By Kate Madley
Laura Tenison, a self confessed serial entrepreneur whose endeavours started from childhood, has grown one of the UK’s leading mother and baby multichannel retailers and is expanding internationally.
Now entering its 20th year of trading, JoJo Maman Bébé has seen year-on-year growth; forecast gross sales are expected to reach £36m in the financial year ending June 2013.
It might, then, seem difficult to imagine that the business began with Laura flat-sharing in London selling samples to third-party buyers, launching a tiny mail order catalogue and keeping her stock in a shed in Pontypool. Two decades later, JoJo Maman Bébé acquired a 90,000 sq ft warehouse in Newport, and a 7,000 sq ft design and buying office in Battersea with 450 employees in the UK.
“The organic growth of the business and the location of the business has been determined by the business itself,” explains Laura Tenison, founder and chief executive of JoJo Maman Bébé.
“When you are very short of cash it does not make any sense to commute from Wales to London, where all the buyers are based on a daily basis. So in those early years I kept my warehouse and distribution in Wales and kept the buying and design office in London, which was, in effect, me.”
Today, the business headquarters remain in Wales and provide home for the operational engine of the business.
“It is much better to keep our head office in Wales; we have a good workforce in Newport, they are fantastic at getting to know their role and increasing productivity the longer they work for us,” explains Laura.
“There aren’t many fashion companies coming out of south Wales, but we are extremely good at operations and logistics. We are a hard-working nation with a great loyalty and I think our work ethic in Wales is sometimes questioned and I totally refute that.
“My workforce in Newport is second to none; we have been moving warehouse for the last three months and they have worked round the clock. They have been absolutely amazing and that sort of loyalty is hard to come by.”
Keeping the business between Wales and London has enabled Laura to create a business model that is founded on small company values despite its significant growth. The Newport head office is home to the weeklong induction scheme designed in-house so all members of the business can learn the values that JoJo has been built upon.
“We need to move where the work is,” says Laura. “If you want to work in fashion, move yourself to where there are fashion companies.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t have successful industries in Wales. I think there a lot of creative people in Wales, and we’ve brought some of them up to London to work.”
As the company progresses into 2013, changes are afoot with the launch of JoJo’s international department. Join us on Friday for more from our interview with Laura Tenison as she discusses growing a successful business, her Welsh roots and the company’s international ambitions.