Janice Atlay was living and working in Singapore when she discovered French children’s brand Chateau de Sable and became a customer, regularly buying clothing for her own children who often attracted complements for their attire on return trips to the UK.
The key success factors she indentified for the brand was the styling, frequency of new designs (Chateau de Sable has new collections each month), and pricing – it is described as being a more ‘affordable designer label’.
After a year of research into the children’s wear market, Janice decided to buy the UK franchise which she launched upon her return to the UK in 2009, assisted by a business mentor and a £500 start-up grant from Cheshire West and Chester Council. She opened up her first boutique in Handbridge, Chester.
One early action was to join thebestofchester where she confided in managing director Paul Daniels of her need for specific business support in the Chester area, particularly someone with a retail background who could help her hone skills and knowledge in that field. Paul introduced her to Business Link’s Sara Smith.
Following an in depth discussion and diagnostic of the business, an action plan was created.
The three main goals were:
1. Help with sales and marketing, in particular building relationships within the region, increase awareness of the boutique substantially, focus on her web site and to use social media
2. Sort out legal matters linked to importing clothing and regulations within children’s wear
3. Gain extra support in the form of mentoring as well as support with an application for a business development grant linked to business growth and creating new employment via Cheshire West and Chester Council
Janice said: “The support and guidance offered by Sara made things happen much quicker within the business. It would have taken me a long time to have found the right contacts and information. Sara gave me the immediate contacts I needed in the right places.”
One of these contacts was with Chester Renaissance and events organised by the organisation have helped Janice integrate with the region’s retail community. She also featured in the December issue of its monthly newsletter and entered the mystery shopper retail award scheme.
Janice also sponsored the “Mini Face of Cheshire” – a children’s modelling competition held in September and the Chateau de Sable brand was featured on the children’s cat walk.
Social media is now playing a major part in the brand’s marketing and Janice has increased her presence on twitter, facebook and Linked in.
She said: “Some business has materialised already from this but I understand it is a long term investment as it takes time to build up a network of followers. In fact, via joining a mums’ club (another recommendation from Sara) I have linked in with a daily media alert from national journalists, to which I reply to about 10 notifications per week. One such request led to being featured in the November edition of Woman and Home.”
Other recent editorial coverage she has gained includes being featured in the Barclays Bank magazine this month.
Janice has also attended various Christmas charity fairs including Tatton Park, Arley Hall, and Liverpool Golf Club which has helped raise the brand’s visibility within the North West. Janice plans to take this a stage further in 2011 and has been recently accepted to exhibit at Home and Garden and Country Living both in London which attract more than 20,000 people.
Janice also attends the mentoring programme run by Profile Solutions and has already seen the benefit.
She said: “It has really helped me to set targets and plans, as well as challenging me to look at my strategy for the business moving forward. It is also helping me focus on things which may normally be overlooked due to the day-to-day pressures of running a young business.”
Chateau de Sable continues to build up a loyal customer-base and the strongest referral continues to be word-of-mouth.
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