Meet the MD: Helen Johnson of Wear Valley Decorating Centre

Meet the MD: Helen Johnson of Wear Valley Decorating Centre

After moving away and enjoying a successful career, Helen Johnson returned to her home town to take over her family business. She talked to BQ about her career so far and her future plans for Wear Valley Decorating Centre.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

The first half of my day is spent on the ‘shop floor’ speaking to customers and suppliers, as it’s always good to keep up to speed and see first hand what products are selling well. Then I’m flat out in business mode overseeing all finance, product purchasing, marketing and HR activity, as well as strategically planning ahead to make sure we’re on target to reach business goals.


What is it the company does?

Wear Valley Decorating Centre is based in Coundon, County Durham. We provide a large range of paints, wallpapers and decorating supplies to trade and retail customers. The company is truly family-owned. My recently retired parents ran the store for over 30 years before I returned to the North East at the end of 2015 to take over the reins.

My focus is to drive the business forward, whilst remaining true to our heritage.


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

My first job was working at the decorating centre helping my parents during school holidays.

During my placement year at university I worked as a new business and governance specialist at Hewlett Packard where I was responsible for approving and validating paperwork for IT sales services in the UK and Ireland.

After graduating, I joined Jaguar Land Rover working my way up the ranks to be a senior buyer, before returning to Coundon to become managing director of Wear Valley Decorating Centre.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Having experience of other sectors and industries has helped develop my skills as a leader. I’m also in the rare and fortunate position of knowing Wear Valley Decorating Centre inside out, as it was a large part of my life growing up.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

As we’re an expanding business I have to wear several different hats everyday. Often I’m working across multiple tasks at the same time, which can be challenging. I need to remember that discipline, focus and prioritising tasks is key to working in an efficient and effective way.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

As I enjoy my role and growing the business, I’m not finding it particularly stressful. Although I’ve recently got a puppy called Cooper, so he’s great at alleviating any stress at the end of the day!


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a lollipop lady when I was in primary school. Our local lollipop lady was lovely and she used to get lots of chocolate at Christmas, which I thought was great and a real perk of the job!  

Then at school I studied GCSE business and although I was quite young at the time, it really encouraged my entrepreneurial spirit.


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I like all working environments to be tidy so I’m always tidying up during the day!


Where do you see the company in five years time?

I’d like to have three decorating centres within the North East and see our online presence grow within the next five years. My goal is to position Wear Valley Decorating Centre as the ‘go-to’ store for lifestyle inspiration. Our experienced and knowledgeable team are always on hand to not only offer cost effective decorating supplies and products, but also creative ideas and advice to inspire.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

It’s important to surround yourself with people that can help you make contacts, grow your business and provide encouragement when things go right, as well as wrong. And remember to always remain keen and enthusiastic as who knows where a positive attitude can take you…