JANE Dawson’s business interests could hardly be more of a contrast.
As well as engineering a successful career in manufacturing, she has also fashioned an online retail operation providing clothing for busy businesswomen.
As managing director of Cleckheaton-based Wakefield Acoustics, she oversees a thriving company with 30 employees providing noise reduction equipment to blue-chip customers such as Cadbury, Nestle and Pilkington Glass.
As a director of Business Wardrobe – with business partners Claire Crabtree and Paul Hebden – she is enjoying the challenge of bringing high quality women’s business wear to the boardrooms via online retailing.
“As most working women know, juggling career, work life and family puts time at an absolute premium and anything which saves time is a real help,” says Jane.
“In my own career, a smart professional appearance at work has always been a requirement, but this never seems to be matched by a clothing outlet which pulled together quality, stylish designs at affordable prices with easy availability.”
Jane and her business partners identified a gap in the market to cater for women who simply don’t have the time to shop for work clothes, but who want to look good at work.
Jane says: “A detailed research programme confirmed to us that many business women shared the same problem – so after 12 months of intensive business planning, Business Wardrobe was launched in April, 2009. The aim was to provide a one-stop online shop for quality contemporary business clothes available 24/7. Having now been trading for nine months, the business is growing rapidly and we seem to have tapped into a substantial market.”
Within a short space of time, Business Wardrobe has built up an impressive designer list, which includes French Connection, Betty Jackson, James Lakeland and Helene Berman. It is now in talks with other design brands in a bid to add to the stable of labels.
Online sales were “phenomenal” during the recent snows, says Jane, adding: “We believe online is the future for retailing. That is why we are spending a lot of time investing in honing and continually developing the website to make it a convenient, hassle-free, informative and enjoyable shopping experience. It has been a steep learning curve for all of us, very challenging but very enjoyable at the same time.”
Jane is also enjoying life at Wakefield Acoustics. Having acquired the company in 2005, the business has grown year on year. It currently has six months of solid orders on the books and expects to replicate last year’s 30% rise in turnover during 2010.
Says Jane: “Despite the recession, we have maintained strong order numbers and have needed to keep overtime operating, which has been good for the workforce.
“Twelve months ago, the television news every night would be full of stories of doom and gloom and graphs pointing downwards showing a deeper and deeper recession.
“Clearly, people worry about what it will mean for them and the uncertainty can unnerve people.
“As a management tea, we took a very positive stance that Wakefield Acoustics was not going to have a recession and while that was clearly something we were not in control of, we wanted to create a mindset of ‘we can get through this’.
“The past 12 months have been the hardest during my time with the business and the whole team has had to work very hard at doing ordinary things – going out to see more clients, generating new business, marketing the company and its products and delivering to our customers what they require and when they require it – just doing it better and better.”
“When companies spend money on noise reduction systems it is all about meeting health and safety regulations and environmental noise requirements. The decision to invest is usually a fairly major one and in times of economic uncertainty many companies have been deferring investment decisions and holding on to their cash. So the challenges have been pretty tough and 2009 was certainly not an easy year – but we have a great team who have worked really hard to continue to achieve success.”
For the future, Jane says Wakefield Acoustics will continue to expand and has been actively pursuing “bolt-on” acquisitions. It is also honing and developing the skills of its staff.
“We have people on training all over the business as we believe it is really important to give our staff the opportunities to progress. That’s the best way of keeping talented people here and continuing to drive the business forward..”
Further legislation on industrial and environmental noise control legislation will also provide opportunities for the firm.
“We export half of what we make through our UK customers and we do a little direct exporting ourselves,” says Jane. “Our name is known overseas in a number of markets.
“A lot of the work we do is in power generation, oil and gas and waste water treatment in emerging markets such as India, China, South America and the Middle East.
“We want our brand to become the supplier of choice in all those markets as well as the UK.”
Jane entered the world of work armed with a degree in business studies and modern languages and went to work in sales for Ring Lighting in Leeds. She progressed to become export sales manager for South America before joining Brook Crompton at Doncaster and gaining an MBA at Huddersfield University.
Jane worked for Brook Crompton for 10 years – working on a number of large corporate projects. She moved to director level and learned the different skills of running a smaller business at centrifugal pumps firm Holden and Brook in Manchester before deciding to acquire her own business.