Tuesday 1 April 2014

2Inspire Network Business Profile: Joanne Napier of Linen Loft

In this inspirational business interview we meet Joanne Napier who founded Linen Loft when she spotted a gap in the market for a social selling business which also offered luxurious, high quality bedding and home accessories that are affordable. Her business story is one of passion and dedication and serves as an inspiration to many.
Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
There is no typical day! Yesterday I was sourcing new products for next season, which meant a bit of travelling, while today I am working with my logistics company to fine tune our delivery process. I also need to meet with my web designer to get our new products section finalised and am training two new members of staff on how to host a party and sell the products. It is varied and I love it.
What made you start the business and how did you get started?
The concept of social selling has been around for a few years now and is working really well for companies such as Stella and Dot – the US company organises jewellery parties. I was aware of the success of social selling companies, particularly in the States, and it was during a trip to the US that I spotted a gap in the UK market.
This gap was for luxurious, high quality bedding and home accessories that are affordable and available to women who might not have the time to shop, especially for themselves. The UK home furnishings market is estimated to be worth almost £4 billion and growing, however until now, the opportunity for high quality products to be browsed and purchased at leisure has not been recognised.
A lot of time was spent researching other products and companies and once I was confident there was a gap in the market, I put together my business plan, sourced my first product range and had a good chat with the bank manager! At first I ran my own Home Parties but was keen from the start to recruit other Home Stylists.
What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
Without doubt, setting up this company. It has been a huge learning curve – still is – and takes me out of my comfort zone, challenging me every day. I was particularly proud when we opened our showroom as it really does show off the products in situ. And when we launched in Scotland I knew we were doing well – that felt great.
What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Choosing the best suppliers to reflect the brand. I’m not willing to compromise on quality so it took me 12 months to get the products right and I’m still adding to the range so that element is a challenge. But one I enjoy.

What are your future plans for the business? 
Growth – we’ve had interest from potential homesellers in other parts of Europe, which is very exciting, but for now we are concentrating on the UK. It’s important to grow at the right pace and with the right people. So far we have created a fantastic team of representatives all over the UK and I want to continue with that and encourage them to grow their own teams. We’ve also diversified our range and include children’s clothes and products now and that is something that’s going really well, so I’m looking to develop that arm of the business.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Ask for a bit more help! At the start I tried to do it all but having met so many fantastic women through this I realise should have tapped into the resource that these girlfriends provided.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams? 
Happiness at work is so important, it takes up so much of our time. Women are told these days they can have it all and while I have yet to meet anyone who juggles absolutely  everything successfully (!), I do think there are some amazing opportunities out there now, through training, mentorships, scholarships and funding. Young women need to know that they don’t have to follow a prescriptive path. It’s about finding what is right for you and through sites such as 2Inspire, young women can hopefully see that this has worked for other people, giving them the courage to at least consider their own dreams, even if they don’t pursue them immediately.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?
 Be passionate about the product you are selling or the service you are providing. Don’t start a business you’re not going to enjoy - because you are going to spend a lot of time on it in the first few years! And don’t be afraid to ask others to fill any skills gaps. You can’t be an expert at everything. Learn to delegate a little as soon as possible.

What or who inspires you in business and why?
The hotel inspector! I love Alex Polizzi. Her advice is very sensible and sound, but delivered well. She in a very direct, but nice way. She’s professional but approachable but what is key is that she relates to her customers and understands what they need. That’s key to the success of any business

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
I don’t know who said it but I like ‘It doesn’t have to be new, just better.’

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