JoJo Maman Bébé is the UK's leading boutique mother and baby brand. With more than 80 UK stores, 750 staff and trade customers in 50-plus countries, it's perhaps difficult to believe that its founder and managing director, Laura Tenison MBE (pictured), started her business in 1993 as a classic 'kitchen table' enterprise. So, how has she scaled JoJo Maman Bébé into one of the UK's best-known high-street brands and what advice does she offer?
"With my first business, I just wanted to be able to pay my rent and give up my day job. Selling that small business provided some of the start-up funding for JoJo Maman Bébé - retail fashion companies aren't cheap to launch. I was determined to grow quickly; by then I'd been a sole trader for six years, often working other jobs to supplement my income.
"JoJo's still run the way it was when it was founded. I have an open-door policy and spread my time around those who need me. Our directors have the same attitude and our business culture is non-hierarchical. I've always been very busy. Whenever I can't cope, we recruit. But that person takes on their own responsibilities and often it comes back to you again. In business you never reach the top of your mountain, the peak just keeps getting higher. I try to enjoy the climb and the view from wherever I am.
Funding and branding
"We have a minority investor on our board. We respect them and they're happy with our progress. We didn't just go for the biggest investment - we chose best fit. It's been one of my best decisions. We turned down millions more, but we've continued grow sustainably - about 10-20% a year. I've no interest in investors seeking short-term returns.
"Of course, your brand is one of your most valuable assets. You must protect it. Maintaining your brand values can be expensive, but it's imperative. We've had many lucrative offers from overseas, as well as franchise and license requests, but we've rejected them to retain control and ensure that if customers 'want JoJo' - they must come to JoJo.
Suppliers and premises
"We've remained loyal to our suppliers when scaling and have worked with them to help them to deliver increased volumes. Suppliers have their own considerations; cash, staff, machinery, etc. They need to be confident that if they keep pace with your demands, you'll keep buying from them. We're not interested in suppliers who are continually focused on cutting their costs to the bone, this will only affect the people they employ.
"Having or finding the right premises is crucial when scaling - particularly in retail. I still find all of ours. Right now, I'm sitting in a cafe opposite an empty store I'm considering, watching for potential footfall and working out if it's right for JoJo. Opening a new store costs up to £200,000, so mistakes are expensive. We have only closed two out of all the stores we've opened.
"I know I can be too soft and people can take advantage. So, I've delegated some management to tougher people. But we trust our employees and support them as much as possible. I love my teams and will always put them before profit.
"I started JoJo with just two staff members, but now have about 750. Until recently all our directors had originally joined the business as college-leavers, juniors or managers. I'm very proud that we grew to £50m turnover with an internally trained and recruited board. In early 2016, we recruited two new directors in areas in which we lacked expertise - IT and operations. They've been a great. In rural Africa your children are considered your wealth. At JoJo, our people are our wealth.
Leadership and marketing
"Over the years I've learnt on the job, working in every area of the business. I understand what's required if we're to remain successful and grow. You can't lead growth unless you know your market, its potential and really understand your company.
"I don't believe in consultants. Asking people close to you whom you trust can get you better advice. That said, I have a great friend of 25 years who's a logistics consultant and I'll often pick his brain.
"Marketing has changed massively since I started - thank goodness it has!
JoJo started as a mail order catalogue business. Cataloguers have to be really data-savvy to survive, which was a good training for us. We love design, we love analysis and we love innovation. Often you learn as you go in business. Learning and growing are both crucial parts of life."
Laura's key pieces of advice on scaling
- "Running and scaling a business requires a huge amount of hard work. If you don't want to frequently work 16-hour days - work for someone else. It's important to genuinely love what you do."
- "Make sure your branding is consistent throughout and protect it while scaling your business."
- "Remain ethical and honest - no matter how big you grow. It might sound moralistic, but it goes a very long way."