Interiew with Emma James, founder of Ashridge Retail

Read how redundancy gave Emma James the push she needed to turn a career in retail into a new business, Ashridge Retail, and help independent shops thrive.

What’s your career background?

My whole career has been in high street retailing for companies including M&S, House of Fraser and Monsoon.

I started out as a merchandiser and then moved into project management implementing IT systems for buyers and merchandisers.

I was a contractor for many years which could involve working away from home but had a balance of working full time followed by periods of part time and a variety of projects that really worked for me.

How did your career change after having children?

After I had my daughter, who is now five, I didn’t want to be away from home and struggled to find flexible childcare so went back to a permanent role working in London four days a week.

I was lucky to get this but it was a difficult time, the hours and commute were long, I felt I was missing out on time with my daughter and I didn’t find the work rewarding.

Where did the idea for your venture come from?

Redundancy was the push I need to take the step into working for myself. Over the years I have considered different options for running my own business but have always come back to wanting to make the most of my strengths, my personality and my retail expertise.

I started my consultancy business, Ashridge Retail, to use my skills and experience to support independent retailers. I live in a beautiful market town in Hertfordshire with great independent shops and I am passionate about keeping them on our high streets and helping them thrive.

I work with the business owners, analysing their sales and reviewing their processes and systems to help them plan the product offer and manage stocks better to increase sales and reduce costs.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I network a lot, there are lots of groups in my town especially for working mums and I pick up a lot of contacts by word of mouth. It also means people have met me and know what I’m like which is invaluable for recommendations.

Why is work so important to you?

My work gives me an identity and purpose outside of being a mum. I also want to be a positive role model for my daughter to show her how I have made it work then can consider the different options as she grows up and makes her own career choices.

Who inspires you?

My dad. He was not academic at school and never really found a job he enjoyed and he gave up work and went back to college in his 30s.

It was a great upheaval for the whole family but he went on to create a successful exhibition display company which he and my mum ran for many years before retiring. He kept going, took some risks and made it work and has always been a great sounding board and support for me.

How do you balance your venture with your family?

By being really organised and not too precious! The housework gets done sporadically and we eat pasta more than I would like. I am also a school governor which often takes up evenings but I really enjoy it and find it very rewarding so diary management is key.

What are your top three pieces of advice for someone wanting to start their own business?

  1. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes (I say it to my daughter enough – it’s how we learn)!
  2. Talk to people, most people I have met since starting the business have been extremely helpful and you never know where that one conversation will lead.
  3. Be flexible – keep your vision but be open minded to different approaches and opportunities.

You can find out more about Ashridge Retail on their website