A couple of years ago, I tried to buy my pink-mad friend a moving-in present. I could find plenty of tacky pink things, but nothing luxurious or good quality. Around the same time, I read an article about the woman who started The White Company. She'd made such a success of it and I thought why not create something similar with pink?
I asked Adele what she thought. I knew Adele because our children are at school together. From previous conversations, I realised she was an astute business woman. She thought it was a fantastic idea and we decided to go into it together.
It was a good time for Adele because she and her husband had recently split up and she wanted a new focus. I had more time on my hands too, because my son was about to start school. Like Adele, I was a single mother and I liked the idea of the freedom and financial security that can come with running your own business. My last job had been as an art co-ordinator in the film industry and working for someone else had left me feeling I didn't have enough control over my work-life balance.
It quickly became clear that we needed to play to our different personality strengths and slice up the business accordingly. I'm good at creative thinking and schmoozing,so I focused on things like designing the T-shirts – which are our main product at the moment – and getting celebrity endorsements, as well as concentrating on the day-to-day detail of the company. Adele's area is business strategy, sales and negotiation.
Not long after we started on our business plan, we realised we'd each had serious breast cancer scares quite recently. It was an amazing coincidence and I suggested donating a percentage of what we sold to a breast cancer charity during October, which was breast cancer awareness month. Adele said why not make it an ongoing pledge and that felt right.
We did a lot of research into the 14 breast cancer charities that exist in the UK. In the end, we chose Against Breast Cancer because they are working to develop a vaccine. That was more appealing to us as it is a way to prevent the disease rather than focusing on cure. We were also attracted to the fact that they were a small charity and they didn't get the backing that some of the bigger ones do. Our aim is to raise £1m for them.
Back on the business side of things, we ran into quite a few challenges in the early days. In particular, we got really ripped off by some suppliers, particularly with the T-shirts. Our bank manager recommended a supplier and we thought that must mean he was trustworthy. He wasn't. We also ran into a lot of unexpected red tape that slowed us down.
All this meant that while our business vision remained strong, we had to hold off launching from June to October last year and when we did launch, we hadn't had time to sort out advertising. Nonetheless, the business has got off to a strong start. It's really helped to have some members of the England football and rugby teams backing us. Our next step is to extend our produce range and appeal and then focus on raising our profile even further.
So far, the business has taken up an enormous amount of our time. I'd expected that would happen – if setting up a business was easy, everyone would do it. But what I did find surprising was just how complicated and draining it has been.
Despite us both having put our all into it, Adele and I don't really argue and most of the time we have great fun. That's not bad going considering we are both very passionate people and considering we spend more time together than most married couples. Also, we don't have a neutral space at the moment – we work from Adele's home, which could also have taken its toll but hasn't.
We did have one blazing row. It was awful; we really screamed at each other. But it was a one-off. In fact, our friendship has grown even stronger and our kids are extremely close too.
Although both my and Lisa's cancer scares were serious, Lisa is much less of a worrier than me. I had sat in the clinic with the other women feeling like it was a game of Russian roulette. It could have been one of us, none of us, all of us. But what Lisa and I did share was a feeling of wanting to eradicate breast cancer for women in the future and so our commitment to the cause very quickly became a key part of our business.
Once we'd decided to donate a certain amount of money from each product we sold, we set the figure at 25 per cent. Eventually, depending on how successful the business is, we'd like to increase that to 45 or even 65 per cent. Against Breast Cancer isn't cash-rich, so we are hoping we can really make a difference to them.
I loved Lisa's idea of a company that sells everything pink as soon as she told me about it. I felt we'd make a good team because we got on well and have different talents. I'd been a director for Xerox for 18 years and worked my way up to board level in Ireland. I also run a £4m company with my brother and sister. Lisa, on the other hand, has a history of working in a creative role.
It's fortunate that we do make a good team because setting up the business has taken an enormous amount of our time. Last year, we'd spend at least five nights a week up until 2am. Then, when the weekend came, the kids would all stay at my house and Lisa and I would work at least one day together and half the night. Most of it has been really good fun because we both have a lot of energy and have a strong sense of humour. But given how strong each of our characters are, I can't believe how little we disagree. I guess it's because we have a common goal and when we do disagree we use it to the advantage of the company – seeing it as an opportunity to consider a different way of approaching something.
Despite my business background, I don't have experience of sourcing goods and retailing and I found it exasperating that we lost so much time because of things such as not having a VAT number. Once we had stock sitting in a dock in Southampton for two months. We had to get a stock release number to retrieve it. When it eventually came, the number was 000!
Although our launch date was postponed by a few months, the business has done well. We sold £28,000 worth of goods online in the first month alone and we are increasingly supplying to retail outlets and hairdressers. One local shop sold £3,500 worth of goods in one week.
I think some people are surprised we've made the business work so well. They say Lisa and I are like chalk and cheese. But I think we really complement each other. I bring more of a business and sales focus to decisions and Lisa can use her creativity to think of ideas I'd never think of. She has a lot more patience than me and can work on the detail of the business, yet at the other extreme she has an amazing ability to work well with all our great celebrities that have been so supportive.
At the moment, we have quite a small range of products but we're working towards selling lovely pink things that appeal to everyone – a baby rattle right through to fashion for girls and women. In five years, I'd like people who think pink to turn to us automatically and eventually I'd like us to sell some high quality things that aren't even pink at all.Reuse content