Interview with Shirley Goodgrove founder of Two Birds London

Find out how her daughter’s passion for ice skating inspired Shirley Goodgrove to launch Two Birds London, performance wear for ice skating and other sports. And how her first approach to the business didn’t work but how, with a few tweaks, she hit upon the right products.

Shirley also reveals what makes her jackets and leggings special, and how she managed to get the Dancing on Ice stars contacting HER about her products!

What’s your career background?

I’ve always worked with businesses on improving their processes – first within the environmental sector and later within the telecommunications sector.

After going part time following the birth of my second child, I moved within companies to cover diverse jobs from accounts to project management to customer service. I used to think this was a career disadvantage as I wasn’t doing one thing but actually it’s given me a great grounding to run my own business so now I’m very thankful.

How did your career change after having children?

I went back to work full time after my eldest was born but dropped to part time after I had my second child.  I wasn’t very comfortable leaving my daughter in childcare for 10 hours a day and adding a second child to the mix makes everything that much more complicated again, especially as there’s a six year age gap between them.

Logistically it’s hard enough to work with kids but when you’ve got multiple kids all going to different places in the morning and all needed collected by a deadline from different places in the evening, it’s a nightmare!

I knew I didn’t want to be at home full time either so going back to work part time seemed like the way to go but in reality, that wasn’t much easier as I was cramming a full time job into three long days and driving like a crazy person to get back in time to collect them before I racked up the £1 per min late fees!

It’s really difficult to find positions that have the same pro-rata level of responsibility and pay as full time jobs so I knew I was lucky and didn’t want to give that up but the crazy juggling and rushing everywhere took its toll so I resigned from that job when my son was five.

Originally the plan was to have three months off work, regroup and take contract positions but that never happened because they all expected full time work with long hours which just wasn’t viable for me.

Where did the idea for Two Birds London come from?

My daughter ice skates and I’d been involved in making and ‘blinging’ (adding crystals) to the team costumes which I really enjoyed. Other skaters from the rink started asking if we could make one-off dresses for their skating tests and competitions, and so the idea of a skating clothing line was born.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

The rink allowed me to run a pop up stall one weekend and I stocked it with one-off dresses that I’d made or sourced. It quickly became apparent that pre-made dresses were going to be a disaster as every dress on the rail was the right size but the wrong colour or the right colour but the wrong size or the skater wanted to amend the dress in some way.

I could have stopped there but I realised that what many skaters were asking for wasn’t dresses but actually jackets and leggings to practice in. So I did a quick about turn on the product offering and ran another pop up stall three months later, but this time stocked with jackets, leggings and skirts.

It was a risk as I had to buy in a lot of stock, but it was worth it as the response was significant just within my home rink. That’s when I knew I was onto something.

What’s your USP?

The fabric I use is specifically designed for performance sports and is fleece-lined for comfort and warmth, moisture wicking and has anti-bacterial properties. One of the main complaints I heard from skaters, and particularly parents, was that the kids were cold when they were on the ice. So I specifically set out to find a thicker fabric than my competitors were using.

I wanted to use a fabric that I’d be happy to put my own daughter in, so the fabric properties were important to me and have become a real selling feature to parents and skaters.

I also give my customers control over the personalisation of their items, so they can add their name and/or design in a font, stone colour and design of their choice. And if they want something totally different I create it for them as a custom order so they can get exactly what they want. This is particularly successful with clubs who want club logos or branding on jackets.

Who’s your target audience?

I have two! I need to appeal to the kids who wear my products, but it’s the mums who buy so I need to appeal to them too. I have customers from age four to approx 65 years old, but the peak of my customers are in the 10-14 year old bracket.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I use social media a LOT – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and, to a lesser degree, Pinterest. I also try to get to events to meet people face to face: some clubs/rinks invite me to attend their venue and I’ve also taken stands at sporting competitions.

But the best way I’ve found to spread the word is to give outstanding customer service; it’s become something that we consistently get praised for. When customers are happy, the word spreads naturally.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

I recently sent gift packs of my products to the female Dancing on Ice celebrities, most of whom then gave me a shout out on their social media. Then the male celebs and pro skaters started getting in touch! I’ve had a lot of social media coverage as a result and am now beginning to get calls requesting “a jacket like Brooke’s”.

I also ran a Halloween pumpkin campaign where I provided free download templates for each sport that I provide designs for so that they could make a sports-themed pumpkin. There were five videos and collectively they got over 100,000 views in five days.

Halloween isn’t a holiday that you’d instantly think of fitting with performance sports, but thinking outside the box a bit allowed me to really spread the word about my company.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Supplier relationships are key to successful businesses, especially if you have to hold stock. I had a supplier let me down last year and finding a replacement that met my criteria took time and energy.

How have your grown your business?

The business has grown organically – I put in my own money to start up as I didn’t want to have loan repayments to worry about. It’s possibly meant growing slower than I might have with a large injection of cash, but it’s also given me time to feel out the direction that the business should go in.

As a result, I’ve been able to expand into gymnastics, yoga, ballet and other performance-based sports which I might not have done otherwise.

And your proudest moment so far?

Seeing Dancing on Ice celebrities and professional skaters wearing Two Birds London jackets and leggings.

Why is work so important to you?

I love the challenge of running a business – every day is so diverse. I love having the mix of making business decisions one day and having creative direction in the products the next. I also get to show my kids that you have to work hard to get the things you want in life so hopefully I’m setting a good example there for them.

Who inspires you?

Right now, on a business level, a guy called Nigel Botterill has really inspired me in growing my business. I particularly love his 90-minute theory and putting it into practice has really focused my mind and pushed my business forward in a short space of time. (Find you you can complete a day’s work in just 90 minutes using Focus Blocks.)

On a creative level, I love seeing the designs that the wardrobe dept from Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice come up with. I also follow Brad Griffies, Lisa McKinnon and @xcostumedesigns on Instagram as their dress designs and use of crystals are very inspiring.

How do you balance your business with your family?

It’s not easy, that’s for sure! My husband is a huge help both professionally and at home in keeping everything ticking over, especially in the run up to Christmas.

My kids are older now and understand the long hours I need to put in, but working from home helps give me the flexibility to be there for them when they need me to be.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Do your research – know your market, what’s already out there and at what price point, who your ideal customer is and what they would buy from you.  Don’t scrimp on this stage! It’s boring but so important.
  2. Trust your gut instinct – everyone will have an opinion about what you should do and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by well meaning advice but YOU have to be comfortable with the way your business is run so don’t ignore your gut instincts.
  3. Talk to everyone (and be nice!) – you never know whose child/cousin/friend does a performance sport and might be your next sale.

You can find out more about Two Birds London on their website.