"For me, a good leader stays positive and composed, no matter what is going on, and no matter how uncertain the market." - Fabulous MD, Jo Stroud, speaks to BQ about her designer jewellery empire.
What is it the company does?
Fabulous is a multi-brand retailer of designer jewellery, with one store on the high street and an online store, which I launched 14 years ago. Three years ago, we launched our own brand of jewellery – Mantra Jewellery – which is sold online at www.mantrajewellery.co.uk. Mantra combines the power of words with the beauty of jewellery, and sits in the category of wellbeing jewellery.
We have changed from having four stores on the high street, in various towns, to now being principally an online business.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I am the founder and managing director of both brands, so my role encompasses strategy and direction; forward planning; financial management; leadership of the team; brand ownership; and overall product development. I also look after marketing, as I spent 7 years in a marketing agency before I set up Fabulous.
My main role over the last 4 years has been recognising how the jewellery industry is changing, and how consumer behaviour is changing, in order that we could evolve ourselves from being a high street retailer with 4 stores, to a designer-manufacturer and brand owner, selling mostly online.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started my career in books, as I was always a great reader and lover of words. A degree in English was followed by 7 happy years at Dillons’ the Bookstore, now part of Waterstone’s; and a year at US book retailer, Barnes and Noble, when they were planning to open in the UK.
I then moved into marketing for the next 7 years of my career – working in a marketing agency with clients like BMW, Aston Martin, B&Q and Hewlett Packard.
My move into entrepreneurship, setting up my own jewellery shop in 2005, came from visiting a jewellery shop and feeling like I could do it better!
There seemed to be a lack of fun and glamour; a focus on hard-selling; no chance to try pieces on and browse; and a lack of information about designers. I set Fabulous up to change all that. We ended up with four Fabulous stores and a Pandora Franchise store.
Ten years on, it became clear that we needed to keep evolving, to stay current and relevant. So, I decided it was time for us to create our own brand of jewellery, drawing on my long-standing love of words, combined with our experience of jewellery.
Running the London Marathon in 2016, and using mantras to keep me motivated as I ran, reminded me of the power of words. I am convinced that jewellery is the best way of carrying inspiring words with you, day to day – hence, Mantra Jewellery was born.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
For me, a good leader stays positive and composed, no matter what is going on, and no matter how uncertain the market. They have a clear vision for where they want the business to go, and they are able to clearly communicate that vision. They stay faithful to their vision, and take the team forward with them in pursuit of it. And they take ownership of their own decisions, and of the company’s performance.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
The evolution from pure retailer, to designer-manufacturer, has been a challenging one; and the move to being a digital-first, online business, as opposed to a principally high street retailer, has meant we have all had to learn new skills rapidly.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I switch off easily. I run, I do yoga, I read (a lot!), I go to art exhibitions, I go out for long walks in the Cotswolds with my husband. It is essential to do things that feed your soul and inspire your creativity.
I also use mantras to change my mood and mindset. ‘Change my thoughts and I change my world’ is engraved on my personalised ‘myMantra’ necklace, to remind me that we are all in control of how we react and respond to life; and I often wear the ‘Breathe’ Mantra necklace, which represents, ‘I breathe in calmness, I breathe out stress’, reminding me to take the time to slow down and breathe deeply.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer. I have always loved words – the most exciting Christmas presents for me included a Roget’s Thesaurus, an illustrated dictionary, and Scrabble!
With my jewellery brand, Mantra, I feel I have come full circle – returning to my first love, words; and combining it with my career experience in jewellery.
And you never know – there’s still time to write that novel!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I get frustrated if people don’t try. If you try something, and it doesn’t work out right – at least you have tried. But if you give up without even trying, then I find that irritating. I encourage my team to come up with their own solutions, and just run things past me – rather than waiting for me to give them the answers. It is the best way to build a self-sufficient and proactive team.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I would like Mantra to be seen as the go-to brand for jewellery which enhances your wellbeing, and as a meaningful gift purchase.
I still see us principally selling online and in pop-up locations, but I would also like us to be at the forefront of a new wave of wellness stores and destinations that I feel will spring up over the next few years.
I also see our personalised range, myMantra, growing rapidly; our product range widening; and more collaborations with like-minded people.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
I would say that evolving your proposition and keeping your business relevant are two of the most important things in business. As a leader, your role is to continually look at what’s next.
And that you have to own your vision for the business, because it is easy to get knocked in a different direction by the winds of circumstance – so you need to hold steady to your destination, even if you change course to get there.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish they had told me to ask for help more.
People in my industry have the answers to the questions I have had over the years, and most are happy to help. For some reason, we all tend to feel that we have to come up with the answer to everything ourselves – but more rapid progress is made in the world by standing on the shoulders of others.
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