A SINGLE mum from Sale Moor who started her top trend handbag business at one of the lowest points in her life has won a Stretford Mall competition to find a budding entrepreneur with a big future.
Tracey Gibbons, 33, mum to Abbigail, 11, and Sophie, two, will be opening up at the beginning of next month after she narrowly took the top slot in the Dragon’s Den style competition entitled Win A Shop.
Her prize is the chance to move into a unit at the busy Stretford shopping hub free from rent, rates, insurance fees and service charge for six months.
While she kits out her new store, she will also receive free marketing and PR support from the Stretford Mall management team. Also, a brand new sign to adorn the outside of the newest part of her blossoming business empire which specialises in the latest bag fashion trends at affordable prices.
Tracey presented her fledgling business, The Girl For Bags, which stocks top name branded ladies’ handbags such as Alexander Black and LYDC seen on the arms of The Saturday’s Una Healy, TOWIE’s Sam Faiers and former Corrie actress Michelle Keegan, to a panel of three judges.
They were Councillor Michael Hyman, Executive Member for Economic Growth and Planning at Trafford Council, Stretford Councillor Dolores O’Sullivan, and Craig Topping, Stretford Mall Duty Manager.
Speaking shortly after her win, Tracey said: “I am just so very thankful for this opportunity and the fact I will now have a proper, permanent base for my customers to come and visit me and see my bags, will be a tremendous step forward for me.
“It’s still sinking in because I have really wanted to take this step and make it happen but it is so hard when you have all those start-up costs to turn it into a reality.”
Tracey was one of three shortlisted from more than 20 applicants who entered the contest. Also there to showcase his business idea was Alex Lee, 45, a dad-of-three from Urmston whose idea was for a record shop and meeting place for local musicians to champion the Manchester music scene called ‘Soundwaves Here We Come.’
Third to face the panel was Natalie Fletcher, 41, a mum-of-one from Sale whose 28 years of experience in the sewing industry had led her to suggest Sewconvenient, a repairs and alterations business with T-shirt printing and embroidery. Her aim was for it to eventually lead into a centre for people in the community to learn basic sewing skills and use the facilities provided.
Judges were so impressed by Alex and Natalie’s entries that they have been offered three months in other units within Stretford Mall free of rent, rates and service charge.
Stretford Mall Duty Manager, Craig Topping, said: “The standard of entries was very strong throughout the competition and we have been so impressed with Tracey, Alex and Natalie today that we really are hopeful to work with all three of them to find them a place at Stretford Mall.
“The shopping centre is at the heart of the community we serve and it has been extremely gratifying to work with local people to help give them a step up the business ladder which can be such a challenge for a small, independent business such as theirs.”
Councillor Michael Hyman said: “It is really exciting to find all three shortlisted contestants having such drive and motivation to set up a new business.
“It was incredibly difficult to decide between them because each one had its own very particular merits.
“The judges’ choice was unanimous but we were very keen to find some other way of recognising and rewarding the two that did not win and I am pleased to know that the owners of Stretford Mall will be talking to them about alternative options.”
Fellow judge Councillor Dolores O’Sullivan added: “We had three really good presentations from three very different business perspectives and I think all three of them could be an asset to the Stretford community.
“It’s wonderful to see this sort of enterprising spirt and great ideas which just need a helping hand and it is great to see Stretford Mall reaching out in this way to assist.”
Tracey started her business earlier this year after the relationship with her partner broke down.
“I was in a bad place at the time and felt very lost with no real clue of what to do next. But deep down I was still full of drive and ambition and I knew I had to get myself out of the situation somehow and back out there. I just wasn’t sure how.”
It was Tracey’s dad Frank who came round one day with some on-trend satchel-style bags and persuaded her to give it a go at selling them.
Tracey said: "My dad has always had his own businesses and when I was younger I worked closely with him - eventually running a couple of his businesses for him.
“I have also had my own jobs in retail to management level or other positions with a lot of responsibility.
“More recently I decided I wanted more knowledge about other areas of business so I signed myself up and qualified in business management, book keeping and computerised accounts.
“My ex-partner had his own business so I used these skills to try and help him with that side of his business. When the relationship broke down I knew I had all these qualifications and needed to find a way to use them.”
Since then, she has built up The Girl For Bags mainly through establishing a loyal social media following but also by showcasing her stock at markets and in local boutiques.
She said: “My bags are popular because they are well-known brands which often feature on programmes such as This Morning and if you flick through the celeb magazines, you will see them mentioned everywhere.
“But while they look the part, they are at a fraction of the cost of their top designer equivalent even though they are well-made and don’t look ‘cheap’”.
Tracey said she already had big plans for her new shop at Stretford Mall and said: “I am already picturing in my head how I want it to be and how I want to lay it out so when customers come in, they will be able to see and feel my stock properly, which isn’t possible online.
“That’s going to be the real beauty of having my own store, a base for customers to come to, and I can hardly believe it will soon be a reality.”
For more information about retail opportunities at Stretford Mall go to www.stretfordmall.com follow @StretfordMall on Twitter or visit the centre’s Facebook page.
Member since: 22nd October 2013
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