Gifts are mainly bought by women and it’s unsurprising women play a huge role in the giftware industry. Four women business leaders from very different areas of the gift community, including our very own founder Clare Harris, came together at Top Drawer to discuss the challenges they have faced and the lessons they have learnt. The session was titled Women in Gifts and Sarah Ward, CEO of the Giftware Association, asked the questions.
The panel (seated left to right)
Rosie Davies-Smith: PR Dispatch, helping businesses run their PR in-house
Anna Berry: Retail 100 Consulting, 33 years at John Lewis Partnership, now advising brands and retailers
Ami Rabheru: Retail Huddle, Tesco, M&S and Next buyer turned small business consultant
Clare Harris: Talking Tables, putting the fun into hosting for 25 years, and recipient of the Greats Outstanding Achievement Award
What are the unique attributes and life experiences women bring to giftware?
Anna: Women have a real passion for product and shopping in a way that men don’t. They are intuitive and have a real sense of taste, they spend a lot of time looking at ranges. I’m not saying that this is never the case with men, but women have a gut and an instinct.
Clare: A lot of us as women take pleasure in curating creatively, whether it’s wrapping a present prettily or choosing a gift. Women often have a role and take pleasure in connecting people. Buying and wrapping gifts is a way of connecting people.
Ami: Women are really good at bringing together interest groups: wellness groups, dog mums, spa groups, and even communities around cultural events. When women are ingrained in these communities, they have a unique perspective of what customers want, are thinking and feeling which is, after all, what makes brands great.
As a busy entrepreneur, how do you take care of yourself?
Ami: Routine helps. One of the big shifts for me has been to learn to say no. It’s always been hard for me to say no but the power of saying no helps me set and control boundaries.
Clare: I thrive on being involved. I do have an off switch – on a Saturday morning I might go to a farmers market and then do some gardening – but I do like my on switch.
Anna: Covid taught me not to sweat the small stuff. I never wanted to be the kind of head of buying who would drive the team around every shiny new idea that came along, but I was guilty of that at times. You have to manage your energy – and your team’s energy. This has been one of my toughest lessons.
How has your leadership style evolved?
Anna: Leaders are made not born. You learn it. When I was at school I was a little mouse and had no confidence. You learn from other people and so you have to be open. Employ people who aren’t like you and will challenge and teach you. You gain in confidence and the more confidence you have the better leader you are.
Clare: I’m still learning. You become a slightly different leader each year as your company grows and your team evolves. There are things we can do all the time to be better; reading, learning from other people, coaching.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female entrepreneurs?
Rosie: Be yourself. Your personal brand is so important. People buy from people. Put yourself at the front of your brand, make yourself an expert, talk and write about things people will be interested in.
Clare: Be a glass half full person. It’s more fun to be optimistic – you only have one life. It may sound a little morbid but think about what you want on your gravestone, what your dream is, and go for it.
Anna: Find your passion if you can, then it won’t feel like a job. Use the people around you and trust them. Try some stuff. Fail and fail fast, don’t be afraid to learn from it.
Ami: Clarify, simplify and amplify. Know where you are in the marketplace and your positioning and be aware it changes, keep hold of who your competition are, what the trends are. Streamline the business to get to the next level. Learn how to get your products into as many hands as possible to make as much impact as possible as fast as you can. I also believe that networking is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business.
Thinking about female entrepreneurs you admire and are well known, what are the individual characteristics needed to be the next Jo Malone, Holly Tucker, Cath Kidson or Laura Ashley?
Clare: They are true to themselves and let themselves come through in their product and their brand. Although behind it there must be a lot of tenaciousness, resilience and hard work. They also look like they are enjoying it.
Rosie: You feel you know these people. Again it comes back to personal brand.
According to a LinkedIn survey, 52% of women in business have never had a mentor, what advice would you give?
Anna: I am passionate about mentoring, I have had the benefit of a phenomenal leader who mentored me and made a really significant difference to my career early on. It’s not about providing answers but stretching your thinking.
Ami: It’s been a lifesaver for me. At the beginning I shied away from it, but when I started and showed my more vulnerable side it really did help shape myself and my business.