Wednesday, 21 April 2021
MARION CROCKER is the proprietor of Estilo, a fashion boutique in Duke Street, Henley. Born in Edinburgh, she spent most of her childhood on the Isle of Bute and then read business studies at Heriot Watt University in the capital. She now lives in Abingdon and has two grown-up daughters, who both live in London. Marion is a keen dancer, especially ceroc. She also enjoys walking and has enrolled on an art course.
Describe your business
Estilo offers beautiful, affordable and smart casual fashion and accessories and jewellery for ladies, together with a small range of gifts.
How many people does it employ?
There’s me and three other ladies who work part-time.
What did you do before you started this business?
When I was still at school, I worked as a cleaner for the Marquis of Bute at his 90-room mansion. I then worked at a general merchants where I developed my love of retail. After university, I spent almost 20 years with Marks & Spencer and worked at stores around Britain before becoming part of the management team at the head office in Baker Street. After leaving M&S to have my girls, I enjoyed many years volunteering at their primary school, which led me to train as a teaching assistant. I took a degree course in teaching at Oxford Brookes University at the age of 49 and during an unhappy divorce, I worked as a lecturer at Abingdon College and continued as a teaching assistant part-time. My two business partners and I opened our first shop in Witney in 2010 and the second in Henley the following year. I later bought out my partners. I closed the Witney shop a year ago at the end of the lease.
What was your objective in starting your business?
It had always been my dream.
Who or what influenced you?
The owner of the independent store in Bute back in the Sixties had a profound influence on me.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
Not really but I follow other independent boutique owners on social media, meeting up at trade shows and sharing ideas.
What would you do differently if could start again?
If I’d had a crystal ball, I would have set up an online presence at the start and invested in warehouse space.
What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?
Until we were able to open again the effect was horrendous. We lost more than three months of trading. Even before lockdown there had been a significant drop in footfall as people were becoming more apprehensive. And, of course, we lost the business from the regatta, Ascot and Wimbledon and there were no weddings. Fortunately, I was able to furlough my staff. If that scheme had not existed we couldn’t have continued. We had great support from Helen Barnett, the town and community manager, the town council and my landlady.
Do you compare on a regular basis?
Yes. I even look back several years. Having worked at M&S, I am accustomed to doing regular analysis.
How do you market your business?
I’m not really set up to do much online marketing but I do use Facebook and Instagram to promote our ranges. A lot of business comes from people seeing something they like on social media and calling me. I can then easily post it to them. Visual merchandising is important too and the window and in-store displays are changed regularly. Drivers waiting in traffic outside the shop who see something in the window will often call me or come in.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
It’s mine! I’m passionate about retail. I have great staff and we are a real team. I get real job satisfaction and love hearing positive comments from customers.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Having to juggle so many balls at the same time and making sure I can cover the overheads.
What three qualities are most important to success?
A commercial brain, people skills and an eye for detail.
What’s the secret of your success?
Coping with the downs and enjoying the ups.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
When I started my business I had been through a difficult period in my life, so to achieve so much on my own has restored my confidence and self-esteem.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Find a mentor, seek advice and do loads of research — look at emerging businesses and really crunch the numbers.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
When I renewed my shop insurance last year I was asked if I wanted cover for a pandemic. I thought I’d never need it, so I declined.
How organised are you?
You have to be organised in order to run a business like this. I’m an accomplished multi-tasker.
How do you dress for work?
This is important when you run a fashion business. I always try to wear something from my range that is suitable for my age and build.
What can’t you be without every day?
My good health
Lunch at your desk or going out?
I either bring in my own lunch or nip out to one of the local independent cafés to get something.
What do you read?
I enjoy autobiographies and crime fiction mainly.
How are you planning for retirement?
I’ll downsize my house, do more dancing and do more travelling. Maybe develop some more hobbies, more art. Perhaps continue to sell clothes in a smaller way without a shop presence. And definitely spend more time with friends and family.
07 September 2020
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