Over the past two decades the business of networking/networking in business has gone through a considerable evolution. While formal groups such as BNI (Business Network International) are still prolific, there is another branch of the networking tree that has changed the face of business. And that face is female. Keep reading to read Gina Hutchings' view on women in business.
An increasing number of women have not only progressed to the highest ranks in both SMEs and national and international companies, they have also set up their own successful businesses.
According to the Global Report on Women and Entrepreneurship (GEM 2012), 126 million women entrepreneurs were starting or running businesses globally. In the UK, according to a study by RBS’s Anne McPherson, a boost to women entrepreneurs could add as much as £60 million to the country’s economy.
An inevitable consequence of this is the networking groups that were headed by and targeted at women. Something that began to steadily gain ground. In Yorkshire, the group Forward Ladies was set up in 1999 by Etta Cohen, a forward-thinking member of the then regional development agency Yorkshire Forward. Since then, its members have benefited from talks, networking events, training, mentoring, and have created a real ‘network’ that has expanded nationally.
Founded in 2005, The Athena Network focuses on female executives and entrepreneurs and has over 2.600 members. This network organises events of small local groups on a more formal networking basis, with just one member from each profession or sector permitted. Referrals to other members are considered a high priority.
A quick internet search brings up many alternatives – so many that the business of networking could be at risk of usurping the business itself! Organisations such as Women in Business (WIB) and Everywoman, as well as plenty of local and region-specific groups, mean that collaborative working and like-minded networking has never been so achievable.
The potential of such collaboration can be starkly seen in Central London’s area of Mayfair. Forget My Fair Lady: the Mayfair lady is a successful businesswoman, who has deliberately and carefully chosen this location as the very essence of her business.
But the businesswoman of Mayfair is not a new phenomenon. The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square in Mayfair, is over a hundred years old, having been set up in 1886 by Gertrude EM Jackson. It finally settled at its current address in 1921 after moving between several nearby addresses over the previous decades. The club provides accommodation, as well as social and business events to its members. Referred to by its members as a ‘unique sanctuary’ and ‘haven’ in the busy capital, it is not only for local Mayfair businesswomen but also for international visitors.
The rents in Mayfair are some of the highest in the country. One recent rental guide by Morgan Pryce rental agents in London, puts Mayfair and St James at the No. 1 spot, with an average rent of £90 per square foot. A recent deal even reached £175 per square foot (at 8 St James’s Square). This is not the place for a new, testing-the-water startup company. But with the rents comes reputation. The very address will add value to any business setting up home there and will guarantee a particular kind of clientele. The key is to match the aesthetic of the business to that of the area, from shop front, to interiors, to service. Setting up business in Mayfair demands more than business-class products and service – it demands first class.
With the likes of Victoria Beckham’s ready-to-wear designer clothes store opening last year on Dover Street, the area is already moving towards a unique demographic in terms of women-owned high-class stores – or, rather, shopping experience. Beckham herself was Management Today’s No. 1 British Entrepreneur last year, worth £210 million.
One new, young fashion designer on the block is Laura Apsit Livens, who opened her atelier on Duke Street a year ago. Having found her niche in hat design, she sums up the ethic of her Mayfair business thus: ‘It’s all about customer experience – the fantastic surrounding of the showroom reflects the quality of the pieces inside the atelier. It’s a feast for the eyes’. Laura graduated from the London College of Fashion as recently as 2011 and since then has built up a clientele that includes Paloma Faith, Rita Ora, Jessie J and the Duchess of Westminster. A Mayfair store was an obvious choice.
And just a few doors up is Penelope Chilvers’ store. Penelope specialises in bespoke shoes and boots, with the Mayfair store being the designer’s second in the capital. With fan customers including celebrities Claudia Schiffer, Keira Knightley, Alexa Chung and Cate Blanchett, the Chilvers ‘cult boot’ belongs in Mayfair. Chilvers ‘accidentally’ stepped into the shoe business after having her own boots made in Spain to great acclaim from family and friends. Her shoes are still made in Spain; somewhere that Chilvers considers the workmanship and quality of materials to be second to none. It’s no accident, however, that she is also a trained artist with an eye for a good aesthetic. With retail sales having doubled in 2013, the path to Mayfair was set.
Design store Anna Casa’s Mayfair showroom, at 2 Hay Hill, is the vision of owner, director and interior designer Anna-Grace Davidson and brands itself as the ‘ultimate design destination for the most luxurious interior and lifestyle brands from around the world.’ She offers one-off bespoke furniture pieces, stocking luxury brands such as Vassalletti, Rugiano, Opera and Visionnaire. The company’s Chelsea-based hub also offers an interior design service for both residential and commercial customers. The store was voted ‘best shop for finishing touches’ at the Mayfair Awards in 2012 and was nominated for the ‘best interiors boutique’ at the 2013 awards.
And what is fashion without an afternoon tea at which to exhibit it? Rose Bakery on the top floor of the hip Dover Street Market is owned by Rose Carrarini, an Englishwoman married to a Frenchman. Rose first opened a shop in Paris before heading to Mayfair and has since followed the success of her café with a baking series in the Financial Times and her own selection of cooking and bakery books. It’s not easy to find a seat there – but the famous carrot cake is worth the effort.