I am truly delighted to have had the chance to interview Rebecca Doyle of Chez Bec for The Scottish Mumpreneur Network. Personally she is a huge inspiration to me as we are in the same field of business and shows that she utterly is a "gem" in the wedding industry. I hope she can mentor me some time when she is free and isn't away collecting awards and launching her brand all over the world. So personally thank you from the bottom of my heart - Louise x
Here is her amazing story -
It takes real courage to fly in the face of everything you have worked for, throw away a hard-won career and follow your dreams, but that is precisely what Rebecca Doyle did five years ago when she gave up her career as a lawyer to start a jewellery business. If she ever wanted proof that she did the right thing, it came in the form of an award from Wedding Ideas magazine earlier this year.
Rebecca owns and runs successful wedding jewellery brand Chez Bec, which in January scooped the award for Best Bridal Accessories as voted for by readers of Wedding Ideas magazine. She is also mother to 20-month-old twin boys, a role which she juggles with the demands of a growing business. “Life is pretty full-on,” she says, “but I couldn’t be happier!”.
Happiness certainly seems to be one of her qualities, together with positivity, entrepreneurship, a clear head, sound business sense, determination and, above all else, a clear sense of direction. Affable, personable and full of energy, she has the courage of her own convictions and, now, the joy of spending her days doing something she loves.
It wasn’t always so. On the advice of her careers officer she studied law at university (“It’s such a dry subject, and only later did I learn that you can do a different degree still be a lawyer – if only I’d known!”), but took a year out after she left to consider other options. Nothing obvious sprang to mind and nothing attracted her either so, almost resignedly, she applied to two top law firms and came back from an interview with one of them to find an answerphone message offering her a job. After a couple of years spent training and another two years working in corporate finance, she was well-entrenched in the glamorous role of being one of the only women in a male-dominated environment. “Crazy hours, suffocating demands and working under intense pressure all came with the territory,” says Rebecca. “But the crunch came when my boyfriend (now my husband) booked a holiday to Antigua and the firm gave me a BlackBerry so I could be contacted at all times. And contacted at all times I was!” Rebecca realised that despite the kudos, the career progression and the fantastic salary, this was not how she wanted to live her life. In September 2005, with her boyfriend’s total support, she handed in her notice.
There was an ulterior motive behind this. Ever since she was a little girl, Rebecca had cultivated a love of jewellery and had shadowed her mother, an antique jewellery dealer, at shows and fairs for years. “I used to love visiting the flea markets with my mum and I used to spend my pocket money there. Once I bought a silver locket and I sold it in my mum’s shop in Tetbury. A man bought it for his fiancée for Valentine’s Day. That was my first sale! I was seven.”
The never-forgotten kick from this sale, plus a love of pearls, trinkets, accessories and pretty things, together with a wealth of business knowledge gained from her years as a lawyer, put Rebecca on a clear and determined path. She knew she wanted to set up her own jewellery business. “It was obvious to me that it should be an online business. When I was a lawyer, the ridiculous hours meant that I never had time to go shopping. So I became queen of internet browsing and online purchasing! The relatively low start-up cost of an online shop as opposed to taking premises was a huge incentive, too, and meant that I could get up and running quickly.”
Rebecca set up an office at home, from where the business is still run. Her stepfather came up with the name (a French and abbreviated translation of ‘at Rebecca’s house’). She took herself off to jewellery trade shows in the UK and Paris to take a good look at what was out there and to decide which wholesalers and designers she was going to buy from. The next step was to sign up a PR company to promote the business (“now I do it all myself because it’s far too expensive to use an outside firm”) and invest money in search engine optimisation, which means that if a bride keys ‘wedding jewellery’ or ‘bridal jewellery’ into Google, Chez Bec will appear on the first page of results. She decided not to sign up to any existing online jewellery stores as she felt sure that having a strong web presence via her own website was key to building the brand, and so she spent her limited marketing budget on making sure that potential customers were directed straight to her own website. Rebecca also sent an email alert to over 1,000 contacts that she had built up over the years and got herself listed on Daily Candy, the online magazine that sends alerts to 250,000 readers every day. She placed adverts in fashion glossies such as Grazia and Marie Claire. “I learnt the hard way through trial and error what works and what doesn't. I used my knowledge of the law to do all the legal bits myself, but if there was a book on how to run a successful online jewellery boutique then my life would have been a lot simpler and easier!” she says. “I realise now that when I started up I underestimated the extent to which online marketing was necessary, and I should have invested more money in it. If I had my time again I would go straight into bridal jewellery, as concentrating on the niche market has made us a bona fide brand, and has been a great success!”
Just nine months after Rebecca resigned from the law firm, chezbec.com went live. It started life as a contemporary jewellery boutique selling affordable pieces and the stock was brought in by Rebecca from designers in the UK and Europe. However, when Rebecca was planning her wedding in August 2006 she became totally obsessed with weddings and slowly began to source wedding jewellery. She also advertised for designers locally and put the word about through contacts she had made that she was looking for jewellery designers to work for her. In May 2007, almost a year after launch, Rebecca launched a wedding collection. “It went absolutely crazy!” she laughs. “The collection outsold everything else, so I started cutting back on the other ranges and asked my designers to start making pearl jewellery.”
Rebecca stopped buying in jewellery and focused on designing her own, and employed her two designers to work full-time for Chez Bec. They are based in Kent. By 2008 the boutique sold bridal jewellery exclusively. The company prides itself on selling exquisite yet affordable necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tiaras and hair accessories set with sterling silver, freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals. From simply stunning to fabulously ornate there is something to suit all brides, and there is a bespoke service for those who want something designed and made exclusively for them (it is also possible to have standard pieces altered). For men, there are pearl cufflinks and cravat pins. Each piece is beautifully designed and handmade in the UK, and gift-wrapped as standard in luxury branded gift boxes with generous amounts of soft white tissue paper. If it is a gift (and there is plenty that is suitable for bridesmaid’s presents!) it is supplied with a hand-written gift card too. These simple yet important touches really do make a difference. Meanwhile, the user-friendly website is easy to navigate with clear photography and clever features such as style guides and testimonials from happy customers.
Having gone 100 per cent bridal, Chez Bec now advertises in wedding publications. The wedding ideas award was, for Rebecca, the icing on the cake of everything she has worked for. “The real thrill of this award is that it is voted for by brides themselves. I love my brides and I get a kick every time one posts a comment on the Chez Bec website saying how delighted they were with their purchase from us. We were finalists in the Best Bridal Accessories category two years running, and finalists in the UK Jewellery Awards 2008 for Best Bridal Jewellery. But to actually win the Wedding Ideas award, and by a big margin, as we did, was really fantastic, especially as there were 70 companies in our category!”
Chez Bec has fared well in the recession and figures actually went up last year. “I do think that couples are delaying their weddings due to the financial situation, but they are still getting married. And when they do, our prices are really affordable – our most expensive item is £68. I believe we really fit a niche in the market, and we are getting more and more orders, not only from the UK – we get orders from France, Spain, the US and even Australia and New Zealand!”
Chez Bec retail has been such a success that at the beginning of last year Rebecca decided to expand into the wholesale market. “I realise that not all brides are online shopaholics like me, and that some do like to try jewellery on before they buy it. Very often they like to try it on when they are trying on dresses so they can get the complete look. I really didn’t want to open a shop, so supplying other shops seemed like a natural move.” A brave step in a credit crunch perhaps but, like everything else Rebecca turns her hand to, a good one. The first wholesale range, launched for AW09, was extremely well received and has a fast-growing stockist network (currently 15 shops) in the UK. Rebecca hopes to expand that network and to this end she is exhibiting for the first time at Harrogate in September, where she will be launching two stunning new collections for SS11 – organic designs incorporating vintage-inspired components and a myriad of freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals. What bride could possibly resist?!
Is your business full time or do you work elsewhere too?
I run my business full time alongside being a mum to 2-year old twins. Life is pretty busy as you can imagine!
Has your business aims changed over the years? if so what has changed?
My business has grown year on year since I started it back in the summer of 2006. It has even grown through the credit crunch when a lot of businesses are failing. I sell more in one month now than I sold in the whole first 6 months of opening! I have recently gone international with a stockist in Munich in Germany and I hope this is the first of many international stockists. I sell all over the world through my website with a strong customer base in the US, Hong Kong, Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, Spain, Germany, Malta and Italy
How do you market your business?
I advertise in all of the leading bridal magazines and I invest a lot of time and money in SEO. Never underestimate the power of marketing, both online and offline. Being a website, if people don’t know where to find you, how can you ever expect to have any customers unless you tell them where you are!
You have had great success over the last year winning awards. Would you encourage others to enter awards and what has the benefits been to your business from winning an award?
Winning the Wedding Ideas Awards 2010 was like a dream for me. Having been runners up for the two years before, I never thought we would actually win the Award but it really was 3rd time lucky! Winning the Award has boosted my business more than I ever imagined it could do. We are now an “award-winning” brand and that gives customers a certain confidence when buying from us. Winning the Award was like the most enormous seal of approval one could wish for. It meant that the last 5 years of hard work had been worth it. I get emotional every time I think of winning the Award. After my wedding and having my twins, it really was one of the best moments of my life. I would certainly encourage others to enter awards. It can only give recognition if you win and if you don’t win, you’ve not lost anything. And if at first you don’t win, try, try and try again. We’d been runners up in the Wedding Ideas Awards for the two years previous to winning.
We know you are also a mum to twins. How do you juggle business and babies?
I am indeed Mummy to Max and Isabella, my 2-year old twins. We don’t have any family nearby to help out. Our nearest family is 2.5hours away and the rest are in Scotland , Canada and France ! I have limited childcare and work pretty much every single second I can around my babies (nap times, evenings and weekends). Most people think I am totally crazy even attempting to run a business with twins but for me, my business is my third baby and there was no way I could ever give it up. I was even on my blackberry two hours after my c-section as the babies had decided to turn up rather early (at 35wks instead of their booked c-section at 37.5wks) and I’d just begun a total re=-design of my advertising campaign and I had adverts to sing off left, right and centre! It wasn’t ideal but what could I do. Let’s just say I’ve learnt to do a lot whilst balancing two babies on my lap!
What are your plans for your business in the next few years?
I hope my business continues to grow from strength to strength as time goes on. Each year, I launch one of two new collections and I love each collection more and more. Dealing with brides every day of my working life is an honour and I wake up every morning raring to start work. Not many people can say that now can they.
Do you have any advice that you would like to share with fellow mumpreneurs starting out or growing their business?
Research, research, research! If you don’t know your target audience you won’t know what products they want to buy and you won’t succeed. Also, never underestimate the power of marketing, both online and offline. If people don’t know you exist, how will they ever find you? When starting out it is very normal to eat, drink and sleep work. Indeed I still do this most of the time now, 5 years on and with twins to look after! But you have to stay focused and one step ahead of the game. If you can find a niche then do it as that will make you stand out and give you a place to put down your roots and make your own. Stay determined and have 100% belief in what you do. It is not easy running your own business. No holidays (I have to work even on holiday!), no sick days, no guaranteed income. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Nothing beats being your own boss. And I still get a kick from every single order that comes in. I love my brides and I still get that warm fuzzy feeling every time one sends in some feedback or a photo from their wedding.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
Check out Rebeccas' website