Profile: Safer driving for free spirits

Sally Dickinsonand Alison Harrison’s online business supplies car maintenance kits that appeal to young drivers
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The Independent Online

When Sally Dickinson, 53, was made redundant she decided to take the brave option and start a business with an idea that crystallised after her two daughters passed the driving test. Dickinson saw "two young women who viewed driving as a route to freedom but who gave little thought to driver safety." And so the concept of Love My Car was developed – the supply of essential items to help new drivers avoid the avoidable and stay safe.

Dickinson involved her daughters and their friends in her market research. Common issues were identified such as running out of oil and being blinded by sun on a dirty windscreen. Dickinson felt that these problems were avoidable if the driver carried the right equipment. Her concept was to create a gift pack for new drivers. But engine oil and screen wash aren't usually thought of as presents and so Dickinson came up with a strong brand and design for her gift packs. "After all", says Dickinson, "if you want children to eat vegetables, it's best to put them on a pizza."

Dickinson found support for her business idea from Business Link in Cornwall and winning a national competition resulted in mentoring from Sir John Banham, the ex-Director General of the CBI. And when her friend Alison Harrison's husband died she found a kindred spirit, looking for a new challenge in life, who became her business partner. The marketing background of Harrison, 49, was an additional bonus.

The main challenge for the duo now is growing the business. Recent sales from their website have been boosted by links with organisations that promote driver safety among women. But to really grow their business, they need to get volume sales of products via mainstream retailers. And that means offering the large discounts only possible with high-volume purchases from suppliers – the cost of goods catch-22 for a new business.

"We can either raise money from investment to buy in bulk," says Dickinson, "or grow sales from our online business to generate the purchasing power that we need." Since outside investment would mean dilution of their ownership, the pair has elected to finance growth themselves. And that growth has recently been helped from an unplanned source: distributors in other countries. "We now have a distributor in Athens and enquiries from agents in Spain and Italy, which illustrates the power of a website to create international sales," says Dickinson.