When Linda Pilkington (pictured) and her sisters were growing up, they dealt with the ennui of having little to do in their small Cheshire village by making beeswax candles to “flog to their neighbours”, says Joanna Bourke in the Evening Standard.
This year, Ormonde Jayne, Pilkington’s London-based luxury fragrance and candles business, should see turnover hit the £5.1m mark, and counts actresses Goldie Hawn and Emma Thompson among its celebrity fans.
It all began in 1992 when Pilkington (pictured) moved to London after spending some time overseas (where she had set up ice-cream stalls in Brazil and Argentina). A friend remembered her childhood handicrafts, and commissioned her to produce luxury scented candles for a new Bond Street jewellery shop. Pilkington invested £1,000 to scale her business, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. “I got out of my depth very quickly,” she says, with big department store orders leaving her “struggling” to do all the “mixing, melting, pouring and moulding required”.
She retreated from the wholesale side and opened her own shop in 2001. This now features “a mini lab in the basement” that makes “made-to-measure” perfumes for customers. The 47-year-old is now preparing to expand to New York and the Far East, but has lost none of her love for the products she creates and shifts. “A new bottle of perfume never fails to make me smile,” she says, spritzing herself “with a violet and jasmine scent”.
How I grew a business by accident
Janine Dutton, 42, “never meant to become an entrepreneur”, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. The mother of three and part-time bank worker had always been “a bargain hunter”, buying cheap clothes and perfumes from outlet stores for resale on eBay. It was 2003, and online shopping still a novel idea. As a result, her sideline was soon netting her more than the bank job. She also noticed that her fastest-selling items were women’s lingerie – partly because there wasn’t much of it on the auction website at the time.
She realised there was a potential gap in the market, and decided to focus all her selling efforts on it. Today Belle Lingerie, the company that she launched in 2005, stocks “more than 40 brands”, clocking up £3.7m in sales and a £380,000 pre-tax profit, and employing 18 full-time staff at its headquarters in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire. Her father was her first hire, and her husband, formerly a policeman, manages warehouse security.
Dutton says she relishes pressure, and she even managed to pilot her growing company through the turmoil of the 2008 credit crunch and the resulting recession. “If things are calm, that makes me feel uncomfortable.” She’s also a canny marketer – Belle has a healthy following on Twitter, notes trade magazine Lingerie Insight. She still owns 100% of the business, and even though she has her own website, still makes 40% of sales via eBay. She has also won a number of awards recognising her entrepreneurship. And yet, she tells Kelly, Belle “was an absolute accident. There was never a plan to have a business – it just grew.”
The copycat millionaire
“A frugal legal secretary from Brooklyn who toiled for the same law firm for 67 years” had a secret, says Corey Kilgannon in The New York Times. Sylvia Bloom died in 2016 at the age of 96, not long after retiring from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. She left a staggering $8.2m to charity.
A child of the Depression era, Bloom “shrewdly” observed the investments made by the lawyers whose lives she organised. When the boss bought a stock, “she would make the purchase for him, and then buy the same stock for herself, but in a smaller amount”, says her niece, Jane Lockshin. Bloom lived modestly in a rent-controlled apartment and always took public transport. It is possible that even her husband, who died in 2002, didn’t realise the size of his wife’s fortune, which she kept in her own name alone.
“Ms Bloom joins the ranks of unassuming and magnanimous millionaires next door,” says Kilgannon. Others include Donald and Mildred Othmer, an unostentatious academic couple who let a family friend manage their investments. His name? Warren Buffett. They died in the 1990s with three-quarters of a billion dollars to their names.
Cataclysmic crisis was a gift in disguise
Jo Horgan worked for cosmetics giant L’Oréal, yet she dreaded buying make-up for herself, says Kate Stanton for BBC Business. The various concession stands in department stores would only push their own products, making it hard to find an unbiased recommendation. So in 1997, at the age of 29, she quit her job and started Mecca, an upmarket cosmetics boutique that only sold products that staff could “recommend entirely on merit”. Mecca today has 87 outlets in Australia and New Zealand and has turnover of £157m a year.
A few years after Horgan started, she had a painful learning experience when the Australian dollar collapsed in “cataclysmic” fashion, sending the price of cosmetics imports higher, which ate deep into Mecca’s margins. Horgan says that the experience “sharpened my mind incredibly… in retrospect I consider it a gift”.
The brand was also an early adopter of e-commerce and social media, which put it in a strong position to compete with French retail giant Sephora when it launched in Australia in 2014.
Horgan met her husband Peter Wetenhall while they were studying in the US in their 20s. He joined the business full-time in 2005. “I don’t think I’m such a great boss,” she says. What you need is “enough self-awareness to know” where you can “recruit really strong people” with complementary skills.