The Baby: Janet Rawnsley and Liz Stephenson

Janet Rawnsley tells us about The Baby, the store that aims to cater for a child's every need

Janet Rawnsley and Liz Stephenson believe that parents are becoming increasing selective when buying for their children. Their business, The Baby, aims to group all the best nursery items together under one roof and create the ultimate child focused emporium.

Name: Janet Rawnsley and Liz Stephenson Age: late 30 something/early 40s! Business: The Baby Retail-Baby Nursery goods Type of business: Prestigious nursery goods showroom and online e-commerce website – all on a grand scale Start date: October 2005

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?We have both worked for blue chip and independent retailers for many years and wanted to realise the dream of getting a highly prestigious baby retail concept together. We liked the idea of displaying brands in a showcase environment, with each brand being presented as it would be seen at a trade fair.

Tell us about your business We have spent many months assembling a single floor concept store, which allows customers to select and buy all they would need for their new baby – all under one roof. Our products are prestigious baby brands from all the major European brands. We cater exclusively for the 0-2year olds market and provide all the help, experience and guidance a new mum and dad, or friends would need.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? We both recognised that this business sector was ready for a new and stylish chain of stores, which offered a one-to-one service to parents.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? If so, who? No. It was our idea which has evolved over time, given the experience we have both had in our past working lives, including at Laura Ashley, Mothercare and Safeway. We were both directors of Daisy and Tom.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? The changing demographics and age of first Birth; the 30-40 something female market has changed in the past 5 years, and many professional women have little time and yet have very discerning tastes. Previously they focussed on their homes, clothes and cars and now they want to extend this to the choices they make for their baby.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? We spent many months searching for a site that would be large enough and in the right area to launch ‘The Baby’. We also spent time researching suitable venture capitalist funding groups.

What advice did you seek? We didn’t approach any of the government advice centres; instead, we contacted all our professional services to set up the business.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? They could arrange to contact all registered directors of a new business, registered at Companies House and lay out all the services they have which can assist them.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. Sage was bought and we found that very helpful for all of the cash projection plans.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? We have kept to all our expenditure plans and the rollout plan is on a tight schedule, which will help us stick to our business plan.

How much did it cost to start the business? We have jointly invested in excess of £400k to begin the business and plan the rollout.

How did you fund this? It was funded jointly by venture capital and private personal investment by us both.

When did you stop working?We both worked full-time as directors before leaving last autumn from our last employer and have worked full time on the project since then. Do seven days a week sound familiar to readers? We have also both been working from home until the first store opened.

If you’ve already got premises, are you glad you made that decision? Each of us will be based in the store nearest to our respective homes in The North West and London respectively.

How many hours are you working at the moment? Probably around 70 each week.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? Early starts to get the job done within the hours available – It helps if you both happen to be ruthlessly flexible and able to adapt to what’s needed.

What about staff, is it just you two? We have employed 25 staff for central ops and up to 25 flexible working staff for the store.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you? No. We have simple and modern flexible contracts that largely suit the needs of working part time women and men who want to input professionally to the business, even on a part time basis.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Extensive marketing over the local north west area, including newspapers, magazines, multi media, door to door leaflets and via our website.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? We shall have a further flagship store in the London area open. The team will be the same size, except that we shall have a further 20 plus team in the new store.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Reaching the cash predictions as planned, and carefully using our time to stay ahead in this fast moving business.

How do you plan to overcome these? The two directors work closely for two to three days per week and we plan ahead constantly – we have a very clear plan as to where we need to be at each stage.

Tell us about your website. The website has been launched and is an integral part of our business as it is and also as a fulfilment opportunity for customers who have already visited the store and live quite some distance away.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?We both want the personal satisfaction that comes from conceptualising a new brand and proposition, and see it through to completion and roll out. After nine months we are on track and ahead of where we had planned to be.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? Finding the correct site was initially quite challenging. It is important, but would still need to be very sure about what you need and don’t waver from what you require.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Energy, personality, vision and absolute determination to deliver above and beyond proposition.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Get the funding in place, find the premises and don’t be tempted to do a watered down version of anything you ever had in mind – stay true to your ideals!


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