Claire Harper

Claire Harper - the story so far

26th May 2015 • CLAIRE HARPER

I AM DELIGHTED TO INTRODUCE THE LAUNCH OF MY NEW WEBSITE, showcasing my marketing skills and experience, as well as my personal journey to running my own business.

My story is one of resilience, passion and a great deal of dedication and hard work. Since launching my business I have been invited to speak at many events, conferences and awards, and I am now delighted to work with Speakers' Corner both nationally and globally talking about business, marketing, brand, customer service and the daily juggling challenges of being a busy working mum.

My career path has not always been conventional but it’s taught me a huge amount about the benefits of grabbing a positive opportunity and working hard to prove myself. I left university with a business degree and a fascination for understanding why customers shopped. I was fortunate to land a temporary PA job at Argos but within a week was told to go and introduce myself to the Head of Marketing. It took me two days to pluck up the courage but I landed a job as a Marketing Executive in the promotions team.

At the age of 24 I was appointed Advertising Manager at Argos, with a budget of £30million. It was a high profile role for someone so young, working closely with advertising and media agencies and presenting to the CEO and Board on a regular basis. But I was fortunate to have a hugely supportive Marketing Director who was a great mentor and really encouraged my self-belief, resilience and inner strength.

Two years later I was headhunted to join a new, online grocery start-up, in partnership with Waitrose and backed by John Lewis. It became one of the UK’s biggest and most innovative online retailers, Ocado.

This was the height of the dotcom boom, and such an exciting time to work in business. After discussions with my mentor, she told me to ‘go for it’ and if it didn’t work out to come back to Argos. It is always so important to keep the door open if at first you don’t succeed.

Ocado was completely revolutionary in its approach; we were changing habits of a lifetime, getting customers to buy groceries in a completely different way. The culture was so fast-moving and the entrepreneurial spirit was infectious. I have many fond memories of rolling my sleeves up in the warehouse late on a Friday night, working as part of a brilliant team to get the groceries delivered so we didn’t let customers down. I also worked with our customer service team members, knocking on doors in North London to try and persuade customers to buy their groceries online.

Of course the rest is history and I remain hugely proud that I was Ocado’s Head of Marketing and PR for five years. But I’ve always had my eye on the next challenge, and this presented itself five years after I joined Ocado, to work with Justin King and his new leadership team at Sainsbury’s.

I personally thrive on change, and have been lucky enough to work with a number of brands that have been going through periods of evolutionary or revolutionary change. I believe that the challenge to constantly innovate is what distinguishes a leading brand from a follower brand. I am also very passionate about the customer and I have worked for some fabulous customer-centric companies – some definitely more so than others!

At Sainsbury’s it was straight back to basics to really understand the customer. The culture had to change overnight, and it was so liberating and insightful to spend at least half of our working week back on the shop floor, supporting the thousands of brilliant, talented colleagues who needed leadership, direction and support to make Sainsbury’s Great Again in store and online.

After four years at Sainsbury’s I was approached to join Mamas & Papas as their first ever board-level Marketing Director, a role I had set my sights on from the very beginning of my career. My goal was to become Marketing Director for a high street retailer by the time I was 35, and I achieved it at 32. I was ahead of my goal and firing on all cylinders.

Mamas & Papas was a family run business and once again I had to adapt to a very different culture. My experience of creating and building a strong and talented team proved hugely important and allowed me to expand the brand across the UK and in many international markets under challenging economic circumstances. I was very proud of the team and our achievements as the journey had not always been simple or straightforward.

Whilst my corporate experience has been extremely valuable, walking away from the security of a marketing career to launch IndiaCoco was very exciting but also a lot like jumping off a cliff into the unknown. I was fully aware it was pushing me out of my comfort zone and going solo would present lots of new challenges ahead.

There were two catalysts behind the decision to go solo – the first was a five year milestone at Mamas & Papas as Marketing Director, and the second was the birth of my second daughter, India (who along with her sister Coco was the inspiration for the business name.)

The idea behind IndiaCoco came from my own experience as a typical Boden customer who got fed up of seeing my daughters in the same clothes as everyone else. So with my retail experience, I set out to launch a multi-channel retail destination offering a range of different, high-quality British children’s clothes.

I always wanted to launch the website first and then move into retail. IndiaCoco launched from our family dining room in 2012, and has since doubled its supplier base. Towards the end of 2012 I approached and launched a concession at an award winning farm shop based in Yorkshire called Blacker Hall Farm.

Today the concession continues to be a thriving and growing customer environment for the brand. In October 2013, following a number of country shows, events and local 'pop-up' shops, we opened our first bricks and mortar retail outlet in Wood Street, Wakefield. In May 2015 we launched a new flagship store in a more prominent location, Trinity Walk Shopping Centre in Wakefield, to increase brand awareness and drive footfall.

Here’s what I’ve always been taught in my career - keep it simple, understand your customers, and retail is detail. We made some brand promises at the start of our IndiaCoco adventure and we live by them to this day. We only source and sell original, hand-picked British childrenswear brands, which offer the very best in quality and value. 'Pop-up' shops gave us the opportunity to test and trial our retail offering by delivering the outstanding customer service face to face and to demonstrate the warmth, passion and commitment that shines through in everything we do.

I often get asked “what does success look like”? Over the years, I have learned that the key to success is knowing your customer. Work out who your customer is and what they really want, and then deliver it. But this process must be ongoing, because wants and needs change all the time.

The other challenge I have learned is not to be afraid of failure. If you are really entrepreneurial and have the passion and self-belief to go forward, a few failures don’t count. They are merely learning milestones along the way.

IndiaCoco is now a multi-channel, award-winning retailer and we are planning to roll out the brand across the UK in community-based locations over the next few years. Thank you for reading my story, and if there are any ways I can help your business grow and innovate, please do get in touch.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Claire

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© 2022 Claire Harper