Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Let's Get Down to Business: Milliner Liz Felix

Let's Get Down to Business: Milliner Liz Felix

LIZ FELIX is the proprietor of Liz Felix Millinery in Reading Road, Henley. She stocks a wide range of women’s hats, many of which she makes herself. Born and raised in Twyford, Liz now lives in Reading and has four children, Loulou, Oscar, Gulliver and Hector. She is a member of the Henley Business Partnership and volunteers as a first responder in Reading.

Describe your business

I mainly sell hats, many of which I make myself, and I also stock accessories, gloves, bags and jewellery, and some dresses by local designers.

How many people do you employ?

Just me. My sister helps out during peak seasons.

What did you do previously?

So many things! I ran away from home when I was 16. I got on a ferry and went to Jersey where I worked as a chambermaid in a hotel and as a junior hairdresser. When I came home I worked in an accounts department and then joined a recruitment company. When I had my daughter I stopped working for a while before taking a job in IT. I knew nothing about IT but managed to bluff my way through, eventually becoming a regional sales manager.

When did you start your business?

I opened the shop four years ago.

What was your objective?

I had four children in private education and needed the money. What started out as a 12-hour a week job gradually became more demanding until I was working more than full-time. I had started out loving it and eventually found myself hating it and the person I’d become. I was made redundant, which meant I left with a lump sum. On impulse I decided it was time to fulfil a long-held ambition to open a hat shop. I searched high and low in Henley and eventually found this shop.

What or who influenced you?

I’ve always loved hats and fashion. When my parents took me shopping in Reading I would always go into John Lewis and British Home Stores to try on their hats. My mother’s family was very creative. Her father and grandfather were Savile Row tailors. My brother makes puppets and is a puppeteer. My father was managing director of a heating and ventilation company, so I was influenced in both creativity and business. The real turning point, however, was much earlier when I attended a craft fair at Stonor Park and bought some dresses for my daughter. I made her some hats to go with them and soon people were asking me where I had bought them! I then enrolled at the London College of Fashion and did several millinery courses.

How is your business doing?

Last year was difficult as my business plateaued due to family issues which had a very big impact on me. I’m confident that this year it will get back on track.

How do you market your business?

Rather poorly, to be honest! I have the occasional marketing binge on social media but I find it tedious and time-consuming. I have a website. I also advertise locally when appropriate.

What’s the best thing about running the business?

It is very much me. I don’t have to answer to anyone, although I have high expectations of myself.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

It can be a bit lonely at times. Cash flow is a challenge. I have to buy a lot of stock before the season begins. Ladies buying hats for weddings are the main source of my business and fortunately there are more winter weddings these days. It’s difficult managing my time between attending to clients and actually making hats.

Where is your business headed?

The next step is to hire an assistant which will allow me more time to make hats and run the business.

How important are online sales?

I don’t do online sales.

What’s the secret of your success?

I love what I do with a passion. I like to give my customers confidence and an excellent service. I really care about helping people, especially with a wedding, which should be one of the loveliest experiences in life.

What three qualities do you think are most important?

Believing in what you do, the ability to be objective and having courage.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Not to be frightened, to be open to new ideas and suggestions and to listen to advice.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Be brave.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

I simply wish that I had done it sooner.

How organised are you?

I’m not. My shop is conveniently divided into two sections — the showroom, which I keep immaculate, and my workshop, which seems to be in chaos because I work on several hats at a time. However, I always know where everything is!

How do you dress for work each day?

When I first opened I would ‘dress up’ but that soon changed as I was ruining my clothes when I was in my workshop by snagging them on straws and pins. Now I wear regular clothes that I can work in.

What can’t you be without at work each day?

Coffee and my thimble.

Desktop or mobile/pad?

I have a laptop which I seldom use. I read my emails on my mobile phone.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

In the shop.

Do you continue to study?

I’m constantly learning new things and I attend courses.

What do you read?

Not very much as I’m always so busy. I do enjoy a good book when on holiday though.

How are you planning for retirement?

I don’t really think about it — I live for today!

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