The Baby Cot Shop produces and supplies luxury furniture and linens for babies and children.
Headquartered in Bromley, Kent the retailer specializes in beautifully crafted furniture and interior accessories for baby nurseries and children’s bedrooms.
The Baby Cot Shop was shortlisted for the Retailer of the Year Award at this year’s Women in Business Awards.
Founder Toks Aruoture shares how she was inspired to start her first retail business in Atlanta, her strategies for overcoming setbacks and The Baby Cot Shop’s expansion plans for the future.
Why did you decide to start your business?
I purchased a store in Atlanta, Georgia many years ago. We were living in England but spent every summer in the United States, so we decided to relocate to America and I purchased a beautiful store.
The recession of 2008 affected the business and we had to move online. At the same time we also moved back to the UK to weather the proverbial storm. On my return I decided to replicate what we had in the States here in England. The company was called Punkin Patch at the time and last year we rebranded as The Baby Cot Shop.
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
With a background in pharmacology, I worked as a medical representative. This was a job that I only enjoyed around 20% of the time, so after taking a long break to build my family I reluctantly decided to return to work.
As it turned out, I faced some hurdles as a mother to get my job back, but with suitable hours. I decided at that point to do what I really loved, which was interior design. With that, I enrolled on a couple of design courses and then set up a residential design firm. It had been running for a year when we decided to relocate to the States.
I merged my interior design background with my retail store and that’s how I became a nursery interior designer and my business was born. It was on our return to the UK that I established the UK arm of the retail business, I simply couldn’t sit still- even with my newborn son.
What happens during a typical day at The Baby Cot Shop?
There isn’t a typical day, every day is different. One day I’m working with suppliers to bring a new product to the market, on another I’m negotiating terms with a new business partner. On other days I’m consulting with parents-to-be as we embark on the design of their child’s bedroom, or I may be found trawling design houses looking for inspiration or the latest trends.
What do you love the most about running your own business?
I love seeing my imagination manifest in the physical. I love to create and see the delight on my clients faces. I love that I am surrounded by beauty and perfection and in a small way through my creations, I contribute to the beauty in the world.
The thought that there are children growing up in rooms I designed just thrills me.
What is the toughest part when it comes to running your own business?
My challenge is finding the balance between staying on top of the creative part and making sure the admin isn’t suffering. I love the creative side and I find the admin a challenge. I often have to be “in the zone” to tackle those tasks.
Which business resources have you found the most useful and why?
LinkedIn is my go-to resource. The fact we get access to some of the most amazing and diverse minds makes LinkedIn an indispensable tool. I love to learn but I trust the experiences of real people over popular opinion any day.
I also cannot function without audiobooks. It’s a struggle to find time to read quietly to my heart’s content, especially with my busy household. I download audiobooks which I can listen to on the go, while I wait in line or even while doing dishes.
What has been your biggest achievement so far at The Baby Cot Shop?
That’s a hard one as we have had some seemingly impossible wins! A milestone I keep returning to and that I draw strength from is the genesis of the UK store. It all happened in the throes of the recession. I was heavily pregnant with my fourth son when we had to close the store in the States. It was a very unpleasant experience as the rug literally got pulled from under me.
I had no prior technical experience, or real UK business experience, which is very different from running a business in the USA and I started my store from nothing. And “nothing” means no financial or emotional capital. So when I find myself in a difficult space or I start to use the word impossible, I go back to that point and reacquaint myself with the fact that what I have today came from nothing, from an empty tank, so I can move past this thing, whatever it may be.
Based on your experience, what are the key differences between operating a business in the United States and operating a business in the United Kingdom?
The differences are huge! First there are cultural differences. The Americans are upbeat, exuberant and ready to go. The Brits on the other hand are conservative and polite. You pretty much know by the end of a business meeting where you stand with the Brits.
In America there can be this need to please and reluctance to say no, however people are more open to trying new ideas so a potential no can sometimes be turned into a yes. I also found that there is less red tape with the Americans so you can push boundaries a bit more. The Americans do not have the word “shy” in their vocabulary.
The United States is well suited for minority-owned businesses. The country was built by small businesses so the mind set and culture are very conducive for it. Failure in business is seen as a normal part of the life cycle of an entrepreneur and it isn’t viewed in a negative light at all.
In the UK, the last seven years following the recession has seen a lot of change and I get a thrill when I see new businesses springing up. I think the atmosphere is changing as so many people who never once considered running a business have now started one.
What has been your biggest lesson as an entrepreneur so far?
I now understand that lessons are dressed as challenges, they are treasures in dark places. I have learned to embrace challenges because hidden in every dark place are precious gems of knowledge. Unfortunately too many people spend time looking for the quickest way out instead of searching for the treasure.
What‘s next? What goals are you working towards?
We have literally just launched a new collection, all designed in-house and that is both nerve-racking and exhilarating. We are also partnering with some exciting household names to move the business forward- exciting times!
If you could have dinner with any entrepreneur, who would it be and why?
Sara Blakely of Spanx. I love her authenticity. She built her business without trying to fit into a mould. She did it her way. That inspires me to trust myself and my ideas, no matter how bizarre. I recognise that we are all different and I am no longer afraid to allow my personality to get me ahead.
Is there any other information you’d like to share?
Although I read a lot, I don’t read a lot of books. I prefer to read a few great books multiple times so I can truly learn the lessons offered. One such book I am currently re-reading is a book on Emotional Intelligence by Lynn Toler. It’s called My Mother’s Rules and I highly recommend it.