home in what used to be the kids playroom. One of the advantages of being based from home is that I’m around if they need me and in the early days, it allowed me the flexibility to drop my son off and pick him up from school. He’s now at high school but still enjoys knowing that I’m there when he gets home and if he needs help with homework then I can pause my work for a while to help him. My daughter is away at Uni but also likes the fact that she can get hold of me pretty much all the time, usually to ask me how to cook something or wash her clothes – they don’t stop needing mum just because they’re older!
In terms of advice I’d give to anyone else working in a similar area, first make sure that you have contracts in place for your supplier relationships. I know that sounds obvious but it can be hard to get suppliers to sign contracts with small businesses but you really need the protection that they offer just in case things do go wrong. Second, don’t spend too long trying to make anything perfect whether it’s your website, your branding or anything else. Your business is going to change dramatically in the first few years and you’ll end up re-doing your website and rebranding at some point so don’t waste too much time or money on making them perfect at the beginning. Third, customer service is EVERYTHING. No matter what else is going on, take time to chat to your customers, under promise and over deliver, and regularly surprise them with upgraded delivery, a small extra in the parcel or chatting to them about their amazing child’s achievement (everyone thinks their child is amazing!) …. great customer service goes a very long way and really helps to make your customers loyal.
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