Within North East Lincolnshire, there is a pretty special initiative – the 100 Inspiring Women. Originally established by e-factor as a part of RBS’ Inspiring Women fund, this network of business women meet regularly to mentor, network and learn at events hosted by The Business Hive. Part of this programme of events is hearing the motivational stories of other business women.
Karen Webb-Meek (pictured left, with Sam Burgess of The Business Hive) is a local business woman, owner of the hugely successful jewellery stores In The Pink which are known by just about everyone in North East Lincolnshire. In this special event for the 100 Inspiring Women, Karen told her business story – and trust me, it is an inspirational one.
Raised in the Humberston and Cleethorpes area, Karen began working as a teen teaching swimming classes and doing graphic design for renowned local department store, Ramsdens. After marrying, she travelled with her RAF husband and had three children. Sadly, Karen undercame some unfortunate circumstances which led to her returning home with her children. It was then on Millennium New Year’s Eve when Karen thought seriously about her situation and wondered how she could turn her life around. She thought to herself, “What do I enjoy? Swimming and sunshine.” And that’s when her first business was created.
Swim Kids was a concept that would teach children to swim while they are on holiday. Karen put together a brochure to pitch and send to the country’s largest travel companies, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Sun responded. The company trialled Swim Kids in a resort in Europe during Easter half-term, then during the summer holidays, and finally the concept was rolled out across Europe – then the world!
Virgin Sun was sold to First Choice, but the business continued to grow. Swim Kids taught approximately 40,000 children to swim worldwide over eight years, hiring over 400 staff. Karen, whose only experience in this business was teaching children to swim, was now dealing with VISAs, Health and Safety, Recruitment, and Insurance, and saw her concept being broadcast on national television adverts and published in millions of brochures. Throughout all this time, Karen was travelling with and taking care of her three young children too.
When First Choice changed hands, it was time for Swim Kids to end, but it wasn’t long before Karen’s next business venture was underway. Karen began hosting silver jewellery parties, and took advantage of an opportunity to open her very own shop in Cleethorpes’ much sought after Sea View Street. In The Pink began selling a variety of jewellery brands, most notably Pandora. Karen described this business relationship as ‘idyllic’, as if she was ‘being romanced’; flown overseas to exclusive events, attending all kinds of retail and visual merchandise training to ensure that her shop was the best that it could be. It proved to be a very successful partnership as In The Pink quickly relocated to the nearby St Peter’s Avenue, doubling its footfall (and turnover!)
Pandora had greater faith in the store and encouraged Karen to expand even further, opening up a second In The Pink in Grimsby’s Freshney Place Shopping Centre. The business continued to thrive and was the destination shop for Pandora jewellery, however, Pandora had other plans. They opened their own store in Freshney Place, pulling out of In the Pink all together, which left a pretty big hole in Karen’s business. She knew that In The Pink was on a rapid decline and had to think quickly about how to save her business.
The answer was daily micro analysis; understanding which pieces were selling, which weren’t, and being super efficient when re-ordering stock. At this event, Karen was very happy to say that In The Pink is now more than back on track.
Throughout all of this time, Karen has had more ups and downs in her personal life, but yet she still managed to study for a Degree and a Masters in Illustration, from the University of Lincoln and Cambridge School of Art respectively. This year will be another milestone for Karen as her first book, a commission by the UN and the World Future Council no less, is being released. The story, which Karen illustrated, is about water conservation in the desert and is being published in 10 languages this September – all while running a successful business, being a wife and mother to (now) four children.
It was incredible to hear Karen’s story, how she managed to build and run thriving businesses, adapting to any changes she needed to make while dealing with her own personal issues – and she still remains so modest about it all.
Karen left us us with some advice:
- Contracts are really important
- Exit Strategies are also REALLY important
- Have tact and diplomacy, and think quickly
- Always be bothered.
The Business Hive hosts many events for the 100 Inspiring Women, lunches and workshops in addition to motivational speakers. For more information, contact The Business Hive.
You can also find Karen on Twitter.