Chapter 10: Rebecca – June 1974

Not long after Penny’s visit Rebecca had started to think more about her business plans, she’d been with Liberty now for over a year and much as she enjoyed it she was itching for a new challenge.  Rebecca had recently started to trawl The Evening Standard for commercial properties to get a feel for the going rate for retail outlets.  She had also visited a few of the wealthier suburbs looking at potential sites; she needed an area where rich women congregated that was outside of central London.  She would discuss her ideas with Suzanne, as she knew that her friend’s logical and sensible advice would be helpful.

After the first successful evening that they had enjoyed at Suzanne’s flat they had settled into a routine of inviting each other alternately.  Rebecca was expecting Suzanne to come around for supper this Saturday evening.  It was her Saturday off from Liberty so she had plenty of time to prepare for what had become a friendly competition to see who could create the best meal.

Suzanne arrived in time to smell burning and to hear a barrage of loud swearwords emitting from behind Rebecca’s flat door.

‘Come in’ yelled Becca, ‘It’s not quite as bad as it smells!  Sorry’ she grinned contritely as she hugged Suzanne hello, ‘I forgot I’d put some bread rolls in the oven to warm and turned the bloody grill on!  Nothing vital, I have more’.

‘I’ll pour the wine, you open the windows’, Suzanne advised, practical as ever.

They settled down companionably to eat a Spaghetti Carbonara, which Suzanne declared not half bad, with a side salad and fresh rolls washed down with a bottle of Valpolicella.  As they ate, Rebecca started to tell Suzanne about her dream.  She planned to own and run her own fashion boutique.  Which in time, she hoped could become several shops.  She explained her idea in minute detail to Suzanne, concentrating on the business projections that she knew her friend would understand and emphasise with more than with the fashion content of the plan.

As Rebecca had known, Suzanne’s comments were very useful.  She suggested that Rebecca should brush up on her business skills before plunging into the enterprise, particularly market research to make sure that she pinpointed the residential areas with the closest demographics.  Also, she suggested that Rebecca should take a course in book keeping ensuring that robust financial management underpinned the business.

‘More businesses fail through poor cash flow management than any other reason’ Suzanne elaborated.  ‘You’ll see all the courses advertised in the paper soon as the Colleges will be recruiting for the summer term’.

‘You don’t think that it’s a mad idea then?’ Rebecca asked.

‘No, not at all, you’ve obviously given it a lot of thought and I think that your ideas make sense as long as the figures stack up.  I can also see that you have a gift for clothes and knowing what people like, a skill that could be harnessed to make your business a great success.  The experience that you’ve gained from working all this time in Liberty should stand you in good stead too.’

‘Thanks Suzanne, I really appreciate your advice and support.’

By the time spring had turned to summer Rebecca was on track to realise her ambition.  She had done her market research very carefully and decided on one of two suburbs in which she could just about afford the cost of entry.  These two locations also had the right demographics for her business to succeed:  Wimbledon and Hampstead.  Having narrowed her search she spent every available minute looking for the right property.  One Sunday in early June she knew she had it.  She had travelled out to Wimbledon on the tube after a lie-in and a late breakfast.  It was a lovely sunny morning and Rebecca was sauntering along dressed in casual blue jeans and tee shirt, her feet comfortable in red Converse baseball boots. ‘SHOP for LEASE’ sign caught her eye; the location was perfect on the village end of Wimbledon High Street.  She skipped across the road to take a closer look.  The premises appeared to be newly emptied with only a few letters and leaflets stuffed through the mailbox lying on the floor.

Peering through the window with difficulty in the bright sunlight she could detect signs of a wooden floor and dark painted walls with scars of white in places where something, shelves perhaps, had been ripped from the wall.  It looked to Rebecca like a blank canvas waiting to be filled with colour and pattern.  She rooted in her capacious suede bag and pulled out her Filofax to make a note of the agent’s number to call.  Her fingers were trembling slightly with excitement.

For the next few weeks Rebecca spent every available minute on her business plan.  Her Filofax was filled with ‘to do’ lists.  She needed to secure the lease for which she would have to borrow money, she had some savings and knew that her parents would help out but that she would still need money to invest in stock for the shop as well as in the fixtures and fittings.  She knew she had to write a really detailed business plan to take to the bank and for her parents to see before asking them to guarantee the shop lease.  She was grateful to Suzanne for her advice as she was now equipped to present figures with detailed cash flow and profit and loss spread sheets.

Rebecca had been assiduously making notes of designers that performed well in Liberty, noticing the demographics of the shoppers.  She also took note of high street brands that were popular to help her buy well for the less affluent customer.  She had a clear idea of her target market and the labels that she wanted to stock, she had also made good contacts with wholesalers whilst learning with the Liberty buyers.

Gradually her plans started to come together.  The bank loan was agreed and the first instalment of cash landed into her new business bank account.  The shop would be called Palmerstone.  The ground floor comprised three interconnecting rooms amounting to just over 1200 square feet.  There were steps down to a basement that was dry so it would be suitable for use as a stock room.

Rebecca then had a stroke of luck, the tenants from the flat above the shop gave notice to quit and the agents contacted her for first refusal.  The rent for the two bedrooms flat was the same as she had been paying in Shepherds Bush.  Without hesitation she signed the tenancy agreement for the flat as well as for the shop.

She would take over in late July and could allow less than a week to get the shop ready for trading.  She sourced all the shop fittings, hired a local builder to strip and polish the floors and paint the walls, and a sign writer to paint her name over the door.  She found a long scrubbed pine table in a junk shop and painted the legs in her signature duck egg blue; this would serve as a display table.  She bought cheap bookshelves and painted it the same colour for displaying shoes and bags.  An old linen cupboard would stand at the back of the shop and with the doors and drawers standing open would display rolled and folded jeans, tees and scarves with some hooks on the side for hanging beads and bangles.

Everything mapped out with military precision for the final assault on her return Rebecca was able to put Palmerstone to the back of her mind and concentrate on Penny’s wedding.

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