Inspiring Women: Pineapple Dance Studio’s Debbie Moore and Outsec’s Vanessa Phillips
More great brands created by top female entrepreneurs
In the second part of our serialisation of Inspiring Women, Michelle Rosenberg’s collection of interviews with outstanding female entrepreneurs, we meet Debbie Moore, founder of dance brand Pineapple, and Vanessa Phillips, of online secretarial business Outsec
My idea of an exit plan,” says Debbie Moore, “is to drop dead in Studio 1 at the age of 90.” An appropriate riposte from a woman who surely ranks in any entrepreneurial hall of fame. She’s the first woman to be admitted to the floor of the Stock Exchange, runs the world’s best known dance studio and has made a fortune with a brand named after a prickly tropical fruit. Founder and chairman of the Pineapple Dance Studios and Fashion company, 56-year-old Moore oversees 130 staff across 11 stores from her base in London’s Covent Garden. Turnover is currently £10m with a net profit of £1m. The first Pineapple studio opened in 1979. Its second, ‘Pineapple West’ in Baker Street, opened in 1981, followed by New York’s Broadway and London’s Kensington.
Dealing with public life
Two years later, Moore focused on expanding the brand into clothing design, which heralded the launch of the iconic Pineapple leg warmers and branded dancewear. To fund the expansion, she realised she needed a huge injection of cash, and took the bold step of floating Pineapple on the stock market, becoming the first woman to do so. “You can only go public if you’ve got three years of doubling your profits, which I managed to do,” she says.
In recognition of her achievements as an entrepreneur, Moore was awarded the Veuve Clicquot ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ Award in 1984. However, over the next few years, she grew unhappy with the direction the company was taking. She felt there was too much focus on profit at the expense of its entrepreneurial spirit. “You can’t work with people who only see the money. They’re very short-sighted,” she says. So, in 1988, she fought to buy her company back.
Licensing to grow
In 2000, the focus shifted to licensing and Pineapple secured its first big deal. “We are the leading brand in Debenhams, in children’s and ladieswear and are now launching the brand globally,” says Moore. The move has been a tremendous success, making Pineapple £50m last year. “You have to be careful who you choose as partners when you’re licensing,” advises Moore. “You can destroy your brand. But I thought what they were doing with the profile of their stores and brand fitted with us. They’re young girls who shop in our shops – no one ever wants anything bigger than a size 12. Debenhams gave me the opportunity to go up to size 20.”
Moore still loves what she does, but admits it’s not easy being in the clothing business. “You’re at the mercy of suppliers and it’s getting harder because of the likes of Primark and Hennes, which command huge quantities. Designing your own and getting it made is far more difficult than it used to be,” she says.
Despite these problems, the brand she established over two decades ago shows no signs of diminishing. “The studios are still the biggest dance centre in the world,” says Moore. “I still design the clothes and my office is behind the shop. I’m 25/8 now. They used to call it 24/7. I am very hands-on!” she laughs.
Debbie moore on women in business:
“You have to be brave, have courage and work hard. The confidence comes with just making it happen. I often said to women that if you want to do it, do it. Whether you work, or you don’t work, he’s still going to run off with the secretary! He’s not going to leave you because you work.”
Vanessa Phillips, has tap-tapped her way to success with internet secretarial business OutSec. The 49-year-old mother of three’s company provides online digital transcription and was set up in 2002. Projected turnover for 2007/2008 is between £1m and £1.5m. Operating out of offices in Stradsett, Norfolk, OutSec has a team of six staff and a database of more than 250 secretaries.
Phillips set up the business on her own, her husband Richard joining a year later. She’d been working as a PA, then started at the London College of Finance, but returned to being a secretary while raising her young family. She soon realised that no-one was providing online digital transcription, mainly because the technology had not yet been invented.
Attacking the gap
Intrigued, she conducted research to establish whether there was market potential, finding that it was “an opportunity not to be missed!”. With the price of digital recorders falling and the spread of broadband, the potential market for OutSec seemed huge. “Now any company can have access to their own British typist at the click of a mouse,” she says.
Phillips borrowed £15,000 against an endowment policy to get the company going, prepared a business plan and approached Barclays for a loan. “But they didn’t give us anything,” she says. “We were in profit from day one mainly because I did all the typing. I put in all the hours I could, then recruited locally and got a network going.” All that profit was poured back into the fledgling business and invested in technological systems, which Phillips says has been one of the main unique selling points. “It’s evolving all the time, and now provides a workflow solution that many clients are finding very attractive,” she says. Those clients, which currently number 3,000, are mainly in finance, medicine, law and property, while 25% of them are based outside the UK.
Phillips could, she says, never return to work for someone else. While having her own business was initially about the money, “now,” she says, “I just want to push the company forward to enable more women to be able to combine home commitments with work”.
Vanessa phillips on women in business:
“It’s a constant battle to try and do one’s best for the children, with the realisation that the business provides finance for the family and is of equal importance.”