Former accountant Belinda Fergusson talks buying into a small retail chain, the risks around having your business tied into your house and negotiating rent relief with landlords from the first round of lockdown.
What does your business do?
Creative & Brave is made up of six Auckland retail stores and an online store and we consider ourselves part of a little ecosystem representing more than 100 artists, jewellers, ceramicists and designers as we sell their Kiwi-made products. We've just opened in Commercial Bay and last year we opened in the new Westfield Newmarket. We also have a store in Sylvia Park, Botany, Northwest and Shore City shopping malls.
It began just over 29 years ago with a Karangahape Rd store. I am the third owner and I've had the business just over six years.
What was the motivation to take on the business?
I was an accountant in a previous life, I spent quite a few years in senior finance roles, my last corporate role was working as the CFO of Overland and Mi Piaci. I was on maternity leave with my first child and I really started questioning what was my purpose was in life - and I narrowed that down to I wanted to be able to do something that helped inspire other people, to continue to grow and develop myself and be part of giving back to others.
I made the decision to own my own business, looked around and the opportunity to buy Texan Art Schools was available at that time. I was interested in taking on a business that had a purpose around it to us and that had the potential to grow. We bought four Texan Art Schools in 2014 and changed the name to Creative & Brave.
How big is the team?
There are 30 of us; I've got six full-time store managers and the rest are part-timers.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
The uncertainty was quite scary as a business owner, but especially this second time round. But we will get through it and have done so before. We started to see our sales recover really well coming out of the first side of it. The government wage subsidy is definitely a much-needed lifeline for us. We've just kept going and hope this is the last lockdown. For us, the Christmas trading period is a key one so I'd hate to see us in lockdown during that. We do have a web store so we'll grateful we have that but having six retail stores our web store is a fraction of what our retail stores trade.
We've definitely seen a jump in our online sales this lockdown which is great, but we haven't seen that same jump that we did last time we were in level 3. We also moved to level 3 that time a couple of weeks before Mother's Day.
What does it mean for the business if level 3 continues?
One of our biggest issues is trying to negotiate a rent reduction that is fair with our landlords. We're lucky with our business that the stock we have doesn't expire. While government helps with wages, rent is the next biggest cost for us. Having the six stores we've a mixed bag - some landlords are amazing and we've been able to negotiate deals whereas there are a few where we haven't finalised deals from the first time round let alone for this time round.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced operating in Covid-19 environment?
The uncertainty - you make a set of plans and you give your teams targets to work towards and then it has all been disrupted again - it's really hard to make plans and work with that uncertainty. Not having the tourists is definitely having an impact, especially in our two big new stores in Commercial Bay and Westfield Newmarket.
We have a mortgage tied into the business with our house and so if things come to the very worst and we lost the business then it would be the end of this house, which makes it a bit scary, and it wasn't something I had thought of before the first lockdown.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Make sure it is something you love and are passionate about because you are going to live and breathe it. Write up a business plan and think about the risk, especially in this current economic climate, and if you can afford to lose the money you will put into it.