In 2007, Dee Bates took the life-changing decision to leave her 18-year banking career and jump head first into a new adventure in retail.
Her business, West Collections, is a successful fashion and lifestyle store in St Brelade, Jersey. It sells stylish and affordable clothing, accessories, gifts and homewares that appeal to a wide range of tastes and ages.
Initially, Dee focused on ladies fashion and accessories but wanted to expand her range into gifts and homeware products. Lacking the space to grow, Dee started looking for larger premises that would be better suited to her needs.
Explains Dee: “It was time for a change. I’d been in banking for a long time and felt I’d reached the point in my career where I had achieved everything I could realistically do in that environment. But at the same time, I didn’t feel ready for retirement. I decided that for the rest of my working life, I wanted to do something completely different and something I felt some passion for. I’ve always loved fashion and decided that opening my own shop was something I really wanted to do.
Challenges to overcome included finding the right premises.
“The biggest challenge to starting the business was finding the right premises. At the time, I had no trading history or track record as a business, and so I found it difficult to be taken seriously by commercial landlords. The other major obstacle was finding wholesale suppliers willing to let me sell their stock. Several suppliers refused to sell their goods to me as they had existing customers in Jersey who bought from them and were concerned this would damage their reputation with their existing customers.
Eventually, I managed to secure a small unit and West Collections was open for business. While I had a shop, I still had to solve the problem of finding good quality suppliers who were prepared to trade with me. I attended as many industry trade fairs as I could to source suppliers who were not already trading in Jersey. I wanted to offer something different and original, a strategy I still apply today, but it is hard as Jersey is well equipped with some of the best brands available.
“The business really took off and in 2014 I made the decision to expand into a broader range of products. However space was an issue, which meant I had to look for bigger premises. Once again I found the business of finding the right premises and negotiating a new lease a challenge. Despite having an excellent track record of trading behind me from the success of the smaller shop, it was still difficult to persuade landlords to consider my application. It felt like a complicated minefield full of red tape, and I was getting nowhere fast.
A confidential sounding board
“I approached Jersey Business to see if they could help me navigate my way through the complexities of business leases or at least give me any advice or tips on how to proceed. I met with Nick Steel, who was a breath of fresh air to deal with. He listened to all the issues and challenges I was facing and then helped me work out a plan for negotiating with landlords. He also spoke on my behalf on a couple of pressing issues.
I’d recommend any business on the Island to get in touch with Jersey Business.
“Initially the commercial landlords were unhappy about the fact that I was involving someone else in the negotiations, but from my point of view, I felt I needed to have someone on my side that had my best interests at heart. Nick gave me sound, realistic advice and was always in my corner. I can’t speak highly enough of him and the Jersey Business team. I’d recommend any business in Jersey to get in touch with them. They are tuned into the way the Island and its idiosyncrasies work and can open doors that you might not be able to get through on your own.
“After a bit of a bumpy ride, I got my new shop. Initially, I sublet the premises but now have the lease in my own right.
“Having the larger shop has allowed me to expand my range from clothing and accessories into homewares, and I’m happy with the growth of the business. Retail is not just a business, it’s a way of life. You have to really love it to make it a success. You’re regularly working six days a week, and you need to appreciate that you’re not just selling stock, you’re selling an overall service and experience to each customer.
I believe that if you take a real interest in your customers, focus on delivering an outstanding service, and are prepared to work hard, retail success can be yours. I’m passionate about what I do. The day the passion dies will be the time to move on.”
West Collections, 6 Les Quennevais Precinct, Saint Brélade, Jersey
Tel: 01534 491342
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