Adventures in Micro-Business: A neat idea for a business? Corset is!

Each month, Russell Smith answers your queries and profiles a small business with a big challenge
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Juliana Reed, 27 and Cécile Oakley, 33, launched their fashion corsetry business Juliana et Cécile this month with the opening of their first boutique in Ryde on The Isle of Wight.

Juliana Reed, 27 and Cécile Oakley, 33, launched their fashion corsetry business Juliana et Cécile this month with the opening of their first boutique in Ryde on The Isle of Wight.

"Family life on an island can be idyllic," says Reed, "but it starts to pale when your husband is on a work-away treadmill." With lonely hours to fill, Juliana started to make fashion garments with best friend Cécile just for fun. But when their children started nursery last September, the young mothers became engrossed in their new passion: over-garment fashion corsetry. They began to consider whether they could turn this into a business.

"With my accounting background and Juliana's operational skills as an engineer, it seemed realistic," explains Cécile, "but the acid test would be whether anyone would want to buy our garments." The means to answer that question came via an art exhibition organised on the island by Sam Mellows and Martin Bouette from the Business Development Unit of the Surrey Institute of Art & Design. The exhibition offered valuable market research and PR opportunities. But there was a snag: an application to exhibit had to be made within just seven days.

Undaunted, the duo created four corsets with matching accessories. They developed a logo based on the Japanese character onna (woman); this they incorporated into promotional material that they designed and produced themselves - all in one week. "A week that offered a test of our ability to juggle commitments," observes Juliana.

The show was a success. There was a curious side effect from the show format: women who tried on garments over their blouses acted as adverts.

The next step was to source women keen to do sewing from home and a cutting company able to speed up production. Finally, they took the plunge and became leaseholders of their own boutique in January.

It's certainly been a roller-coaster ride but it's really paid off, says Juliana: "We're now negotiating our first contract with a distributor in Japan!"

Juliana et Cécile: 01983 565 732

ADVENTURES IN MICRO-BUSINESS

Q. I am concerned that one of my employees is bullying two of my more junior members of staff. How do I handle this?

A. The charity MIND publishes a booklet called How to Deal With Bullying at Work. You can view this from their website ( www.mind.org.uk) or purchase it from Mind Publications (telephone 0844 448 4448) for just £1.

Q. A friend and I have been discussing a business venture that would operate as a partnership. He suggests that we go into it on a 60:40 basis in his favour. But aren't all partnerships done on a 50:50 basis?

A. It is not unusual for profits from a partnership to be split into unequal portions. For example, when a new partner joins a pre-existing partnership, there is a case to be made that the founding partners should have a larger share of profits. There must be good reason for any unequal share that all parties perceive as fair. It is vital to get a Partnership Agreement drawn up before you go into any partnership - discuss this with your solicitor as soon as possible.

Q. Could you explain what first aid responsibilities I have as a small business owner with only three employees please?

A. Health and Safety regulations apply to all workplaces. These require employers to provide "adequate" equipment, facilities and personnel such that first aid can be given to employees at work. You must undertake an assessment of first aid needs; see the Health and Safety Executive website ( www.hse.gov.uk).

QUESTIONS PLEASE

Send your questions to Prof Russell Smith at ios@businessboffins.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice.

Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate; see www.businessboffins.com/ios.

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