Business Love Stories - Uptown Girl
In the bustling high street of Cowdenbeath, nestled in charming West Fife, stands Uptown Girl an enchanting business that grew from a twist of fate and a pair of wedding shoes, making it a true Scottish Cinderella story.
Meet Jean Young, proud business owner, passionate advocate of top-notch customer service and one of our inspirational business owners sharing their story. Her commitment to excellence shines through in her ability to make special occasions even more memorable for her loyal clients. Whether you’re seeking to add some sparkle to a special event or simply want to treat yourself to something fabulous, Jean takes pride in offering a crème de la crème service. If you happen to be in the area, be sure to visit Uptown Girl and experience the magic first hand.
What made you set up on your own?
“There wasn’t one particular reason, it was more like fate when a shopping trip for my own wedding shoes resulted with me buying not only the perfect pair of shoes but also the business! It was a bit like Cinderella but with a very expensive pair of shoes. I have to say people thought I was mad at the time (including my husband). I had been working as a Civil Servant in the public sector for a number of years with a steady income and pension. However I was unhappy in my current job and it just felt so right. Working for myself and being my own boss was something I had often dreamt about. Owing my own shop was something that I had always wanted to do and I knew if I didn’t take the opportunity when it arose, I would spend the rest of my life thinking what if? So, I took a massive leap of faith and bought the business and the bricks and mortar shop. I have no regrets whatsoever; it was like a dream coming true. You could say I have been living the dream ever since.”
Can you remember the moment you decided?
“The thoughts of owning the business niggled away in the back of my mind. Luckily, I have a supportive husband and family and talked it over many times with them all, until eventually they agreed if this was what I really want to do they would support me. It was a personal pipe dream that I was able to fulfil and in less than a year I became the proud owner of Uptown Girl. Serendipity is my favourite word, believing there is no such thing as coincidence, only fate and on reflection I was obviously meant to go to this particular shop, on that particular day to buy my wedding shoes.”
How would you describe your relationship with your business right now?
“When you're self-employed, it can be quite hard to get the balance right and switch off. As a one-woman business, I pretty much do everything myself which can be hugely challenging. It's not a nine to five job. When I’m not physically working in the shop, it doesn’t mean I am not working. I can be updating social media, paperwork, or a multitude of other things - whatever needs doing. The first two or three years it was full steam ahead, thinking I couldn’t shut the doors and have a day off. It was a huge learning curve for me personally having never done anything like this before. Every day was a school day and I am still learning to this day. Eventually I realised that I can take time out away from the business because I’m the boss and make these decisions. Work will always be waiting for me when I return. I also need to do this to recharge and look after my health. Now I choose to make a point of taking time to go for a cuppa and a chat with a friend or fellow business owner and then later in the day I might return to the shop, back in work mode. I also plan quality time and fun things in my calendar with family and friends. I have four gorgeous grandchildren who are growing up way too fast. Its very important to give ourselves permission to do this without feeling any guilt.”
When was it at its worst? What was happening for you then?
“I will be honest with you, during covid it was horrendous. I am very much a people person and found lockdown very difficult. I had to literally pack up my whole shop, removing all items from shelves and store away as I knew deep down, I wouldn’t be returning for a while. I think most of us have found this time challenging, we've all had losses, whether financial or personal and sadly during the first lockdown I lost my amazing dad who was such an inspiration. It was very unexpected and a huge loss that left me pretty shell shocked for sometime afterwards. From a business and retail point of view it’s extremely hard just now to try and keep our shop doors open. The effects from the energy crisis and reduction in high street footfall are hugely impacting on all of us currently.”
What advice would you give to another owner who’s feeling disillusioned?
“Working on your own it’s very difficult to stay upbeat and motivated as you don’t have someone championing you personally. I think your mindset has a lot to do with your outlook, and personally I will put my hands up and say I have struggled and some days are better than others. My dad always told me never to lose my sense of humour as it would get me through a hell of a lot in life and I think it was probably the best piece of advice he ever gave me. You have to try and keep the faith, believe in yourself, your business and your products or the services you provide. I am a huge advocate in supporting local independents, encouraging people to shop local and shop small. It’s important to get involved in your local community, working with other small independent businesses, collaborating, sharing, and bouncing ideas off each other. Being nice doesn’t cost anything. When I have received a good shopping experience, I pass it on, telling people about it by posting good online reviews. I work tirelessly on social media to promote and help others. I would encourage everyone to get behind supporting independent businesses and doing whatever we all can to try and save what is left of our high streets.”
What keeps you connected to why you started your business in the first place?
“Determination, failure is not an option. When times are hard there is a voice in the back of mind saying you’re not done yet. I didn’t come this far these past 7 years to simply get to where I am now and just give up. This coupled with my customers and family help drive me and my business forward, changing direction and diversifying to move with the times and ensuring I provide customers with what they want.”
Would you say you love your business?
“Yes, I do love it. The shop itself looks and feels completely different from when I first took it over and I have very much put my own personal stamp on it. I receive a lot of positive feedback on my window displays, which I change regularly. The Customer experience is very important and I place personal “thank you” cards in with customer purchases encouraging them to take a photo of themselves wearing whatever they have purchased from me. I love when I receive their pictures and feedback allowing me to share how great they look on my social media. I want my customers to be 100% happy and feel fabulous. I won’t just sell them an item just for the sake of selling. It’s not all about sales it’s about the whole experience and my reputation. I pride myself on going the extra mile for my customers and delivering a great 1-2-1-customer experience. I want them to feel confident and amazing in whatever they buy. This can involve a lot of personal styling. If they leave they shop smiling and happy, then I know I have done a good job and I’m happy.”
Who or what keeps you going in tough times?
“I have great support from family and friends, you need that network, championing each other. It’s also my customers who come into Uptown Girl as strangers and often leave as friends. I have some lovely regular customers who sometimes just pop in to say hello and ask how I am doing checking up on me, which is really nice. I love and appreciate all my customers who have supported me and continue to support me on this journey. I have never hidden away from the camera. I connect with and let customers know who I am so when they come in the shop, they feel they already know me, putting them at ease.”
What do you love about working for yourself?
“Flexibility, I enjoy being my own boss and the whole sense of achievement that comes with it. We don't tend to celebrate our own successes very much, but sometimes you've got to take a step back and think, you know what, this is the journey I've been on, this is where I started and this is how far I have come. It makes you realise just how much I have actually achieved, overcome and survived.”
How seasonal is our business?
“Over time I have diversified, changing the stock, and adding new lines to meet customers requirements. It’s more of a boutique now with casual lines and gifts rather than a wedding focus and therefore less seasonal than previously. You have to offer something appealing for customers throughout the year not just at certain times.”
We are living in interesting times, what steps are you taking to ensure your future?
“I take one day at a time now, it’s difficult in these very uncertain times and current climate to plan ahead. Nothing in life is guaranteed and I believe we need to be living in the present, grasping the here and now, dealing with everything on a day-by-day basis. I don’t take anything for granted but like to keep myself busy working on different things. I always have a project in mind, deliver great customer service and have faith, believing in myself.”