#LoveTheBoss: Orchard Layne’s Bev Simpson

Bev SimpsonHi Bev, do tell us something about you; how and when did you start working for yourself? 

My name is Bev Simpson. Born into a traditional working class family in the Midlands, my destiny was secretarial college before early marriage and children. In the mid 70s when I was leaving school, the emerging skill was computing.

I managed to get a job as a software trainee at a large Computing Centre. Before long, I’d set my sights on the great IBM.  Not having a degree caused a setback but, in 1984 (ironically the year of Big Brother), I joined IBM as a software technician. After a while (spot the pattern here), I needed fresh challenges. I became a sales trainee within IBM, specialising in printers with my head office in Denver. This was a very special time. The economy was booming, IBM was rich and life was very good. Think Top Gun, shoulder pads and gold Amex.

A serious car crash and a house move to the Cotswolds made me reassess life. I was constantly missing my son’s school events, I needed domestic support staff and I was worn out. In 1997, my husband and I successfully applied for a severance package from IBM. Frightening but exhilarating as we embarked on our next chapter of our lives.

Now tell us about your business. What’s it all about, how do you think and feel about it now, do you have staff and premises or work mainly alone at home? What aims and ambitions do you still have for your business?

Using most of our severance money, we bought a large tumbling down Antique Centre.  Our lack of retail experience was bolstered by our enthusiasm and determination to succeed. We worked flat out and slowly built the business up. Over time and as the business grew, we employed people we could trust and who had the same work ethics as us.

Spotting an opportunity, I started selling new lamps and cushions that complemented the antiques. This quickly led to opening a shop selling nice things for the home. I did several local interior shows as promotion and to build awareness.  I was always being asked if I did mail order. So my next step was to set up a mail order company.  Sweet Pea Interiors was launched at the Ideal Home Show at Earls Court in London. Ideal Home magazine liked us and featured our products in their magazine. Linda Barker frequently featured us in her weekly Daily Express column. My little company was now nationwide.

The internet was starting to take off so using my rusty computing skills and a digital camera, I built an online shop. I still remember the excitement of receiving my first online order.  I now needed to invest in warehousing, technology and staff to meet the growing demand.

I decided not to take the risk to grow Sweet Pea Interiors. In hindsight, this was possibly the best decision I ever made as it turned out we were just entering the recession.  Yet again, it was time to reassess life, slow down a little and take some time out.  We leased the Antique Centre and retired to France.

End of my story? Of course not. Business is part of my life and I was missed it so much. I rested, regrouped and started looking for premises. A main road Garden Centre attracted my attention but then I discovered the British Legion Function room in Chipping Campden for sale. It had to be mine! A few months later on May 10th 2013, Orchard Layne was open for business, selling Gifts and goodies for the Home and Garden. I also included a licensed café/bistro on the basis that would give me two revenue streams (as well as two cost centres!). The café terrace was excellent throughout the summer but what about the winter? I installed a big European log burner to create a cosy dining area and bought a pizza oven. An unexpected growth has been the demand for takeaway pizzas.

I have used all my past experiences to open Orchard Layne and it’s the most wonderful feeling to see it growing so fast. Will Orchard Layne be enough to keep me occupied? Only time will tell.

This series of interviews is designed to inspire others, mainly women, on the same path. What tips would you share with them which would short-cut their journey to happiness being their own boss? 

Do your research and know your sector. Who is the best and why? Don’t become complacent when you succeed. Someone is watching you and after your business. Don’t be afraid to rejuvenate your business. An adage from my old IBM days is when you reach the top, keep on climbing. As well as planning for success, have a disaster recovery plan.

What did you struggle with most in your start-up phase, and how did you crack that?

The Antique Centre was in serious decline. We had to revitalise it and make it a customer destination. This was before social media and broadband so promoting our business was done by providing good old fashioned customer experience. Something that is essential to everything I do. Mistakes are learning opportunities. For example, I have learnt not to overstock.

What have you learned about yourself while working solo?

If you can delegate, then do so. Networking is vital as it brings new ideas and keeps you up to date with that is happening. If you need staff, choose very wisely. If people offer advice, listen.  You don’t have to take the advice but it just might be useful. Prioritise and don’t get side tracked.

Did you choose self-employment or did it choose you? Any regrets?

I have experienced the corporate salaried world and, without a doubt, I much prefer being the freedom of being self-employed.

What one encouraging thought sums it all up?

You make the decisions and answer only to yourself.

Do you feel lonely or isolated when working for yourself? 

Chipping Campden has a vibrant busy community so I never have the opportunity to feel lonely. I have joined the local business forums and go to business events. I’m a great fan of the Cotswolds Tweet Meets.  It’s nothing to do with Twitter. It’s a great way to network and meet new people.

Thanks so much for joining in this interview series, Bev. Fab to meet you! How can my readers find out more about you and your business?

Our website is OrchardLayne.co.uk

We are on Twitter: @orchardlayne

And Facebook: facebook.com/orchardlayne

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