Claire Long, founder of lingerie retailer Avokado, talks about running a small business and overcoming consumer misconceptions.
What does your business do?
Avokado is a retailer which specialises in bras and swimwear for D through to K cup ladies, we stock more than 120 different bra sizes. Our focus is the fitting experience, educating women on how a great fitting bra can enhance their appearance and self confidence. Our shop is on Nuffield St in Newmarket.
What was the motivation for starting it?
The seed for this business was planted in my mind as a teenager when I was a competitive runner at school. The embarrassment of not having proper bust support during exercise meant my performance was affected and led me to reluctantly abandon sports, which I really enjoyed.
It was also clear from that age that there were limited bras available in my size, and even up to when I started this business, I had always been wearing the wrong size. I'm very happy to say that I now regularly participate in sporting activities, particularly running, thanks to our excellent sports bras.
When did it begin, and after how many months of preparation?
After about six months of planning Avokado started in a small shop in Ruakaka in 2007, before shifting to Auckland in 2008.
How big is your team?
Currently we have a team of nine, including myself and husband and business partner Jonathan, who takes care of the operations side. My focus is on customer experience and product.
Where are your products sold?
The majority of our products are sold in our Newmarket shop – the complex nature of our product means we prefer our customers to 'try before they buy' and benefit from our fitting experience. Our range is also available to buy on our website.
What are your long term plans for the business?
We believe that the majority of Kiwi women who would benefit from our offering still don't know about us, so we still see a massive potential for growth. We believe our current focus of customer experience and product offering will continue to provide strong growth long term.
What are your plans for expansion?
The opening of new stores is something we've put a great deal of thought and consideration into but the complex nature of our stock holding and staff expertise makes it challenging. What we do in Auckland has been carefully and lovingly created over the past 10 years. We've yet to decide whether we can expand that experience successfully elsewhere.
What challenges have you had to overcome to run the Avokado?
Most of all, misconception around bra sizing. I'd say the majority of women that need to be in a D+ cup don't realise they need to be, so educating women is a big part of growing our business. Being a seven-day-a-week retail business is also challenging as we put a big emphasis on trained and experienced staff – it's critical to our customer experience. We've overcome this by putting a lot of energy into our recruitment process, getting the right people and providing regular training.
What's the most rewarding thing about running Avokado?
It's definitely all about the people. We honestly feel that we make a significant difference in our customers' lives. The nature of our service means that we actually build quite strong bonds with our customers, and get a good deal of positive feedback, which makes the business very rewarding.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
I think most business ideas can succeed, if you get execution right. You really do have to live and breathe your business, it's not a 9 to 5 job. Look at your business from every angle, be critical, constantly assess and have good systems in place. Most of all, listen to what your customers want and maintain high standards.
Avokado is one of two Kiwi businesses to win a trip to Hawaii for the Nurture Change business conference as part of a Herald competition. For more information visit nurturechange.com