Kate Heaton, Laura Day and Tess Grindle, co-owners of children’s fashion and lifestyle store Our Kid in Manchester and winner of the Best New Store category in the CWB Independent Retail Awards 2016.
1. What’s an average day in your job?
Laura Day: Once our kids have been dispatched to school and nursery, we open promptly at 9am to capitalise on parents stopping by for coffee after drop-off. The combination of shop and cafe means that our day can be incredibly varied – making toddler lunches one minute and advising on a new baby gift the next. We also fulfil all online orders from the shop. Each of us has a specific area of business focus, so any downtime is spent on finance, buying or marketing.
2. Was retail something you always wanted to work in?
Tess Grindle: Each of us has a very different career background and it’s been fascinating to see how those skills have transferred into a retail business. We all felt quite exhilarated after making sales at our first pop-up event and as our confidence in the business grew, we became focused on taking it to the next level with a bricks and mortar shop. It definitely feels like a dream job now that we’ve all been able to commit ourselves fully to the business.
3. What do you love most about your job?
Kate Heaton: I think we all feel a special sense of pride when we hear an audible gasp of delight as new customers come into the shop and see all their favourite labels under one roof. We’re constantly honing our buying strategy to react to the different demands of our customers’ buying habits, which is a very rewarding and creative side of the job.
4. And your least favourite part?
TG: Crunching the numbers. We’re so lucky that Laura is a maths-whiz; the level of detail she can produce for analysis is something else! That side of the business is a mystery to me, I’m an ‘ideas’ person, but we do our best to strike a balance between logic and creativity.
5. What motivates you in your work?
LD: When it’s your own business there is always the next idea to think about, or the accounts to do after the children’s bedtime. It’s all worth it though, and as there are three of us, we all support each other and have fun doing what we do.
6. How did you decide on the shop name?
KH: It was actually my dad who suggested the name, Our Kid. He thought it represented our Manchester heritage and had a bit of northern swagger. He was absolutely right! Our name is, without doubt, one of our strongest assets and something we are very proud of.
7. Do you have a business mentor?
LD: We don’t have a business mentor but would love one. Meeting like-minded retailers has provided us with some great insights. At Bubble London in January we had a great chat with Gemma from Crab and the Fox and it was heartening to find that we faced the same challenges.
8. Which other independents do you admire?
TG: Our benchmark of successful independent retail has to be Oi Polloi in Manchester. It delivers an incredible brand experience, from the store through to the blog, and speaks in a language that’s so relevant to its audience. It’s visually stunning and the buying is faultless. I once sent an email to the buying team asking for advice and the next day, the owner Steve called and spent an hour on the phone talking me through the various considerations of buying strategy and marketing. It was a very generous gesture and one that we hope to be able to repay to another aspiring retailer one day.
9. Which is your favourite children’s brand?
KH: We’re lucky enough to be working with some of the UK’s biggest innovators in children’s fashion and each brings a unique dynamic to our collection. Becoming one of the first independent boutiques to stock Scamp & Dude is undoubtedly a buying highlight for us on many levels. It has proven to be a huge hit with Manchester’s influential mum community.
10. If you launched an Our Kid own-label, what would it be?
LD: We do harbour desires to launch our own label and have researched various options to include a core range of unisex basics.
11. If budget was unlimited, what would your dream store include?
TG: We’d definitely like a larger retail space with scope to expand into more ‘mama merch’ and core collections. Our events are hugely popular and give us a great opportunity to recruit new customers and engage existing families, so perhaps a separate space to hold more regular happenings and special occasions such as baby showers and birthday parties.
12. What’s your strangest customer request?
LD: One of our mums was so desperate to keep her little boy happy that she asked to buy our display Chirpy whistle as it was the only one we had in stock. Despite explaining that half the toddlers in Manchester had probably licked it she went ahead. Same happened with a Lara & Ollie teething necklace. Some of our products are simply irresistible.
13. Who would be your dream customer?
KH: In the past, we might have named a big-hitting celebrity, but now that we work in the shop and have developed close relationships with our regulars, I would say that our dream customer is one that returns week after week to support the business. It’s quite clear that we have a core of loyal Our Kid families that appreciate we will only survive if they make the effort to shop local.
14. What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
LD: To put community at the heart of the business. In this age of social and virtual worlds, being able to create a tangible experience for our customers is a huge advantage and we do this by holding events and free activities in the shop.
15. And the worst?
TG: Oh, there was a lovely moment when we were setting up the shop and we were told we had no idea what we were doing and that we would fail – it’s very pleasing to have proven that individual wrong.
16. What do you wish you’d known before you opened Our Kid?
KH: The importance of budget setting and forecasting. It would have been useful to understand a bit more of what customers would purchase from us in the initial few months. Some brands were so popular that we had to make some panic calls to our suppliers to order more immediately and other products took up valuable shelf space. We’ve learned so much ‘on the job’ over the last 12 months and have become much better at developing buying plans for each season as a result.
17. What is your greatest achievement career-wise?
LD: Winning Best New Store in the CWB Independent Retail Awards 2016 was undoubtedly our proudest moment. To be recognised by such an esteemed panel of judges, so early on in our retail journey, gave us a huge confidence boost.
18. Where do you find inspiration?
KH: Since opening the shop we’ve found inspiration from so many sources. Instagram is becoming more and more significant in our buying strategy and as a marketing channel. As parents, our own lives, demands and desires continue to be the driving force of our innovation. And we love the resurgence of Manchester’s indie retail scene; there’s some amazing inspiration on our doorstep with store owners combining concepts and going super niche to deliver some incredible customer experiences.
19. Where do you see Our Kid in five years’ time?
KH: We would love to see Our Kid take up residence in a number of suburbs across the north-west. The website will continue to be a huge priority in terms of driving growth and we’d definitely like to see some more awards lined up on our counter.
20. What difference has being a CWB Independent Retail Award winner made to your business?
TG: Winning the award has raised our industry profile and elevated the Our Kid brand to another level. It’s enabled us to secure some amazing new labels and opened up opportunities, such as judging for Bubble London’s Rising Star Awards in January. Most importantly, it’s given us a brilliant talking point with customers who share our sense of pride. Being an award-winning retailer has had an incredibly positive impact in all areas of operation.