Inside Track Q&A: Louise Stokes, founder of Loulerie jewellery boutique in Dublin
Stokes offers a bespoke jewellery design service as well as her own brand of jewellery
Louise Stokes celebrates 10 years this month at the helm of Loulerie jewellery boutique
Louise Stokes is the founder of Loulerie, a Dublin jewellery boutique which stocks a range of designer jewellery by brands such as Lulu Frost and Oscar de la Renta. Stokes offers a bespoke jewellery design service as well as her own brand of fine jewellery. She celebrates 10 years in business this month.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
When everyone was going one way, we had to go the other way. I only had six months’ trading before the recession really hit so the key was to focus on fashion jewellery lines that weren’t offered in Ireland then. I had seen them in New York and I knew they would work.
A lot of jewellery is mainstream in the middle market and I couldn’t afford to be a choice in the chain, I had to be the only choice and make mine a specialist destination store.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
“Go ugly early” from Paypal’s Louise Phelan. You cannot beat yourself up about bad decisions. You are going to make bad decisions and mistakes and you’re going to fail at certain things. If you focus on that, you will never survive. You’ve got to dust yourself off and get up really quickly.
The other one is from my stepfather: “The business runs from the numbers,” he says. In a creative business, I could lose the run of myself and want to spend on the nicest of things in terms of stock; but if you’re not making the money, you can’t spend the money.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Trying to do it all at the same time and then just being mediocre. As a business owner, you should be focused on where you want to go and not get bogged down in the nitty-gritty.
And your major success to date?
Probably keeping open. People talk about growth and net profit but sometimes retail is such a turbulent business that keeping your doors open and employing yourself and others is a success in itself. Also being profitable in a very tough trading period. There’s definitely been a growth since 2014 but I cannot rest on my laurels. Increasingly, it’s about finding new business as opposed to maintaining it.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
I have huge admiration for Louise Phelan, who has mentored me through Going for Growth, not only for what she has personally achieved in business but also for her ability to convey what she has learned to others. Not everyone who is brilliant at something can also teach it.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
I think they are. Where I found it very difficult was to get anything off the ground originally as I’d spent my adult life in New York. But I persevered. I didn’t have a credit card machine on my first day of trading because I didn’t have a credit history but I proved that I would have turnover. I bank with AIB business banking. You have to work with the banks. I communicate what my plans for the business are and I think it comes down to trust.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
My major bugbear is the lack of support for creatives in Ireland. You have amazing colleges producing these fabulously creative graduates but, without business training and support, we will export all our talent. Also what incentive is there for people setting up businesses? It’s only this year that the self-employed have qualified for a dental check-up and there’s no social protection if you lose your business. You also ask yourself ‘Where is the thought process involved in the planning of cities and where is the support for independent retailers?’ – that’s a whole other discussion.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Growing the business while working in it. It is very hard to make the next step. Finance is a key and it’s hard to maintain a net profit and grow while working in the business. Working in the business and working on the business, the challenge is around where you spend your time. Another challenge is growth and a route to growth that is going to maintain what I already have and increase our business while still maintaining our core objectives which are niche and luxury.
What’s your short-term plan for the business?
We are planning a redevelopment of our website, one of our major areas of growth, and are focusing on our range of Loulerie Fine Jewellery. Longer term, I want to find a growth strategy in line with our core principles – examining the idea of more stores, maybe partnering with a larger company and expanding the online aspect of the business.
What is your business worth and would you sell it?
In a competitive space, I’m not going to tell you what it’s worth, but I will say that we are in a very healthy position and, after 10 years in business, I think Loulerie is a success because it’s proven. Most businesses fail in the first three years and we have grown year-on-year. I wouldn’t sell it now, but I think the key in business is to never say ‘never’.