We are so proud to be able to announce that Helen has been named as a finalist in the prestigious NatWest Every Woman Aphrodite Award that recognises women who have set up a business while having children under 12.
Helen started her baby shoes business when Sophie was a toddler and Josh was a baby. After getting a gift of a pair of soft leather baby shoes she was shocked at the cost. This got her thinking that there was a business opportunity and so she drew a few basic designs, found a supplier and ordered her first 500 pairs of baby shoes. This is little Josh wearing some of those first cheeky monkey baby shoes. We still have that design but Josh is now taller than Helen which just goes to show how some things change while others stay the same!
Helen has always been upfront about the lessons she has learnt along the way. When asked about challenges Helen openly discusses the journey she has been on saying “Challenges – there have been a few! Starting a business is a rollercoaster ride and setting one up with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old baby certainly counts as a challenge!”
“In 2009 when the recession hit, we needed more money as a family. The little business I started in 2005 wasn’t going to cut it. I vividly remember my husband discussing me going back to work. I so wanted to be with my little bears and I believed in the business. The next day the idea for an affordable “recession-friendly” shoe hit.
With just £1500 left in my business account and against friend’s advice I decided to go for it. I sourced a cheaper supplier in Pakistan and after several samples the shoes arrived. They were awful, not the quality I expected! I didn’t know how to turn things around.
After some thought I realised they were structurally sound, so I adjusted my pricing to cover costs and they sold in days! I will never forget taking sacks of mail to the post office with 2 small children! This became an interesting pricing experiment, a lesson in adapting, and changed the way I approached business going forward.
Smooth sailing for a year and then it went horribly wrong again! My order was late, and the supplier had every excuse in the book, it soon became apparent my shoes weren’t coming. The factory in Pakistan wasn’t safe to travel to and although I wanted to sort it out in person I couldn’t. Another business lesson – never buy from somewhere you can’t travel too.
I was at a crossroad again having lost everything and with no money or stock. Facing the challenge head on and determined to make this business work and so we got a loan guaranteed against our house, converted the garage, and recruited my first staff member.
Learning from previous mistakes I sourced new suppliers and flew over to China starting relationships that continue today. The business continued to grow, we moved into offices and recruiting more staff. Evolving from a one-man band into a small business has its own challenges! New processes have been implemented which add long-term value but also create steep learning curves for me and my team. Luckily I don’t have high staff turnover and we are a Dotty Fish family and work together as a team.
Sustainability is our new challenge. Plastic is at every level in the supply-chain and removing it is costly but important. We have creatively turned this into an opportunity by developing branded paper mailing bags which are launching very soon. We are also collaborating with our suppliers to reduce their reliance on plastic and looking at more sustainable ways to ship our products. The future is exciting at Dotty Fish and as a team we are working hard to face these new challenges head on.”
Helen has always been an inspiration to other women who have considered starting a business. She is an example of what happens with a bit of determination and a great idea. “Talking to mum’s with young children about those early days when I was clearing a space on the living room floor to pack orders and loading my little monkeys into the double buggy to go to the post office makes it achievable. I started off wanting to pay for a holiday and it grew from there. Ecommerce has relatively low barriers to entry and so while it doesn’t take much to get started there is no guarantee of success. You have to do your homework, listen to your audience and adapt along the way. You need to work hard and be brave enough to set those goals.”
The Daily Mail who is a sponsor for the Aphrodite Award has covered Helen’s story along with 5 other women who have an incredible journey setting up their business. To read more about them and the challenges faced by women in business click here.
“You can never have too many shoes” I say this a lot and it’s at the heart of Dotty Fish! I started this business when I spotted a gap in the market for good quality, affordable baby shoes. Fifteen years later we still sell our lovely leather shoes for just £9.99, not much more than when I started!
Thanks to all our lovely loyal customers along the way. From those early days at The Baby Show to today when we are building a presence on Instagram and finding new mum’s who love our shoes as much as we do, they are who make Dotty Fish a success and keep our small business growing.