Deborah Millington is the founder and director of RedBorder, a London-based creative visual merchandising service provider.
Launched in 2006, RedBorder’s team of three employees work closely with local authorities, schools and educational establishments to teach the creative side of retail to young people between the ages of 13-19 years.
Why did you decide to start RedBorder?
I started RedBorder in 2006 due to the fact I had worked for different companies but could not find one role that encompassed everything I wanted to do.
I liked the creativity of the visual merchandising posts that I had, but not having the total autonomy to make the decisions I knew were best at times was very frustrating. Trying to find a post that offered creative independence led me to developing the ideal role for myself.
How did you devise your company name?
Coming up with the company name was very last minute as it came to the time that I had to register the name with Companies House. As red is my favourite colour, it seemed to be a great fit for my company name.
It has grown on me and the good thing about it is that people ask me what RedBorder does, so I am able to sell the service that way as opposed to people already having an idea from the name.
What was your career path prior to starting your company?
At the back of my mind I always wanted to start up my own business. I studied Marketing and thought that I would venture down that route. Working in retail was only supposed to be a stop gap. I have always been naturally creative so combining my creativity and utilising my marketing credentials enabled me to create a role where I am able to use both.
Can you tell me more about the type of clients you work with and recent projects you have you undertaken?
At present, the main focus of the company is our education and training department where we work with local authorities, schools and other educational establishments to teach young people between the ages of 13-19 about the creative side of retail.
We have just finished delivering multiple courses during the summer in association with Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Newham, Hounslow, Merton, Sutton and Royal Borough of Kingston. They all commissioned RedBorder to deliver our creative course “Passion for… Fashion.”
Tell me more about your “Passion for … Fashion” courses, what do they encompass and how was the programme conceived?
“Passion for… Fashion” is a course that educates young people about the Art of Visual Merchandising. In a nutshell the course enables students to design, pitch, create and implement a window display for a high street retailer. There is also a mannequin styling competition that they enter at the end of the week.
The course is usually 15 hours per week and we try to work with retailers within their respective areas so that their parents and families can see their work in their own community.
The course was conceived when a friend who I had worked for on a voluntary basis for many years, Maxine Boyce of Hackney Summer University, suggested that I run a course for her organisation. At that time the course hadn’t been created nor did I have any idea what I was going to do, but I saw it as a challenge and an opportunity. She talked me through the format of what is required. I sent her through a rough draft of a course proposal and fortunately she commissioned the course.
In order to develop the course I asked my students to provide feedback; some were kind but others were very brutal, but I saw this as an ideal opportunity to improve the course to become one where the students pretty much dictated how and what they wanted to learn. Based on the feedback, a new course format was created.
From that moment I learnt never to underestimate how important it is to get feedback, but also, how equally important it is to act upon it. This has made all the difference for RedBorder.
One month after I completed the Hackney course I was contacted by the London Borough of Havering who wanted to commission two courses. This was as a result of the direct marketing that we had undertaken after Maxine provided a list of all the other Summer University Co-ordinator contact details. That list proved invaluable as I was able to communicate with the exact people who made the decisions.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you describe your typical working day?
Generally I don’t have a typical day in my line of work as no two days are the same. I am currently working on several projects, including The Times Educational Supplement Exhibition.
This is our first exhibition so we are getting ready for that, as well as working on the Diploma in retail with the London Borough of Newham and Westfield Shopping centre which is due to launch in September 2011.
What are the highlights of running your own business?
Without a shadow of a doubt it is the freedom to come up with an idea and not having to deal with the bureaucracy of an approval chain. The buck starts and stops with me.
I also feel that I am challenging myself every day and I like that the business is growing organically.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
It can be lonely sometimes and it is hard to see the external perspective that others can see. Juggling the bills and sometimes going without paying myself a salary because I need to do a marketing or PR campaign.
I am fortunate that I have a very supportive circle of family and friends around me who provide me with inspiration as well as truthful feedback.
What has been your biggest triumph to date?
It has to be realising my ambition and bringing RedBorder to fruition. Following on from that is seeing the impact that the course has on the students that attend the course and also their parents.
Parents have contacted me to thank me for providing such a great course for their daughter, I have past students that want to be involved on the course or request references and are also proud to take what they have learnt and achieved to an employer. Our clients contact us requesting our courses. Those moments really make all the hard work worthwhile.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Give your clients more than they expect and word of mouth is the best form of recommendation. I have gained many new contacts and contracts from these mottos.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I am usually inspired by success stories that I read from other women. I find it quite easy to motivate myself when I am passionate about something. After all “if you stand still for too long a dog might think you are a tree”!
If you could select anyone as a mentor who would it be and why?
I don’t have a business mentor, but I do believe that Oprah Winfrey should set up a worldwide mentor programme.
What are your future goals for RedBorder?
To continue with the organic growth of the company, but at a more rapid pace. I’d also like to take the course further afield and possibly broadening my course portfolio. We are also looking to put more focus on the development of the commercial consultancy aspect of the business.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a visual merchandising business?
It would be the same advice I would give to anyone that wants to start a business, do your research and surround yourself with positive and trustworthy people.
If you want to get into any creative industry have a portfolio of pictures and testimonials this will pay dividends when you go to meetings with potential clients. There is a lot of work involved, but use your creativity to your advantage and think of new and innovative ways to stand out from the competition.
For more information on RedBorder visit www.redborder.co.uk
Deborah Millington was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
The Twenty Ten Club connects, inspires and supports Black female business owners. If you are interested in becoming a member you can find out more here.