Wednesday, July 01, 2009 | Posted by: Fiona Cullinan
Categories: Retail sector, Women in business | Tags: recession, entrepreneur, Ros Simmons, women in business, VIE at home, recruitment, management buy-out, maternity leave, downturn, consultants, commission, Entrepreneur’s Diary
Steering a business through a recession can’t be easy. So we asked our female CEO, Ros Simmons of VIE at home, how she’s dealing with the downturn and the challenge of running a female-dominated business boasting 10,000 self-employed consultants…
Is your first recession? How has it affected you?
I’ve been involved in previous downturns and my policy is to ensure customers are given great value for money. Proof of this is that our customer spend is up 11% on last year. Recruitment has been strong this year, as it has been for other direct sales companies – people, women especially, are looking for ways to top up their income.
Business focus has and always will be centred around sales and cash – even more so in times of uncertainty. However, we’ve found that we can also negotiate better prices and terms with many of our suppliers – a true partnership.
Also, my working life has changed since the buy-out – for the better! I’m much more focused and driven to succeed, and probably more willing to take calculated risks to drive the business forward.
As an entrepreneur, do you have a particular philosophy for dealing with a downturn?
To really concentrate on what matters most to our customers and our consultants. Making everyone in the company feel part of the bigger picture, that what they do really does make a difference. I’ve found that my purchasing team are questioning more than ever why we continue to buy some products when the sales of those aren’t great, or the margin could be better.
Companies that are ambitious – and brave – will survive and prosper during difficult times. Buying another company two months ago was a brave decision for us, but it has proved to be the right one – it’s opened new doors for our consultants with a new product range. Thankfully, we are selling products that are quite recession-proof – make-up and skincare are essential purchases, no longer luxuries – but we have increased the number of extra-value offers for customers.
What challenges is VIE at home currently facing?
Juggling all the balls! Being reborn as a new company after the buy-out, buying another company, developing a new product range and going international. One strategic move was buying an aromatherapy company, which gave us a natural fit with our VIE product ranges. The difficulty has been keeping stock at the right level with no sales history or pattern, and working with some great suppliers and others not quite so cooperative!
Any major innovations since the management buy-out?
Innovation for us has been about the relaunch of our commission plan, which we recently won a major award for – for training and innovation. It’s the talk of the direct sales industry! The training and innovation award was a brilliant acknowledgement of the hard work that had gone on at our head office by our IT, sales and marketing teams to create a new and modern commission and training plan for our consultants. We launched this in January and the results are really starting to show.
Any particular challenge you’ve had to face this week?
When to start our summer sale! Footfall has been down in June in the shopping centres where we have stores – customers (me included!) are waiting for retailers to go on sale. We know customers do have money and are holding off until their favourite stores go on sale. The issue is that some retailers went on sale in early June and others are holding off.
How did you deal with it?
We have everything geared up. We’ll see how footfall and conversion pan out this week. Operationally, all sales channels – direct, e-commerce and retail – are ready to push the button. We decide as a team.
VIE at home is a female-dominated company – presumably that brings a different set of challenges?
Setbacks have been losing (albeit temporarily!) two of my key product team to maternity leave. Having a very high percentage of women in the business – 70% head office and 97% in retail and direct sales – means this is always something we need to cope with. But to have two out of three senior product managers out at the same time has meant we have had to work very hard to keep the NPD (new product development) plans on track.
On the plus side, though, we have a fabulous team and we are very good at multi-tasking and getting the job done – both men and women, before anyone asks!
Ask the entrepreneur! Is there anything in particular you’d like to ask Ros? Post in the comments below and we’ll pass them on.