The Herald

Loss be­comes a gain

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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.

 ?? Pic­ture: Gor­don Ter­ris ?? GEN­ER­OUS MEA­SURE: Be­hind the story of Tina O’Docherty’s Inch Loss Clinic op­er­a­tion is her recog­ni­tion of a strong busi­ness op­por­tu­nity.
Pic­ture: Gor­don Ter­ris GEN­ER­OUS MEA­SURE: Be­hind the story of Tina O’Docherty’s Inch Loss Clinic op­er­a­tion is her recog­ni­tion of a strong busi­ness op­por­tu­nity.
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