Interview with boutique owner Jo Halliwell

When Jo Halliwell visited a shop looking for a prom dress for her daughter, she ended up buying the business! Three weeks later she opened her first boutique. Find out why she believes her family has the skills and experience to make their new business a success.

What’s your career background?

For over 18 years we have been in the shop fitting and property maintenance business. We have a successful company which keeps us very busy. We also have a company selling LED modules for signage.

What happened three weeks ago when you went prom dress shopping with your daughter?

We went to a boutique to buy a dress for my younger daughter’s prom. Tracey, the owner, had mentioned that she was selling all of the dresses as her other business was very busy and she didn’t have time to run the boutique.

When we got talking, I mentioned that it was something my girls and I would love to do and, in a nutshell, we agreed to buy all of the dresses and the business from her. So we went for one dress and came away with almost 80 and the business name!

Why did you decide to buy the business?

My two daughters are very much into fashion and love to get dressed up to go out, particularly on special occasions. My youngest wants to be a fashion designer and the eldest wants to work in television/sports (she is the girliest girl you will ever meet but with a passion for Leeds United).

My husband and I have always been self-employed and would definitely encourage our girls to go down this route. I felt that this would be the first step on the ladder for them to build up a successful business, helped of course by me!

What was the first thing you did after you decided to buy it?

Panic! We had just agreed to buy 80 dresses yet had no premises and had never done anything like this before. We spent the first week after agreeing to buy the business searching the local area for the perfect premises in the perfect location. We found these the following Friday, almost a week late.

You found, re-fitted, promoted and opened your new premises in just three weeks! How did you manage it?

Luckily, once we found the premises, we had the resources available to re-fit them within five days – our guys worked flat out to help. We also used some of our sub contractors to install signage, alarm, heating, roller shutters. Their help was greatly appreciated at such short notice.

My mum, sister and niece helped us source items for the boutique such as decor, carpets, curtains, shelves and more stock (bags, tiaras and jewellery).

My daughters and I had great fun ordering more dresses (shopping heaven!). I lay in bed every night making lists of things we needed to sort out – needless to say I didn’t get much sleep and there were times when I thought I must be mad.

In between all this, I was also running three other businesses – we have some great staff! It was literally all hands to the deck and three weeks to the day from going to buy one prom dress we opened.

What’s the feedback been like so far?

Absolutely brilliant – when we made our first sale we were all so excited, and then we got a fab review on Facebook.

The nicest part so far, though, has been receiving a text from a lady who bought a dress for her daughter and who texted us to thank us for making her daughter, who was nervous and self conscious, feel like a million dollars when she left with a beautiful dress and for making her mum feel great too. I knew then that we were doing it right.

What’s your vision for the business?

To continue to build on the success we have had so far. Already we are talking about opening further boutiques – ideas spinning around include hiring out dresses, buying back dresses and selling them as pre-owned, expanding to other areas of Leeds and the UK, offering a wider selection (such as christening gowns and junior prom dresses).

We all just feel that this is going to be a great success and we all have the drive to succeed – this is just the beginning.

What skills or experience do you have that will help to make it a success?

For me personally, many years of being self employed is the main skill I bring to the business But for all of us, it is just loving fashion, loving seeing people go out with a dress they love, identifying the dresses that will sell well, getting on with people and being able to give them that feeling that they do feel a million dollars in their special dress.

What do you think your biggest challenge will be?

Getting our name out there and continuing to sell dresses after the prom season is over. We are already thinking of ways of marketing the business to ensure we sell dresses not just for proms but for any special occasion – cruises, parties, balls, pageants and race days, for example.

When will you know you’ve ‘made it’?

When we have a chain of boutiques around Leeds and the UK selling gorgeous dresses for all occasions!

What advice do you have for other wannabe entrepreneur mums?

Be brave. We set up our first business after my husband was made redundant, and we didn’t want to be in that position again. It was successful because we worked hard and never gave up.

There are times when its not easy, but there are times when you definitely reap the rewards. And with this business, we are living a dream – doing something we love together as a family.

You can find out more about Jo and her business (and see a selection of their dresses) on her website.