What impact did the pandemic have on Winser London?
In an operational sense, we were reasonably well equipped to deal with lockdown, because we are a digital-first, e-commerce business, without lots of bricks-and-mortar stores, and our we were used to remote working. However, there were still enormous challenges to overcome, and we needed to be agile and creative, not least because many of our customers come to us for work clothes and they weren’t going into to the office.
My team has always had a familial feel to it and I’m proud of the respect we all have for each other and the way we support each other. At the start of the pandemic, we came together (virtually, of course!) and everyone was unanimous in saying if we don't make it, it won't be for lack of imagination, energy, or determination. We brainstormed ideas and early on, we hid Easter bunnies on the website with surprise gifts for customers then we hosted a sell-out designer sample sale online.
The events of the last year have accelerated changes in society and have prompted lots of people to think more carefully about how they want to live, work and shop and what their values are as members of the global community. We are a business run by women for women and have always supported female-focused charities, but during the pandemic we wanted to do more for our customers and in the communities on our doorstep. We did a fun advent calendar, with a different initiative every day in December, offering discounts or gifts with purchases and the chance for people to nominate key workers to receive treat packages. It was immensely popular and we received incredible feedback.
Many women have either had enough of the corporate world or want to reap the rewards of their hard work for themselves, doing things on their terms. Or they have reached a crossroads in life, perhaps their children have flown the nest and they are ready for a new challenge. Sometimes they have an idea they have always wanted to implement but haven’t had the energy or resources to do it.
I would say that you always need to talk to someone who will challenge your thinking: not a friend or family member, but other business people and people in your target market who can be honest about the potential for your concept. Researching the market is vital: look at your competition, find data about demographics and growth. There are lots of enterprises dedicated to supporting start-ups with this, offering feedback and guidance: some are free, so it’s worth exploring what’s available. I would say around three quarters of start-ups fail, but there’s a lot you can do to optimise your chances of success, and lots of people don’t do the basics. It’s important not to be under the illusion you’re going to make a fortune: the reality of a start up is that it’s hard work and requires long hours and you can go for a long time without a salary. Use your network and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people who you respect.