We all have different ways of coming into business and while some are very focused on making big money quickly (possibly with a view to selling as soon as it’s really profitable), others have made the business journey their life’s work.
Being on that long journey has been a wonderful experience for the women we spoke to, and this is what they had to say about the unexpected joys of running a business for over two decades.
- HARROWSET HALL
Ingrid Memelink’s business, Harrowset Hall, started in 1989 (initially as a lingerie brand called Victoria’s Closet) from a passion for making things from textiles.
“I grew up sewing – Mum was a dressmaker as well as a nurse – in fact, I got my first sewing machine when I was nine. We loved making our own clothes and while I initially went into fashion, I then saw an opportunity in homewares.”
Stock market crash
Ingrid had found a niche in discovering that a lot of the linen and homewares in design magazines weren’t readily available in stores. In fact, hers
was one of the first companies in New Zealand to sell 100 per cent cotton sheets.
“People said I was mad to start up a business in the wake of the stock market crash but I just thought that things could only get better from there, and we had a lot of fun initially when overheads were low and pressures were less. It got a bit harder when we had kids, and eventually after the arrival of our second, my partner and I separated. I was left literally holding the baby and the bathwater! This was the hardest time of my whole business journey, dividing up the business and our life – with two small children. I lost a lot of my passion.”
THE LINEN STORE
Even though it was a challenge to carry on at that point, Ingrid pushed through and managed to grow the enterprise to a manageable level. After opening the Harrowset Hall shop in Newmarket in 1994, she now has two stores in that area – the second one is called The Linen Store. Harrowset Hall is a well-known heritage store for people who love high-quality linen and homewares.
Like with any other business, there have been ups and down over time and there were moments, especially as a single mum with young kids, where Ingrid wondered whether to throw it in.
“I remember suggesting it in conversation not long after the separation and one of my staff said, ‘What about us? We need our incomes too.’ At that point I started to really understand what being a business owner means. It’s not only about whether you’re making millions, it’s also about the community you’ve created around your business. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that when you’re in the thick of it.
In 2007 Ingrid and her two girls moved to Dunedin.
“It was a spontaneous lifestyle decision that enabled me to have more time for my two lovely daughters as they entered their teens. I now work between cities and even though every place has positives and negatives, it’s worked out well for us all.”
While Ingrid has witnessed the struggle that many single parents can have supporting their children financially, she’s also discovered greater strength and resilience and thrived in the flexibility of the home/work balance that being a business owner has afforded her.
MORE THAN NUMBERS
Her advice to women in business in New Zealand, especially those in it for the long haul? Understand that a business is so much more than numbers.
“I can’t imagine my life not doing what I’ve been doing for the last two decades. I get to do a lot of what I enjoy in my work; I meet lots of interesting people; work with my daughters; develop enduring relationships with customers, staff and suppliers, while having a creative life. I did some calculations late last year and realised that in the past 10 years, my business had contributed over $10 million to our landlord, suppliers, employees and taxes. That was a much greater contribution than I expected and helps to grow healthy, vibrant communities, making it all feel worthwhile. In the end it is important to live a life true to your values, interests and philosophies. Immersing yourself and enjoying your work in whatever form that takes, should be a very important part of that. Then the dollars, or lack of, don’t matter so much.”
It's not only about whether you're making millions, but it's also about the community you've created around your business.