Lorraine Meadowcroft is founder of the largest online equestrian retailer in the UK, Equestrian.com. From a small tack shop in Yorkshire, that she opened twenty-two years ago, to an online international brand with over thirty employees, Lorraine explains how she got her business to the position that it’s in now.
1. Why did you start your business?
I’ve had horses since I was six, and I’ve always been a natural entrepreneur, so when the opportunity arose to merge my passion for equestrianism with my commercial interest, I took it. Originally, I had bought a house. Attached to that house was a corn merchant’s. I applied for ‘change of use’ and overhauled it into a saddlery shop. That’s where Equestrian Clearance began!
Due to the fact that the Equestrian Clearance saddlery shop was off the beaten track, in the Pennines, we had to work extra hard to drive customers in. We attended numerous events and shows to spread the word of the brand and the obvious next step was ecommerce. We started putting things in parcels, and then along came the internet.
2. The business …
Equestrian.com is a Yorkshire-based business; we’ve rebranded from Equestrian Clearance to Equestrian.com to enable the sale of premium brands and products. We’ve recently been honoured with the SEIB Internet Retailer of the Year BETA award, which makes all the hard work worthwhile. Our focus is solely on equestrian products, and we deliver to locations as far away as Zimbabwe!
EquestrianClearance.com began in 2001 and took off instantly. It was almost accidental but we made a good move. Running an online business is really difficult, you need a lot of knowledge and expertise and a lot of investment to do it properly. Eventually, the online side of the business outgrew the physical shop, so we moved all business online.
3. About you – how would you describe yourself?
A shy introvert who comes out of myself when I sit around a board room table and talk business!
4. What did you do before you started your business and how has that experience helped your venture?
I had two young children to look after, which is actually harder work than going to work! I also became involved in politics and was heading down the MP route but changed direction as I needed something to keep me and the family. Being involved in local politics, I learned a lot about campaigning, PR, how to deal with people and being able to do it all on a very limited budget. I also spent a lot of time in very formal meetings learning about protocol and manners. I am now very comfortable in any board room environment.
5. How does your family fit alongside the business?
My two daughters, Katie (Marketing Manager) and Charlotte (HR Executive) work in the business. My brother works part time in the warehouse as he’s qualified to drive the fork lift truck.
6. What do you do to relax?
I listen to loud music – it blows the cobwebs away and takes the mind to far away places! I also go to the gym and pull weights about 4 times a week. I think the relaxing bit, here, is time to recover in between reps!
7. What were the toughest challenges and how did you get over them?
All the toughest challenges have been personal ones and will be for the book if there’s ever one written! As for business, I’ve always given myself tough challenges, the tougher they are the more of an adrenaline rush you get when you achieve the goal! I’m never too bothered about failing in ‘battle’ because if you don’t fail, you never learn how to do it better the next time – and there will always be a next time. You can then use the lessons you have learnt to achieve the goal and win the ‘war’!
8. Marketing – tell us about a marketing tactic that works really well for your business?
There’s always argument as to what marketing techniques should be employed; however, the greatest marketing technique I’ve used is to treat your customer in the way that you would like to be treated; listen to what they have to say, with interest, and try and help them achieve their goals. They will reward you by telling everyone about you. Word of mouth is still the best form of marketing, and in today’s communicative society it’s very easy to interact with your customers.
9. What are your future plans or goals?
To develop Equestrian.com into a very mature business which not only provides work and opportunities for its employees but helps the community at large, acting on its corporate responsibilities and not simply writing them down for effect. I find ecommerce an exciting industry with lots of opportunity to explore and develop in other markets; we have ambitions to be an international force, welcoming customers from many cultures and becoming involved in their communities and ambitions … we live in exciting times!
10. Your best piece of advice?
In business, I refer to these two sets of words when I have to: ‘Always see the milk bottle half full and never half empty’ and ‘The optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought’.
In life … the only person you have to live with is yourself, so whatever you do, be comfortable in the skin you live in!