Parents in business: Christina of chapter

Your name and age: Christina Larkin, 38 

Tell us about your family.

Florence and Iris are 6 and 3 and I’m married to Will who is incredibly supportive. The girls make sure I never take work too seriously and it’s been fun trying to involve them with what I do, even in a small way! They are a big part of the reason I’m doing this – I want to show them it’s important to do something you love. 

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

I’ve been a freelance strategy (business) consultant for the past 10 years and before that spent 4 years learning my consulting trade at a top tier consultancy in London. I keep trying to get away from consulting; for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to build my own business. But I keep getting drawn back to it…I’m the main breadwinner and it pays so well it’s hard to build a business that can quickly replace this income. 

But I’m determined to make chapter work, so I threw myself in at the deep end with the launch of the first pop up, which was taking on a very ambitious space in a high footfall area. It was important the first store made a splash and showed a real statement of intent. 

That said, I’m still very much in transition and working out how to do some contracting in 2020 so the family can still eat(!), while ensuring I keep the chapter momentum going.

When did you launch?

I first had the idea for chapter in summer 2018, but I officially launched with the ‘women who give a shit’ pop up on 8th November 2019. 

How did you get started?

I took some time out from contracting, found a store unit I felt would work for my concept, signed the lease on it and thought, right, better get some brands on board so I can open this pop up on time!

So, I forced myself to make it happen! I knew if I didn’t do something drastic like that I would continue to sit on the idea until I talked myself out of it – something I’ve done with ideas I’ve had in the past.

What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?

A sense of fulfilment. For the first time in my career, I’m working towards something I believe in that is useful and will do good! As I’ve gotten older that has become increasingly important.

Also, being the decision maker! If you really want to impact something you need to do things differently. That involves taking risks and it’s nice not to be held back by people too scared to take the necessary risks.

What’s the thing you least enjoy about running your own business?

Having no-one to tell you you’re doing the right thing / doing well! This sort of validation is incredibly important to most people (including me!) but is not something you get from heading up your own business.

What has worked well about your business?

Having only done one pop up I see 2020 as a year of testing, trialling and learning so we can refine our offering and ensure it works commercially for us and our clients (the brand owners) and so I can then look to grow and scale what we do as of next year.

What’s been your biggest business mistake?  How did you deal with it?

With the Shoreditch pop up I made the mistake of assuming I could do too much. I had staff and a team helping of course, but I still put myself on the staffing rota 5 days a week (and I live a good 2 hours from the store) and believing I could do all the admin and biz dev at the same time…while still seeing my kids every morning.

It took its toll on my health and my poor kids barely saw me for 5 weeks.

So, for future stores I’ll of course spend time there, but I’ll not be on the staffing rota! It’s key I find a way to run the business during store openings that doesn’t impact my health and my ability to spend quality time with the girls.

How do you fit in work with the family?

As with most parents it’s very difficult. I’m quite an ‘all or nothing’ person and that doesn’t work very well when you have kids! With work, I can easily and happily do 16-hour days (I love working), BUT then at what price?

So I’m trying to learn how to be better balanced in my approach to everything. What harm would come from taking 5 minutes to chat with my girls when they wander into the home office to see me once in a while?!

One thing I’m also doing is trying to involve the kids more in what I do – which is easier when creating pop up shops than when consulting for large corporates! I had Florence help me with stock checking and telling me what brands and products she liked!

Are you working towards a financial goal for your business?

Profitability! Well, that’s the first one. Then yes of course, I want this business to support me and a number of other people who work with me. So, I have ambitions and numbers in mind but they’re not crazy. This isn’t about building some massive business, but about creating a business that does good (getting B-corp status is a goal I have) and supports all those involved. Employees, freelancers, the brands we work with, and the charities I’m committed to supporting.

Do you have an exit strategy?

Ideally, I want to build a business that I run for years to come. I’m not building it with an exit in mind.

Where do you hope to be in five-years’ time?

In five years, I’d like chapter to be the go-to partner for online brands looking to grow their physical presence. This will include helping the best female founded, ethical and sustainable brands grow internationally, and likewise, bringing the best international brands to the UK (where that makes sense environmentally of course!).

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