Beautiful Soles co-owner Lucy Jackson was inspired to start her business after her daughter sadly contracted a bone infection as a newborn. Seven years after launching the business, her and her business partner are now launching another arm to the business, Beyond Beautiful Boutique. Here’s what they’ve learned along the way.
What were you doing when you decided to create your own business?
Ali (Alison Henry) and I had become best friends after meeting at work years before and ended up having babies within six months of each other. Neither of us relished the thought of returning to work and putting our bubs in childcare so we were always coming up with hair-brained ideas for businesses – most of which needed more capital than we could have laid our hands on!
What inspired you to start the business? When did you officially start it?
The inspiration was my daughter Madeline, who sadly contracted a bone infection as a newborn. We were lucky that the surgeon was able to save her leg during the operation but we were told that she may have trouble learning to walk. When she started to crawl I began to research what type of shoes were recommended for a first shoe. It was unanimous that soft soles were the right way to go, so off I went to the shops. It was not as easy as I had thought…5 shops later I found a Canadian brand and bought a pair for $52 (gulp). I did not love the colour or design, but there were no other choices. I had a friend over from England and she asked me what I really wanted to do for work, I said start a cool but affordable baby shoe business and she said well do it then! So I rang Ali and said ‘I have a business idea, and I think this one will work!’. She was as excited as I was, so Beautiful Soles was born!
What was your start-up cost? How did you acquire the money and what did you use it for?
Neither of us had much in the way of savings, but we scraped together $5000 for our first shipment of shoes which arrived on Madeline’s first birthday in 2005. We bought clear noodle boxes for packaging which we thought was very unique and modern – which it was at the time! We had stickers printed for the boxes and had business cards made with sizes and care instructions on the back to save costs, that we popped inside the boxes. That was all we needed to start with – nice and simple.
What was the biggest obstacle?
I would not say we really had any obstacles but that was probably due to our naivety and optimism – we just ploughed ahead! One thing we didn’t realise was the amount of stock we would have to carry. We have over 40 designs across many different sizes. That’s a lot of shoes to pay for and store!
How did you rise above the tough days? Those days when people said no, things fell through or someone said they didn’t “get it’’.
Ali is the ying to my yang. She is an eternal optimist and never lets anything get her down. I tend to be far more doom and gloom – together we cover all possibilities, we cheer each other up and we start focusing on the next thing on the list rather than dwelling on the past.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
Not long as we were smart with our start up costs. We started Beautiful Soles with the plan to sell at markets, then we had raised enough we built our online store. We have never had a bank loan, but most of the money we make goes back in to the business. Buying stock, advertising, expos, web design the list goes on and on. We are in our 6th year now and things are going really well. We have expanded the business and are now taking on consultants that are as passionate about children’s shoes as we are.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What is the downside?
The obvious answer is being able to work your own hours around your family, school pick ups etc but on a larger scale it gave us freedom. Both Ali and I went through some unpredictable life changes in 2007 and being our own bosses meant it was OK to put things on hold for a while. My son was born with Velo Cardio Facial Syndrome and had heart surgery at 3 days old. Life was upside down for a long time and I took my foot off the gas business wise. If I was employed during this period, they would have sacked me for sure!
For Ali being her own boss meant that when she relocated to the South Coast, she took her job with her. We reviewed how we ran the company and how we could make it work from two locations so far apart. We moved our warehouse to Nowra as rent in Sydney was an expense we were glad to see the back of.
The downside – regular money of course! How wonderful life was when you had a guaranteed pay check at the end of the week!
I am a Facebook addict. There, I admitted it! Beautiful Soles has a strong Facebook following. Our numbers grew significantly when we ran our ‘Face of Beautiful Soles’ competition. We have a Twitter account but I can’t see the value in it from a business point of view. I have it linked to Facebook so that every post we make gets ‘tweeted’ – because you never know!
Ali is studying at the moment and has done lots of research into social media. Youtube is an area we are starting to focus on now as video is great for your search rankings.
How have you been using public relations to grow your business? What strategies have you used?
I have to be honest, that it’s an area we have never spent money on. We are on the Call Out lists and send products to the magazines and often get published. I have written an article ‘Guide to buying Baby and Toddler shoes’ that was printed across a lot of websites with links back to our website. We have sent shoes to some famous mums like Nicole Kidman, Miranda Kerr and Shelley Craft but have not yet spotted the bubs wearing them in the gossip mags! One day…
Where do you work from?
Both Ali and I work from home, that’s the joy of an online business. We now live 2.5 hours away from each other but Skype regularly and rely on email heavily. We both have iPhones and check orders and emails throughout the day – wherever we are.
We do 4-5 expo’s a year around Australia and we do a lot of brainstorming during our time together. Expo’s are a great chance for us to be face to face with our customers and get feedback and ideas.
Who are your entrepreneurial role models? What’s so inspiring about them?
I love Britt Designs, a baby company that is known for its use of faux fur. Britt also started on markets selling her hand made bears and has gone on to have an internationally recognised children’s fashion business, even supplying Harrods! I remember sitting in a cafe with my daughter who was wearing pink Britt Design ugg boots (this was before Beautiful Soles was started and my children were allowed to wear other brands!). A lady came up to me and said ‘your baby is wearing Britt shoes, My daughter is Britt!’ it was lovely and I remember thinking ‘wow, Britt is a person?!’ I thought it was a massive corporation somewhere but putting a human face to such a great brand made me think – I could do that too!
How have you acquired the skills and knowledge you have to make your business successful?
Blind luck for the most part. We took baby steps and learnt along the way. Ali comes from an accounts background and, as I mentioned, she is doing a Small Business course, so she is the brains of the operation. My skills are more creative. I network on Facebook and have picked the brains of many a successful person. Our number one rule is learn from your mistakes, and the mistakes of others.
What’s the best piece of business advice you ever received?
In the early days we went to a business seminar with people like Penny Scallan as guest speakers. Two bits of advice I took from the day –
1. Be careful what you wish for. Supplying a massive chain like David Jones might be what you strive for but think about what you really want from your business, and your life balance. Do you want to churn massive quantities for minimal profits, or would you rather stock smaller boutique businesses for a decent return? A lot of the large department stores have a cancellation clause written in to their contracts so if you are one day late for delivery (even through no fault of your own) they have the right to cancel the order – which leaves you with a lot of stock and a big debt!
2. A great tip was to contact the local design school/college and give them your brief for your logo. We got our fantastic logo designed by a student who wanted to have clients for her project, and paid just a small fee for goodwill. We have since stayed in touch and she has designed our logo for our new business ‘Beyond Beautiful Boutique’ – so it paid off in the end for her!
What is your favourite product/service that you offer?
Our core business is soft sole leather shoes. It’s where it all began and although we have some amazing new shoes like our Canvas range, my passion is still soft sole leather shoes. I hate seeing a toddler in hard, heavy shoes. Babies bones are so soft and they need the flexibility and wide fit of our shoes. We always say ‘Barefoot is best but that’s not always practical – that’s when you need Beautiful Soles’.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Before you start, try and get the support of your partner, parents and friends. You will need them to support and encourage you.
Starting a business is not a financial fix or an easy way to make a living – it’s the opposite for quite a long time. Be prepared to take a job to support your new business or bring income into your household while your fledgling company is taking shape.
If you have done your research and things add up then don’t be put off by nay-sayers. It’s a fantastic feeling having your own business. Something you can be proud of every day. You had an idea and you followed it through, not many people can say that!
Are you on social media? What’s your favourite social media platform?
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