How to Keep Your Dream Retail Business IN business


Christine Herner began her dream business selling Scandinavian inspired clothing & toys in May 2012.  I blogged about her here at the Ben & Lola launch party.



With 50% of start ups failing in their first couple of years what has enabled Christine to not only survive but grow her business?

It’s exactly 4 years since Christine took the brave leap of leaving her job and launching her start up.  Now, on a warm day in May, I meet Christine at her first pop up shop in Putney, West London.  Ben & Lola, the brand name that started as an idea at the kitchen table is brandished above the shop door.



Ben & Lola sell Scandinavian inspired clothing & toys for girls and Boys from 0 months to 8 years.  At their first pop up shop in Putney, West London until May 16th


“At the moment it’s going really well, we have opened this pop up shop and it’s been a great success.  It’s been really, really busy.”

How do you think you’ve managed to stay in business and go on to be successful, whilst other start ups fail?

“It’s always been my plan to gradually grow it.” says Christine.    “By doing summer and christmas markets I could see how much I could sell on one day at a fair.  So that gave me some idea.  But also my background, I knew that growing the business slowly, using the cash I had to put back into the business and grow it that way by buying more stock and then selling more stock, was vital.”

Christine’s experience as a merchandiser for high street retails chains proved invaluable.  She knew it was important not to take on too much at the beginning and start small.

“I didn’t have too much stock in the beginning and I had cheaper things like socks, cheaper T shirts just to fill the website but I still have a lot of the same brands to this day.  But it’s about not starting too big because in the beginning no one knows about you.  So just grow gradually.”

And what else has helped?

“Facebook and emails generate a lot of sales and interest.  But it’s really being face to face with customers.  They remember your stock and they will come backIMG_2704.  Because even here in Putney I can see where I’m getting the orders online from now.  In addition a lot of people are interested in the Scandinavian brands and Scandinavian design.  What I’ve heard here [in Putney] is that they are so different from anything else.  Near this shop there are so many other companies like Jojo Maman Bebe, Gap, River Island Kids, H&M Kids.  But I have still done so well in spite of all that competition.  It’s like I sell something different.”

I have seen Christine at markets and in competition with other Scandinavian stall holders – and she still does well “It’s my good eye for design” she laughs.  “But I think it’s important to have different price ranges.  You need to have something to draw them in.


What has been the biggest outgoings, both personally and financially?

“Personally – my time.  Financially – stock and re-launching the website.  I didn’t have a choice – the company I used got bought out by someone else so I had to make a new website.  It was a whole new platform.  It’s expensive and it’s very time consuming to transfer everything over.”

What do you think has kept you in business?

“I think you have to do everything gradually, but you need a long term plan. You need to know where you want to be say in five years.  You need to know how to get to that goal.  I’ve always planned.  But it is also the experience that I’ve had.  I was a merchandiser before so I knew all  about the stock planning  and I think maybe that’s where people go wrong.  They buy too much stock.  It’s too expensive, they don’t negotiate it.  And they sit with all the stuff and it doesn’t sell.  No one knows about them.”

IMG_2705But after 4 years, Ben & Lola is now an established brand.  I asked Christine what she enjoys most about her thriving business?

“I think I just have a great interest in this work.  I love the products and that’s what’s driving me. I love the boxes when they come in.  I still do.  I’m still excited!”

The pop up shop is in Putney (opposite Waitrose) until May 16th.  What have you got coming up in the next few months?

“My whole summer is booked up with summer fairs every weekend.  They really want to have me at Spirit of Christmas and I will probably have more pop up shops.”

Is there anything Christine wishes she had known before she started out?

“Maybe I didn’t know how much you have to work.  Maybe I thought it would be a little bit easier, more flexible.  You work when the kids are at school.  Run to get them.  Work when you get home.  I think about it when I go to bed, constantly.  It’s never ending.  If you go and work for someone else you are free after you finish most of the time.”

‘But,’ I ask,  ‘if you’d known that before, would it have stopped you from doing it?’

“Probaby not” she laughs.


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Start Your Dream Business in Publishing


The future of publishing:  a collaborative approach to storytelling

The magic mix of attendees last night reflected Crystal  Mahey-Morgan’s vision for the future of publishing.  Publishers and PR mingled with hip hop artists, singers, presenters, librarians, artists, DJs and illustrators at a vibrant event in St Martin’s Lane, London to launch Crystal’s first publication as founder of OWN IT!

OWN IT! is a  storytelling lifestyle brand telling stories across music, books, fashion and film.  A genuine platform for new voices.

And as Crystal’s husband stated ‘she wants to change the world.  She’s the real deal.’

And so Don’t Be Alien is an animated song, available separately, and a multi-media digital book available here.

We watched the beautiful and moving animated song written and composed by Cuba, sung by Call Me Unique (‘rising star’ Time Out) and animated by Canadian Ewan Green.

It’s the story of two people once desperately in love, now distant strangers.

And Crystal knows what she is doing.  She was responsible for the creative strategy for Jamal Edwards’ book Self Belief: The Vision (Virgin Books), which was initially released as a series of digital ebooks.  It reached the 16-24 demographic who were largely into music and they took his book to #1 on iTunes.

Last night Crystal recalled how she came home from work and announced ‘right that’s it, I’m leaving my job and we’re not discussing it.’  After 6 years at Penguin Random House she finally jumped ship to champion more of what she loves and who she loves.

Passionate about books, music, literacy and digital, Crystal has created the OWN IT! platform exactly one year since she left her job

And she has already been shortlisted for Digital Achiever of the Year at this year’s FutureBook Awards 2015.

There is nothing more inspiring in a room of people with their own aspirations, ideas and dreams than to see someone else start up their own dream business.

Crystal recently spoke at a publishing event at Kingston University.  Many students came last night, fired up by Crystal’s achievements so far.  Amongst them were an independent publisher who wants to modernise, an aspiring literary agent and a start up book shop and vinyl owner.  Sal Cooper started at Kingston University 3 months ago.   Since leaving, his Delaware home has been branded the murder capital of the US.  ‘So I have to do it’ he says, ‘I have to set up my business back home and promote reading as an alternative to gun crime.’

Jamal Edwards broke off from his hectic day to attend.   Tall, friendly and off to do some filming for SBTV,  he had some tips for anyone hoping to start a dream business.  With his SBTV channel boasting viewing figures others can only dream of, he is now heading into America.   ‘I just keep trying.  If I fail I try something else.  Again and again and again.’

Persistence is key to success.  And as Crystal tweeted this morning ‘now the real work begins!’

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Rob Ryan’s Tips on Successful Collaboration

What connects Grand Central Station; the Tour de France and the Mr Men?
Rob Ryan.  His work currently hangs in Grand Central Station; he’s been commissioned for this year’s  Yorkshire Tour de France and he’s just said ‘no’ to a collaboration with the ‘Mr Men.’
Rob Ryan, most famous for his beautiful print making and paper cuts, studied fine art and print making at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham and then went to the Royal College of Art, London.
He has done numerous collaborations but at first found working by himself more fruitful. When he left college, Ryan knew he wanted to work as an artist but didn’t know how to marry that with putting food on the table.  “Three years of enjoying yourself and torturing yourself now what do I do?”
Adamant that he didn’t want a job that interfered with his studio, Ryan hired an asbestos riddled space that no one wanted for £7 a week.  He made the day job the one he wanted – drawing and painting 9 to 5.  At evenings and weekends he worked in a cinema.  He did that for years.  Even after he got married and had children.
At Soho Create 2014

At Soho Create 2014

Ryan’s focus becomes evident as he talks as part of the Soho Create event in London: Creative Collaboration – making it work.  He partnered up with others but noticed no one else was doing anything.  As  a child he collaborated on a comic about a band he invented.  But he did all the work.  Ryan wanted to partner up with someone ‘just like me, with the same drive’.  But he only found unsuccessful collaborations where others dragged their heels.  He left the others behind and went on to find a studio for an exhibition.  He had to build everything himself but was much happier because he was fulfilled and felt complete.  Now he’s established  ”the brilliant people come to me”.  He doesn’t have to wait, or rely on, the ‘flaky people’.  He’s humorous and interesting.  You’d want to collaborate with him if you had the chance.  He collaborates with his kindred spirits at Tatty Devine.  In 2013 they created a stunning collection of gold and silver jewellery combining their talents with jewellers at Hatton Garden.
Ryan has always used words and had stories to tell finding a way to keep the spark alive in his work.  He didn’t want a shop but as independent cafés disappeared and there were more chains he wanted to redress that imbalance. His shop Ryantown sells one thing – his work.  He’s not proud of the fact he’s refused to allow even his wife to sell her products from the shop.
He has followed his ‘punk DIY ethos’ and urges us to do the same.  “Don’t sit around and wait for something.  If you don’t know how to do something go and find out. “  He spent a lot of time in the local library pursuing interests and finding things out.  He sits at a desk drawing like a baby all day.  “I don’t answer the phone.  I’ve got people in to do all the other stuff so I can draw.’
tatty devine collaboration
His collaboratiom with Tatty Devine is born out of a spirit of fun.    The best collaborations are the ones with people who start by saying ‘this may not work.’   It’s not about selling of units or the money.
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3 Top Tips from Jamal Edwards a self-made multimilionaire

self belief

“1st book I’ve ever bought in my entire life” tweets @trapster_toxic and he attaches a photo of Self Belief: The Vision the book written by 23 year old entrepreneur Jamal Edwards.  Originally only available as an ebook, Jamal was approached by Random House who believed the book could have a bigger reach if he also published it traditionally.  Interesting that the right person can persuade someone to read.

So who is he and why has Jamal captured the imagination of the teen generation where others have failed?     TV and radio audiences between 16-35 are on consistent downward trend: 14 -25 yr olds listen to 134 minutes less radio than they did 5 years ago.  Ben Cooper at Radio 1 freely admits to struggling to attract the attention of the ‘heads down’ generation.  A term refuted here.

Jamal created youth channel SBTV seven years ago and it’s now one of YouTube’s most successful channels with over 350,000 subscribers.


Motivated by his friends who weren’t getting mainstream attention, he wanted to create a platform for them.  He was filming his mates singing and rapping on his estate in West London and started uploading the videos to YouTube.  But his main job was in Topman.  Eventually as the hits increased Jamal received a percentage of money from adverts and he was able to pursue his dream job.  The channel started out as music only but now he wants to branch out into comedy, fashion, business, games and gadgets – “everything for a young person.”

“My mate said I sent my video into MTV but they’re not playing it, they don’t like it. But I said it’s cool, I’m going to start my own network.”   In addition to his friends he also pursued famous artists.  The channel is known for grime and rap but he has gone on to include more mainstream musicians like Ed Sheeran.  And it has undoubtedly helped Sheeran’s success in the urban world. Such is Jamal’s connection to the UK’s youth that he is now Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and recently interviewed Prince Charles and Richard Branson.

1)   Jamal responded to a need.  He saw his friends were being ignored.

2)       He never ignores them – or his mum- he genuinely engages sending 60 tweets a day sometimes.  His friends have to contact him via Twitter rather than by text – it’s quicker.

3)      He connects to his audience and is now a self-made multimillionaire but, he says, “I’m not motivated by the money.”


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Success Tips from The Great British Bake Off.

Bake Off.JPG

Could you have foreseen the success of The Great British Bake Off?  

The fifth series will be moving to BBC 1 next year and the format has sold to 13 countries.  The distributors were not interested in it originally ‘baking is a British thing’ they said.  But it’s sold to countries including Belgium, Poland and in Denmark it has broken viewing records and beat The Voice.

Not only were the distributors dismissive.    The idea for the GBBO was turned down by over 25 commissioners.  The makers – Love Productions – pitched it 5 times before getting the go ahead. Yes. FIVE TIMES.    But they remained determined with the idea never leaving their list of top 10. 

The BBC television series Who Do You Think You Are?   took 17 years before it got commissioned. 

The message:  if you believe in it.  If it has substance and someone else hasn’t already done it.  Keep pitching it.

The idea for the Great British Bake Off came from the Pillsbury Bake-off in America.  It’s something that happens already, in the real world.  Finally the independent company were commissioned to write a treatment.  A lot of effort went into that treatment and it looked beautiful.  

Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins in The Great British Bake Off

A first series was then commissioned.  Mary Berry was selected first followed by Paul Hollywood.  The production team gathered in a North London venue to film contestants and they noticed something very unusual for a reality TV show.  The contestants didn’t look at the camera.  They were looking at the oven.  The competition was between the baker and the oven rather than the other contestants.    And the contestants were doing it for the love of baking – not to be on TV.

Chocolate Obsession


It’s a feel good show which drew 2 million viewers in series 1.   One genuinely doesn’t want anyone to lose. It’s not a mean spirited reality show.    The psychological testing of contestants also proved unusual.  It showed record highs for IQ and with low egos.  Contestants had good self esteem – there is a lot of therapy in baking. 

One of the ingredients of success is that of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.  But for me it’s also the sublime casting of duo Mel and Sue rooting for the contestants and helping us get to know them.


Families not only watch it together they also cook together afterwards.  This with children who no longer need to watch TV anymore.     So not only has it proved an unexpected success, but the programme has brought together generations.

What I love about this story is that Love Productions knew that the 25 commissioners were wrong when they said ‘no thanks.’  They had a gut feeling about a good idea – and they never gave up on it.  If you never give up, just look what you can create and, in this case, bring to millions of people to enjoy.    Don’t listen to the nay sayers, find a way round them.

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How to Start Your Dream Food Business

Sarah Hancox noticed her love for the food industry when working as a second job as a waitress.  It excited her more than her day job at the Evening Standard.  She signed up for an HND in hospitality and went on to run a restaurant with her brother.  But her love of Adelaide lured her and her husband back home – where she arrived – ‘emotionally exhausted and in a broken-down state.’

“Shattered, I took six months out and eventually recovered and got a temping job. But the days dragged, so I went into real estate”



Researching the market

“While in real estate I had started thinking about the food busi­ness again and as we became more familiar with Adelaide and the market, it seemed to become a real possibility.

“I started as a small stall in a food court within a shopping mall.  I cooked in the morning and served the food, and it was all gone by lunchtime. It enabled me to have a really good look at how Adelaide worked, how it dressed, how much money people had. It was a great insight into the market. Without realising I was doing it, I was looking in the Businesses For Sale section in the paper and came across a very cheap food outlet in the city centre.

“We were sitting in the back garden one hot summer night, drinking a great bottle of South Australian wine, lamenting the fact that it was very hard to buy something other than Asian fast food for lunch in the city centre. I already knew what type of dishes people liked to buy from my experience in the restaurant and wondered if I could produce that type of food for the price that people were prepared to pay for lunch. My husband works in marketing and I have always been a believer in strong market­ing. By the time we finished the bottle, we had a framework – the name, how the shopfront would look, the menu and what equip­ment would be needed, who the customers would be and how to reach


Researching the food court

“I sat every day for a week just watching what went on in the food court – when it was busy, who was purchasing, what they were purchasing, what they looked like, who was just walking through, where else they shopped.

“I then approached my bank. Having an appropriate qualifica­tion and lots of experience is always a good thing when talking to banks. And they definitely will want to see a business plan. Put everything into it – it doesn’t matter how trivial it may be.

“I spoke to all of my friends and associates who buy their lunch in the city and I ate at a lot of different outlets to see what the quality and pricing was like.

“I did approach a local business enterprise council but for some reason they were very unhelpful and told me that there wasn’t a market for what I wanted to do. True to my character, I ignored everything they said and pushed it to the back of my mind.


1. Know your trade. These days you need to know your strengths, whether it is cooking or in other parts of the business. If it’s not cooking, take a back seat and let your chef do it but be able to fill in for them if for any reason they can’t.

2. Understand your target market. Know who they are, how to reach them and what they want.

3. Know your key performance indicators. You need to understand your KPIs very well, especially your food and labour costs. This will help you understand your cash flow and what’s happening in your business, including whether someone is stealing from you.

4. Quality products almost always produce a quality dish. People are very educated about food these days – many through watching cooking reality shows – so don’t scrimp on quality.

5. Focus on customer service. Too many in this industry forget about the customer and instead think they are the stars of the show. If no one is buying your product because they are not getting the right service then the venture is pointless.

6. Value your staff. Not only should you reward good work but you should not be afraid to get rid of poorly performing staff. By looking after staff you get low turnover and consistency of product.

7. Plan your menu well. Stick to your skill set and remember who is going to be eating your food as well as where and how.

8. Get a good accountant. You need someone who is proactive; they don’t have to understand your industry but they need to be able to make suggestions. You should also outsource anything that you don’t have skills in, especially marketing.

Could you be your own boss?  Read more inspiring stories from ordinary people.



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Excellent Customer Service will Build Your Dream Business

People laugh at me, for many reasons – but one of them is for my love of excellent Customer Service.  It costs nothing but makes the world of difference.   If you do something you love, or are managed well, you will provide great customer service.

Life, such as it is, meant a visit to a funeral directors this month.  A sterile experience that got straight down to business and the paperwork.  72 hours since being bereaved and no offer of condolences?  But this is your business?  Surely you would know how to handle death and provide exceptional customer service.  But it never materialised.


Just round the corner, Heather has been running her dream business: her fruit and flower business in the Lincolnshire town of Horncastle for 25 years.  She worked there since she was 12, managing it from the age of 17 and bought the shop outright for her 24th birthday.  She has been running it ever since.  Heather is always rushed off her feet but never too busy for a smile and a conversation.   She provided all the support and empathy you’d hope for from a human being  – let alone a funeral directors, at this time of distress.  We organised our flowers there and wish her business, much deserved and continued success. 

Like Heather, Dylis Guyan always treats the  customer “like gold dust.”   Dylis is one of the entrepreneurs in our new book, Start Your Dream Business.  She started from nothing, working into the night to support her two young children.  She now has 4 grandchildren and a thriving business advising companies who need to sell more:

“Always think about what’s in it for your customer.  Nobody really wants to pay for your product or service.  What they want to pay for is something that will enhance their lives, help achieve their objectives or prevent pain” advises Dylis.

People who are running their dream business find it easy to provide excellent customer service.    Do you?


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