Loss becomes a gain
LOOKING at some of the coverage of the latest business monitor from Lloyds TSB, one could be forgiven for thinking some people are determined to talk Scotland into recession.
The survey of services firms showed conditions had become tougher over the summer, which was hardly a revelation, but attention focused on the fact that 44% of firms saw sales fall in the three months to August.
Put anotherway, this means more than half managed to increase or hold sales levels despite the deepening gloom affecting business.
With the labour market remaining strong so far and Scottish consumers spending freely on some goods there are reasons to be, if not cheerful, then not too despondent.
Still, this week’s SME Focus provides a reminder that those with an entrepreneurial bent may find that ideas for successful businesses can emerge from what may seem to be the grimmest of times.
Name: Tina O’Doherty.
Age: 33. What is your business called? Tina O’Doherty’s Inch Loss Clinic. Where is it based? We have a chain of five clinics throughout Scotland – in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Falkirk and Hamilton. What services does it offer? We have two inch loss systems available at the clinic. Lipo Sculpting, which uses laser for a pain-free, non-invasive alternative to liposuction, and Electrical Impulse, which works by contracting the muscles in the same way as exercise, only without the effort. We also offer permanent hair removal. To whom does it sell? The majority of our clients are women aged between 34 and 54 years. This is not exclusive, however, as about 20% of our clients are men, and the ratio of female to male customers has remained steady over the past few years. We believe the treatments are suitable for all ages and fitness levels, so anyone looking to shed a few extra inches would benefit from coming to the clinic. What is its turnover? Approximately £1.1m. How many employees. There are 20. When was it formed? I first started working with inch loss treatments as a client myself at another clinic six years ago, when I lived in Cork in Ireland.
I then started working for that clinic before deciding to start up a clinic myself, part time in the evenings. It worked really well as a startup business, as I was working shifts as a receptionist in a hotel and would then take the inch loss appointments around these shifts.
After a year of working part-time like this in Cork, I met my husband Billy (who is now my partner in Inch Loss) and moved to Scotland with him. I took the opportunity to turn what was an income supplement into a full-time business. Why did you take the plunge? I suffer from Polycystic Ovar- ian Syndrome (PCOS), symptoms of which include weight gain and excess facial hair. I used the inch loss and hair removal treatments with great success and saw the opportunity to share the benefits with others.
When I moved to Scotland I realised there was a gap in the market for combined treatments tailored to women with PCOS and also wanted to take advantage of the growing demand for quick and easy inch loss. What were you doing before you took the plunge? I was a hotel receptionist and built up the business working two jobs initially. How did you raise the startup funding? I got a bank loan to start up the first clinic, in Edinburgh in 2003; then opened another clinic every year until 2007 – Glasgow, Falkirk, Hamilton and Dundee last year.
After the first clinic the business became self-funding. It was a good idea to start one each year but now we are looking at making the overall business more profitable so we didn’t start one in 2008. Instead, we are focusing on introducing other services and making the five clinics work more efficiently and effectively. What was your biggest break? While living in Cork I fell in love with a Scotsman. When Billy returned to Edinburgh I moved with him and it was this move that gave me the opportunity and motivation to start something new.
Had I remained in Ireland I think I would have carried on running the business part time from a spare room, but the new environment helped me realise that I had the beginnings of a great business with a huge potential for growth.
But also we got a good break to do with the initial inch loss machines.
We bought them from someone in Bournemouth who gave us exclusive rights to Scotland initially, which enabled us to offer something completely different from our competitors.
And in Dundee, our latest clinic, because it was a regeneration area the landlord got a grant.
They in turn paid us to fit out and install the equipment in this clinic, which was a great help. What was your worst moment? No worst moments, really. Except realising that your great idea had a product life cycle – we saw the downturn in sales and didn’t know if this was a trend or just a blip.
It takes a little while to understand what’s happening, why it’s happening and then try and turn it around.
We feel now that the business is turning around and we have just had our best six months ever. Saying that, over the last few weeks or so it has tightened up a bit so we are now consolidating and also looking to bring in new products. What do you most enjoy about running the business? Working together … Billy bounces an idea off me and vice-versa. We have different kinds of arguments than people not working together, and it certainly gives us something in common going forward.
We now have distinct roles: I am very good with people and as this business is serviceoriented I am more suited to dealing with clients and staff, and Billy focuses on the business and financial side – we had to find this out, but now it works very well. What is your biggest bugbear? It’s a very heavily regulated industry. Anything to do with slimming is.
We can see the reason why regulations are required, but it makes it very hard for us to market the company.
What the Adver tising Standards Authority deems to be evidence is hard for us to prove – we know it works, but we are restricted in how we can put that message across. What are your ambitions for the firm? To improve the existing clinics, treatments and staff development in the medium term and ultimately expand the number of clinics in the long term.
I have four or five fresh ideas to bring things on and am always on the look-out for new, cutting-edge systems to continue to be at the forefront of the inch loss/weight management industry within Scotland. What are your five top priorities? Keeping the phones ringing; giving 100% client satisfaction – so many clients come to us by word of mouth that client satisfaction has a big impact; motivating staff; developing a UK-wide brand; developing concepts to grow the business – continuous improvement to be at the forefront of the industry. What single thing would most help? Being able to say what we want to say in advertisements, as we believe we genuinely have treatments that help people and yet we cannot freely express this.
For instance, we can use testimonials but cannot be very factual or specific, eg our clients cannot say “We lost 12 pounds”. What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would most help? We’ve done everything without the help of either government.
The whole tax system is very heavy-handed. For example, if there are temporary cash flow problems they come down harder if you are likely to be late paying, instead of helping small businesses by extending the deadline for payment of things like VAT and national insurance. What was the most valuable lesson you learned? I have learned that every product has a life cycle, and if you wait until it goes down, it goes out of fashion quicker than you can turn it round, so we have to get better at keeping ahead of the trends and adjusting the products before the demand changes.
It has all been a big learning curve – my initial business plan would simply not work now.
Plus, as a husband-and-wife partnership,we have both had to learn to take on different roles and skills, and not interfere with decisions the other person makes in their role. How do you relax? Keeping the garden up to scratch and sitting down with a glass of wine by the pond. As we recently got married, between planning a wedding and running the business I haven’t had much time to relax.