Spotlight on Spouses – Suzie Olivier
Mama + Belle® Teething Jewellery
What’s your career background?
Oddly enough, my career background has nothing to do with my current business, teething necklaces. I was a personal trainer specialising in rehabilitation and nutrition when my husband joined the RAF in 2011: with regular house moves upon us, I managed to run the business remotely for a few years, but I closed it down when I launched Mama + Belle and needed to give it all my focus.
Where did the idea for Mama + Belle come from?
My daughter, Belle, was a couple of months old and I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum for as long as possible, so I needed to find something that would allow me to generate income from home. I was on the lookout for a product; something I could easily store/stock in my house and sell online.
One day, Belle had fallen asleep on me feeding – a usual afternoon scenario – and I was scrolling through Facebook. That’s when I saw it: brightly coloured necklaces on an Australian website for parents. On further investigation, I found out they were teething necklaces, a completely unknown term to me, but I thought it was a brilliant idea. I headed to Google to find some in the UK but it was slim pickings – nothing that I would wear without baby, and some were simply overpriced.
My only option was to order one from Australia or America but the international shipping costs were just too high. That’s when I realised I may have found my product and potential business.
How did you move from the idea to the actual business?
I banged on every door and found a factory that allowed me to order in very small quantities. However, I had no start-up capital, except for some saved maternity pay, and I needed to buy stock and packaging, create a website, cover insurance and safety testing costs, and fund advertising. I had no experience in retail and didn’t know anything about websites or branding, so the next couple of months were a baptism of fire: not having the capital to hire professionals, I had to figure out how to do everything myself. Slowly but surely, I designed my first logo, created the website, and figured out how to edit images so they didn’t all look like selfies.
Finally, after taking my first product images on my bedroom floor, I was ready to launch: it took 10 minutes after hitting the ‘go live’ button for my first order to arrive. I can’t tell you how exciting that was: I had made money; not much, but it had started
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Social media! Honestly, I wouldn’t have a business without it. I started with Facebook, and focused all my energy on figuring out what posts gained the best engagement, how to increase followers and how to convert ‘likes’ to sales. I’m still learning and figuring it out three years later. It’s also a great tool for me to interact with my customers and target market.
After Facebook, I moved onto Twitter and then Instagram. I find that my business achieves a much high conversion rate from Instagram than Facebook and Twitter, and it’s also helped gain some trade customers, too.
Otherwise, I work with a lot of ‘social influencers’ – bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers, and so on. Most are happy to exchange a free product for a review, well-styled post or video, which is great.
As a military spouse, what has been your biggest obstacle when trying to balance work/ kids/ your spouse’s military commitments?
It’s the balancing act itself that’s tricky. With a husband who works full days and travels a lot, two small children, living far from family, and business that’s running away with me, requiring 8 hours a day, it’s all about organisation and determination: lots of hard work, late nights and self-motivation.
What has been your proudest moment?
One of my favourite moments would be when I was nominated as the ‘Young Business Person of the Year 2016’ by the Inspire Business Awards. I was invited to attend the lavish awards ceremony with lots of press and celebs attending. Another one was a few months after I launched the business, and my website won an award. They sent a team to do a photoshoot and interview with me in my ‘workplace’ which was our married quarters in St Athan, Wales.
My all-time best moment, though, has been seeing my products on sale in John Lewis. When its buyers approached me at my first trade show in January this year, I thought my heart was beating outside my chest, I was so nervous. To see that initial chat turn into an actual contract, and then watch regular orders come in, is both a proud and humbling thing.
Why is work so important for you?
Creating something that allows me to spend my days with my family, that’s important to me. Creating something that generates income that allows me to give to others in need, that’s important. Don’t get me wrong, I love my business and I would be lying if it didn’t have some impact on my self-worth and achievement, but those are just side bonuses for me. Of course, earning money that allows for some extra luxuries is amazing and I think when you’re a military spouse, so much of your life revolves around your spouse’s career. For me, having a business has meant that my own aspirations can be realised.
What advice would you give fellow military spouses who want to start their own business?
There is no magic formula for success. However, if you’re passionate about something, have determination and a good dose of resilience, then go for it! I’ve had so much fun growing Mama + Belle but starting it with absolutely no experience in the retail industry has been a hard slog; however, it’s showed me that you don’t need to be any kind of business expert to make a success of it. You really can learn as you go, and there’s so much information and support around these days, that anyone can start a business and make it great if they really try.