We talk to Laura Tenison, founder of the successful boutique chain Jojo Maman Bébé.
The Early Days…
I launched JoJo when I was 26. Before that I ran a tiny fashion company at school, making the clothes and selling to friends and family. I travelled to Syria and India to buy silks, then to Australia where I ran a hotel. After a time with Aquascutum back home, I sold and renovated houses in Brittany but when I was selling my business, I had a nasty car crash, breaking 20 bones in my body. My ward neighbour had two small children and I took an interest in the mail order catalogues she had – they were pretty grim! It was then I decided to launch JoJo.
When I started my business, there were few female role models but we were lucky to have the amazing Anita Roddick. She inspired me on so many levels – from her design, business ethics and environmental pursuits. I loved what she was doing from afar but I never got to meet her.
What would you say to mums who want to start a business?
Go for it. Our children are with us for such a short time. Make the most of those years and work part time if you can afford it or find a role which allows you to get to the footie games and the nativity plays. Missing out on those precious moments is not worth it. Being a full-time parent is not an easy job and those who feel able to commit to it are to be respected as much as women who feel they are better parents because they work. The important thing for our generation is to feel we have a choice and that there is no stigma involved in our decision.
“You only get one chance with a customer. It should be real, not marketing or PR froth.”
What would I change?
Sometimes I think how easy it must be to run a one-product business. Why didn’t we stick with selling our fabulous JoJo Pocket Highchair all over the world? That has to be easier than our enormous range? The trouble is we keep having ideas and it’s a shame not to bring them to market!
Best business advice…
Work hard. I could be called a workaholic, but since I love what I do, I think I’m lucky. I always put my family first, well almost always! There’s no harm in children knowing that their mum needs to work sometimes. Also, re-invest in the business. We grow organically because the money we make is
re-invested. I still live in the London house my kids were born in and I prefer to cycle than waste money on a flashy new car.
“I have been so lucky to find good people who I love working with and who have stayed and been loyal to me and the company for years.”
My favourite things…
I love Kenzo Jungle perfume – it’s totally delicious. I also love Babar the Elephant – it’s no surprise we have elephants turning up in JoJo designs. I love elephants and have dozens of images, carvings and even earrings in the shape.