everywoman award finalist Jennifer Brown talks to workingmums.co.uk about her company Pampeano.
When Jennifer Brown took a six-month break from her work in financial services to travel to South America, little would she know how it would change her life. She found herself in Argentina, visiting the country’s talabarterias where beautiful high-quality artesanal products in leather were sold, ranging from saddles to boots and belts.
Jennifer started mulling over the idea of exploring whether she could sell the goods in the UK. She had some friends from the UK come to visit her and they encouraged her to go for it. Jennifer was not new to entrepreneurialism in any event. As a child she had bred hamsters, rabbits and guinea pigs for sale and in her gap year she sold cake to children. Even when she was working in finance, she had some property deals going on in the background. “I always had a sense of enjoying the deal,” she says.
She visited shops and factories in Argentina and bought a range of different products, but mainly travel bags. When she returned to the UK, however, she realised that smaller things sold better. Luckily, she had bought several leather belts.
Jennifer returned to her job in financial services and says the year after her return sales progressed slowly based on a direct to consumer model through local shows, friends and family and word of mouth. It was not until she had her first child that she decided to go full time on the business, setting up a website and registering the brand name which subsequently changed to Pampeano.
It was not until she set up her first shop in Ascot and started selling to retailers that she started to make a profit. “I was making it up as I went along,” she says, “learning on the job.”
She sold mainly to independent retailers at first, but more multi-door retailers eventually came on board. Three years after starting the business, Jennifer gave birth to her second child and had to get back to work the very next day. From that point – 2011 – she was also a single parent. At the end of the year she moved south from Scotland to Oxford and had her first small office. Before that all her stock had been stored in her spare bedroom. Being in Oxford she found it easier to set up meetings with retailers. At that point, she was still packing and taking packages to the Post Office regularly. Then came her first employee and warehouse. The number of employees grew, and currently stands at 11. Being a small company meant everyone had to pitch in to pack and ship goods. Jennifer says this gave them the benefit of being closer to the customer.
Then in 2016 came the Brexit shock. The pound plummeted against the dollar. Pampeano bought everything in dollars and was hit really hard. The financial shock of the Truss government also had a bad impact, but Jennifer [pictured right] says the pound has never properly recovered against the dollar since Brexit. She had been warning of the dangers of Brexit to business before the referendum and had been outspoken on the subject in a Federation of Small Businesses forum.
From there she got interviewed by the BBC and was called to give evidence before the Business Select Committee in Parliament two months before the vote. She found herself sitting beside the head of Airbus. She recalls doing an interview for BBC World Service radio the night of the referendum and arguing why the country should remain. At the time she felt it was unlikely the vote would go the other way. As she left the studio she recalls the Sunderland vote coming in. “I watched the pound crash. It was a seismic shock,” she says.
As well as sustaining losses, Jennifer, who is a member of a local business network where business leaders share their experiences, has also had to take practical action. When the UK finally left the EU sales to the continent halved. So she opened a warehouse in Holland at the beginning of the year for selling to shops in Europe. She is also doing a big push on sales in the US and is looking to increase her product range, for instance, importing bags in different colours and with differently designed straps. Indeed she has been able to import products in the colours of many schools, over 25 regiments, prestigious sports clubs (such as Neilson Racing) and other membership associations. She has also launched her first direct mail brochure.
Her business has continued to grow organically year on year despite the unstable financial times and she is now distributing through 450 stockists, ranging from Harrods to boutique independents throughout the UK, Europe and US. Jennifer’s tenacity and her business acumen have been recognised by everywoman, which has named her a finalist for their Mumpreneur Award. The awards ceremony takes place next month.