A successful career working in high level positions for some of the UK’s biggest retailers has given mum of two Claire Harper a wealth of experience – and now she’s putting it to great use with her own new business, IndiaCoco.
Claire Harper’s CV is almost intimidatingly successful. Her roles include head of advertising at Argos, head of marketing at Ocado, head of online marketing at Sainsbury’s and, most recently, marketing director at Mamas & Papas.
But while her wealth of experience may be impressive, Claire has walked away from the security of a corporate career to launch her own venture, fully aware that going solo will present her with lots of new challenges – not least taking full responsibility for any decisions she makes, good and bad.
What inspired Claire to start her own business?
So why leave behind the safety of a successful corporate career for the risks of starting her own business from scratch? There were two catalysts behind Claire’s decision to go solo – the first was her five-year milestone at Mamas & Papas, and the second was the birth of her second daughter, India (who along with her sister Coco provided inspiration for the name of her business).
Claire says: “Five years in a job is always a bit of a turning point for me. I get slightly itchy feet. I have always been very driven and I am always looking for the next opportunity.”
Where did the business idea come from?
Lord Sugar’s very wise advice has always been to start a business doing something that you know, and that’s just what Claire has done. The idea behind IndiaCoco came from her own experience as a ‘typical Boden customer’ who got fed up seeing her daughters in the same clothes as everyone else.
So Claire decided, using her extensive experience, to launch a multi-channel retail destination offering a range of different, high-quality, British children’s brands.
What makes IndiaCoco different?
While IndiaCoco may not be a radical departure from other childrenswear retailers, Claire strongly believes that a new company in a crowded market needs a differentiator.
And for IndiaCoco that is doing things professionally and well, building a strong brand and offering great quality product and exceptional customer service.
As Claire says, “I am so passionate about the customer and I have worked for some fabulous customer-centric companies – some more so than others. Sometimes I would get so frustrated with colleagues at senior levels who just don’t understand the customer. We spend a lot of time working out what customers want and who they are – it is a process that never stops.”
How did Claire go from idea to business launch?
It’s all very well having a great business idea, but getting it off the ground isn’t always easy. For IndiaCoco to succeed, Claire needed to win the faith of the brands she wanted to work with. So in 2012, she attended the Bubble trade exhibition at the Design Centre in Islington – a biannual event dedicated to kids’ merchandise.
“It was the month we really set the wheels in motion,” she says. “Selecting the right suppliers to deliver our vision was so important, so I had already done my research on the brands we wanted to work with.”
And it paid off. IndiaCoco initially signed up eight suppliers at Bubble, agreed terms and began attending buying meetings.
Claire admits that the first suppliers took quite a gamble on her. “My experience is great on paper but when it comes down to it I didn’t have a big corporate behind me – it was just me with my idea and a little brand-book selling in what I wanted to make happen. They took quite a risk.”
Claire also feels that setting progress deadlines is important, so she set a goal of May 2012 to launch the website, giving her just four months to set up. At the same time, Claire was also designing and developing the website, branding, packaging, customer proposition, launch and marketing strategy and communications activity.
How IndiaCoco has steadily grown since
IndiaCoco launched on time in May 2012 and has since doubled its supplier base. And in August 2012 they launched a small baby wear and gifting concession at the award-winning Blacker Hall Farm Shop, Wakefield. Today the concession continues to be a thriving and growing customer environment for the brand.
In October 2013, IndiaCoco opened its first bricks and mortar retail outlet in Wood Street, Wakefield, introducing the very best of British designer childrenswear brands to the Yorkshire high street.
Why a ‘proper’ shop is important for an online brand
Claire felt that it was important for IndiaCoco to have a ‘proper’ shop presence. As she says, “We are committed to our promise of sourcing and selling original, hand-picked British childrenswear brands, which offer the very best in quality and value, and meet our customers’ requirements. A retail shop really gives us the opportunity to continue to deliver outstanding customer service face to face and to demonstrate the warmth, passion and commitment that shines through in everything we do.”
The value of research and testing
Claire’s considerable experience in retail has ensured she’s made many wise decisions that have contributed to IndiaCoco’s growing success. Not least of all the importance of testing and research.
Before investing in her first concession, she tested the market with a pop up shop in Wood Street Market, Wakefield. (The market is a thriving, monthly community-led event which takes place in the summer and brings a once-busy high street to life, reinvigorating it with street entertainment and inspirational pop up shops.)
The success of the pop up shop showed Claire there was a market for IndiaCoco in the town, enabling her to open her concession with confidence.
Getting recognition from well-known entrepreneurs
Since launching in 2012, IndiaCoco has caught the eye of some of the UK’s most renowned entrepreneurs.
In June 2013 IndiaCoco won a WOW award from Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers. And in the same month IndiaCoco was shortlisted for the Wakefield Business Awards; New Business of the Year.
In September 2013 Claire also won a Small Business Sunday award from businessman Theo Paphitis, and was short listed once again for the Huddersfield Business Awards; New Business of the Year Award.
Using marketing to promote the IndiaCoco brand
Claire’s previous corporate experience has enabled her to promote IndiaCoco to a wide international and UK customer base through powerful joint marketing campaigns with other like-minded British brands, including Ocado, Neom Organics (luxury home fragrance and body care products), and award-winning family attraction Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Social media and PR have been key channels for growing the IndiaCoco brand, and have played a significant role in brand positioning and marketing communications.
Widespread coverage has also been achieved with UK and international bloggers and national print press, and Claire has also been involved in many high profile business speaker opportunities. She’s launched new business community initiatives and was recently lead judge for Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards at Wakefield Girls’ High School.
Claire’s vision for IndiaCoco
IndiaCoco is now a multi-channel retailer, and Claire is currently planning to roll out the brand across the UK in community-based locations.
She’s also underway with some exciting web developments around mobile applications, embracing new technology and making it even easier for international customers to order with IndiaCoco.
“We are very excited to be growing a strong brand,” Claire says. “Our customers will always come first and we will continue to work extremely hard to really go that extra mile. Nearly two years in, our adventure is only just beginning and we are off to a great start – every day brings new reasons to feel inspired and excited about our future.
Claire’s advice for other ambitious business mums
One question we always ask the inspiring women we talk to, is what advice they’d give mums wanting to do something similar. Here’s what Claire said when we put our questions to her:
What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?
Love what you do – understand your customer, be passionate about what you do. Have confidence, believe in you and go for it!
What does happiness mean to you?
Being a mummy, having a lovely husband, family, and friends and growing a successful business. You also have to find happiness from within, remain positive and be true to yourself.
What are your top business tips?
- Success is about knowing your customer. Work out who your customer is and what they really want. It is a process that should be ongoing.
- Stay focused – be clear about your vision and how you will deliver that to customers.
- Focus on how you work with people – not just with customers but also suppliers as well. It is important to have great chemistry and a very good working relationship.
- Starting a business is not for the fainthearted. Know from the start what you are getting into.
- Don’t forget to breathe. You have to have fun along the way. It’s incredibly exciting starting a business but you need some downtime too.
You can find out more about IndiaCoco and browse their childrenswear on their website.