Claire Harper is founder of IndiaCoco, a retailer of children’s clothes, hand-picking the best of British clothing brands for parents who are looking for great value, high quality, original childrenswear clothing for babies, boys and girls aged 0-10. Prior to this Claire was in senior corporate marketing roles at Mamas & Papas, Sainsburys, Ocado and Argos. She took the plunge to set up her own children’s clothing brand when she couldn’t find the type of clothes she wanted to buy for her children, so she ventured into retail, initially via online and then via pop-ups, eventually establishing her own stores in community-based locations.
On 14th May 2015 IndiaCoco, independent childrenswear retailer, marked its third birthday with a move to a brand new flagship store in the Trinity Walk, Wakefield.
From dining room table to flagship store and global internet sales – IndiaCoco brand grows up
Earlier this year, probably about eight weeks ago actually we launched a new flagship store location at Trinity Walk Shopping Centre in Wakefield.
We’re in a much more prominent shopping environment now. Our brand is certainly growing up. Our retail neighbours are Costa Coffee and Debenhams. I really feel our brand is ready to go to the next level, which helps us to get the brand out there in terms of awareness, but also generates a lot more footfall.
Becoming a retail destination
Since our journey from the dining room over the last three years we’ve been working very hard on becoming a retail destination and now we’ve had the opportunity to move into a more prominent retail location that’s helped us on so many levels in a short space of time. That gives us a lot of confidence with our store roll out expansion plan and I’m already starting to look at store number two, store number three in other areas of the UK.
Retail is hard, we all know that, but I think from our journey and our experience, we’ve had to test things, we’ve had to learn along the way, we’ve had to initially go to a location which was a little bit off the beaten track, but that gave us a great platform to become that destination and to make sure customers knew that we were there. We had to work very hard to become that destination retailer and now that’s allowed us to move into a more prominent retail location which is helping the brand grow significantly.
That’s the retail side. We also have a thriving farm concession at the award winning Blacker Hall Farm Shop just outside of Wakefield and we’ve also got the flagship retail store in Trinity Walk Shopping Centre.
Making it easier and more convenient for customers to shop
Online is also a key channel of growth for us and over the last twelve months that channel has grown significantly for us. Running a multi-channel retail business you can’t keep your eye off the ball in terms of retail and online so we are equally investing and working very hard on a number of online initiatives. We’ve looking at a new website, we’re looking at lots of new initiatives to make it easier and more convenient for customers to shop.
We’ve got lots of exciting developments going on in terms of retail with our expansion, our move to Trinity and also with online how we can continue to grow the UK customer base, but also tap into that huge international base which has got so much potential for our brand.
IndiaCoco and the brand values that underpin it
My background is in marketing and brand and that is an area I am extremely passionate about. That’s one element of running a business and it’s a very important element.
When I started this business I had a very clear and strong vision of what I wanted this brand to be about. I think with any business you have to build a very strong foundation to be able to launch and grow a brand.
My background is in branding. I’ve worked with very strong brands – Argos, Ocado, John Lewis, Sainsbury and Mama & Papas to name a few. All of those brands have been extremely different, whether it’s retail or online.
Ocado was a start-up when I joined. I take a lot of parallels from what I’m doing at IndiaCoco from my time at Ocado where it was extremely entrepreneurial, very dynamic, really thinking outside of the box, thinking about how you can turn something on its head for a customer to make sure they’re receiving the best customer experience.
Being rebellious, turning things upside down and taking that opportunity to offer the customer a different service
Ocado was revolutionary in its approach by offering customers that opportunity to change habits of a lifetime where they could buy their groceries online and not go to their nearest store. That was also at a time where the retail giants Sainsburys, Tesco and Asda were struggling with their online operation, so at Ocado we could be rebellious and we could turn things upside down and we could take that opportunity to offer the customer a different service.
With IndiaCoco we’ve taken very similar values in terms of being entrepreneurial, being dynamic, having extremely high standards in terms of our brand values, to the point where they are on every shop wall that we’ve got. So customers walk straight into our shop and they’re on the back wall and they’re our values that the team and I have to live up to each and every day.
I think that sends out a message of what we’re about and tells the customer that these are our values and these are what we sign up to, this is what we deliver on. It gives our customers a degree of confidence and we want our customers to buy into that brand.
I think branding is extremely important. You’ve got to build a strong brand foundation. You’ve got to be very passionate about your values and what you’re offering to customers in terms of product and then ensuring that you’re delivering a fantastic customer experience and service day in, day out.
Why female marketers make such good entrepreneurs
I do quite a lot of speaking events up and down the country and lots of people ask me why this is. I think from my own experience, being a working mum, the business is inspired by my two daughters – Coco, who’s seven and India, who’s four – I’m used to juggling lots of things. I’m used to being very busy. I have to be very focused and disciplined with my time.
They always say, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” It’s that focus and that tenacity and that resilience that you never give up. I’ve always had that work ethic where you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to do things. You’ve got to push yourself out of your comfort zones.
My daughters inspire what I do every day and they were the reason for me to leave the corporate world, become an entrepreneur and set up my own business. That journey continues day in, day out. It’s a very steep learning curve for me still, but I’m a big believer that you’re got to push the boundaries, you’ve got to take risks. Some things will work out, some things won’t, but you learn by failures and having a go is a great place to start.
Women with a passion and an idea should go for it
I would encourage women who have a passion and an idea to go for it, because what’ve you got to lose? No one’s ever going to say, “Well she didn’t have a go at this. She didn’t try.” I think women have got an awful lot of time, energy, effort and lots of skills and experience where they can take that to the marketplace and be extremely successful in running a business.
I know certainly through my network I’ve met so many inspirational women who are now very good friends you need when you’re starting a business to bounce ideas off and just to give you that support when you do have a bad day and things are going wrong. To say actually tomorrow will be a better day. I think women can do that emotionally – they can give you that emotional support whereas you don’t always get that from your male colleagues within the workplace.
Balancing growth with maintaining excellent service
It was just me three years ago in the dining room, but what is key to me and again what I’m extremely passionate about is working with great people. I’ve been very fortunate that the business has grown in the last three years and is continuing to grow as I’m surrounding myself with brilliant people, who are, to be honest, a lot better at things than I am, so I think you have to choose the right people who have got very similar values to you in terms of passion and good customer service.
You have to share the brand vision and values with the team members. You’ve then got to empower them and encourage them to do a fantastic job – and they will if they’re motivated, if they’re feeling empowered, if they feel recognised and valued. You’ve got to let people get on with what they’re great at, and that’s what I like to think I’ve done. You’ve got to let go, you’ve got to delegate.
You are only as good as your team
A lot of new ideas that have been brought into the business haven’t been from me, they’ve been from team members and you are only as good as your team as the business grows, so I have got to let some things go so I can focus more strategically on growing the business and taking it to the next level.
Sometimes I have to be in the detail, but sometimes I have to get out of it and focus on the bigger picture and surrounding myself with a great team allows me to do that. I look at a lot of businesses that have been successful and it’s how they manage that growth and how they build a great team around them that really sets apart the brilliant businesses from the businesses that are potentially struggling to get to the next stage. There’s only so many hours in the day, you can only do so much, you’ve got to be smart about how you work and smart about the people that you work with.
Sharing my story
The speaking work that I do has come about through launching IndiaCoco, so when I launched it was just me. I didn’t have the marketing budgets I’d be used to having in previous jobs. I had to think really creatively about our brand and the story. I started to get asked to speak about the business and share my story on a regional basis across Yorkshire. I started to accept these opportunities and quickly found that people were interested in a number of aspects on my story.
The first one is around women in business. The second one is around having a successful corporate career and then leaving it at the age of 37 to start up a new business. I think that’s been a very interesting part of my journey and my story as well. I’m also a working mum. I’ve got two young daughters. A lot of people can relate to that.
The team that I work with now are all extremely professional with young families and there’s lots of people out there who have a family. You still want to work, you still want to be professional and have that work ethic and sometimes when you’re in organisations you don’t always get the flexibility that you need as a working mum, so I think my story and experience can resonate quite easily with different audiences.
Obviously the success of IndiaCoco from the dining room to where we are now hasn’t been an easy journey for us. There have certainly been ups and downs, but I talk a lot about resilience – I’m very open and honest in terms of the journey and I meet a lot of very interesting people along the way, so it’s a great opportunity for me to learn and network as well.
So I think from talking on a regional basis I was then approached by a London based speaking agency called Speakers Corner and my speaking work has taken off, which is fantastic. It’s a great way of me meeting new businesses – I go into lots of different businesses across the UK and share my story and aim to inspire and inform many different audiences about my personal journey and I like to think that we’re all sharing what we do together to give them that feedback and that support.
Future plans for IndiaCoco
We’ve got a very clear plan. I think you have to continue to build on your success. You’ve got to take small steps each and every day, but that’s we our approach so far and it’s got us to where we are now.
I think what’s next for IndiaCoco is a lot more investment in online and a lot more shops up and down the UK. We’ve had an awful lot of interest in our expansion plans. Obviously it takes time. We’re looking at lots of different opportunities, lots of different sites at the moment. Our customer is at the heart of everything we do, so the customer profiling in terms of where we go next is key for me. And that takes time in terms or researching.
I’m not rushing. The beauty of running your own business is that it’s all down to you at the end of the day. I’m extremely driven an ambitious about where we want the brand to go and again you have to make very sensible decisions along the way to ensure where we go next for our customer base and customers respond to our brand and our experience, so exciting developments online and exciting store expansion.
For me it’s also working with great people in the IndiaCoco team and to encourage that as we go through. Part of my ethic in that area is that, as I said before, I surround myself with brilliant people, professional women and working mums. We’re all offering each other flexibility in an environment that’s growing and succeeding and our customers continue to give us great feedback, so that makes me extremely proud.