I have been a self employed woman now for 4 years, it certainly has it's ups and downs but all in all each year I gain a little more knowledge, I become more confident, not within myself, but as a 'business women' Each year I take a little more risk, spend a little more to accumulate a little more and so it goes on - slow & steady. I started my business due to my dissatisfaction with the local school wear supplier who has had the monopoly in the area for at least 20 years and the schools school wear supplier let me down. I decided there must be friendlier, more reliable suppliers in the town who catered for our school. There wasn't. There are plenty of places to buy polo shirts and sweats shirts. Asda, Tesco, Woolworths, M&S to name a few, but they don't have the school logo on them. At that point I realised there was a gap in the market and in June 2004 I became that friendly, reliable business.
I work alone from an industrial unit 8 minutes from my house. The unit is kitted out like a basic shop, there are no frills and no expensive high street rates to pay. There is parking right outside the front door. I have a single head embroidery machine which basically means I can embroider one garment at a time. Up until recently I embroidered all garments myself and for corporate customers I still do, customers who comes back annually and others who come back only every now and again, but each customer comes back and that, my dear people, is vitally important. I only advertise in the Yellow Pages and on Yell.com and of course I have my great idiot proof web site www.nhpservices.co.uk, but tend to find people come through referral. It may not be the most modern, fancy, well laid out shop, but the location and service seems to please most customers. I am based in the unit but do attend parents evenings at 3 schools to takes orders from parents nearer the end of the school term.
I started dealing only in school wear and personalised baby gifts, but quickly realised the school wear would not be enough to keep a business going all year round and started dealing with corporate customers which sounds all very grand but tends to be small businesses with perhaps only one or two workers looking to enhance their image with polo shirts and fleeces with their business logo embroidered on their work wear, these corporate customers spread quickly and I now deal with hundreds of small business, bowling clubs and charities.
Schools work in different ways, many order uniforms in bulk which they store and sell directly to the parents, others offer a supplier service like I do with 3, I attend the school on parents evening, giving parents the chance to order and see the garments for quality and others leave the purchasing of uniforms up to the parents to attend the local 'monopoly man' who lacks customer service and fails to offer refunds. Each logo has to be digitised in embroidery format so that the computerised machine knows where to put the stitches, these logo's are dealt with via email, I email the picture or drawing and the digitisers (people who digitise) email me back the formatted logo, customers obviously pay for this digitising process. With the school logo's it is slightly different and I have to cover the cost of each logo initially, I started out with only 3 school logos and I now have 17. This may not sound many but when you are dealing with the parents and children from 17 different schools during a 6/7 week period, alone, trust me it is many. Couple this with the continual run of corporate work not to mention trying to up keep an ebay shop. Did I mention I do all this alone.
Why not get someone in to help you? I hear you say. Quite simply because I do not trust anyone enough to give the service the way I do. Originally I wanted to work from home as I really like caring for my home and my family - sad I know, but I like it and people often mentioned ebay selling to me, at that time it wasn't right for me and now having found suppliers and contacts I do both and I would really like to grow the ebay business. I have found may fantastic suppliers and deal with 2 for my standard school wear such as polo shirts, sweat shirts, cardigans, fleeces, jackets etc. A few years ago I realised it was becoming impossible to meet the demands of the school wear required, I could get the garments no problem but embroidering them on time meant working the last couple of weeks of the summer holidays from 6am to often 11 or 12 at night. I didn't mind the work but did object to neglecting my children. This was when I found my second main supplier who offer an embroidery service, I place the order and the garments arrive all embroidered, with the promise of a 7 day turnaround, no other supplier can meet this demand and last year for the first time I put them to the test. After the initial set up and approving of logo's I placed my first order and exactly 7 days later the order arrived all embroidered, this from a business point of view is fantastic and allows me to take a massive step in growing the business, the only issue I have is their garments are not just as good as my other supplier but they are still good.
This company also offer a pre order service and if you place your order before christmas for the following summer, you get 10% discount on the total order, half price embroidery, get to specify a delivery date and also an invoice date, so that you are only paying once you have sold the garments and then to top it all if you pay the bill on time they give you a further 2.5% discount. This is my favourite supplier and they are now guaranteeing a 5 day turn around during the summer months - Fabulous. Garments arrived this year on the 9th June as requested, all present and correct. The other company realising this is an essential service for smaller businesses last year decided to offer a similar pre order service and given that they do a colour of polo shirt and jackets that the Fabulous company don't I placed a smaller order with them for delivery on the 9th June, they could not meet this demand and after much complaining and phoning I finally received the order on Thursday 26th June. I was sorely disappointed, unfortunately they do not have their own in house embroidery machines and therefore have no control over that part of the process. They will have to make massive amends before I will use the pre order service again. The Fabulous company are working on a new jacket and nice gold colour polo shirt and if they continue to be as Fabulous they could take my business to new heights. Sometimes it's hard to know what direction to take in business, but it usually finds it's own way. I have chosen to go down the slow sensible route and next year who knows. I started stocking only the top half of clothing but now offer skirts, plimsolls, belts, socks, tights, tank tops & slip overs it has taken time to find good suppliers of quality items and only buy what I would use on my own children at prices I find acceptable.
I had a huge order from one of my charities which had to be completed for Wednesday this week, this involved working til 2 am on Tuesday morning, back in for the normal 10-3 shift and back in at 6am on Wednesday but home for 12 as this was my day off and I promised to do something with the kids. I went home, knackered, could hardly keep my eyes open and the kids wanted to go swimming, who was I to say no, I had promised. So if I am missing from the blogging circuit for a few weeks you'll all know why, but I will be lurking when I have a spare 5 minutes.
This is my favourite time of year, dealing with the parents and the children, offering advise because I not only know the schools but I have primary school children and know what is acceptable and trendy in the age groups. Every parent of a new start spends at least 30-40 minutes here trying, discussing, looking and touching, I value this time as I know they will leave happy with their purchases, I do not allow them to over spend when there is no need. They spend a lot of money with me and if they are happy then they are a customer for at least 7 years, spreading the word on what a great shop it is to come to. And that makes me very proud.