‘I’ve left my white stilettos at home’

Mandy Newman explains what it is like to be a woman in business.

Striving to establish a successful business in a man’s world has been a challenge that Honiton businesswoman Mandy Newman has relished.

Thirty-two years after moving to Devon, the Essex girl confidently addressed a breakfast meeting of the town’s chamber of commerce last week and assured those present: “I’ve left my white stilettos at home.”

The owner of High Street ladies’ fashion store Beauchamp Place, Mandy charted her career in the retail trade - spelling out the potential pitfalls she has overcome, defining the changing role of women in the workplace and even sharing some of her encounters with shoplifters.

She explained, when she left college in the early 1970s, “nearly every” manager, director and shop owner was male.

“Ninety-nine per cent of women had much lower expectations of what they could achieve,” she said.

“There was little equality, especially in the pay department.”

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Reflecting on changes since then, she said: “It is a much healthier situation now, for both sexes.”

Mandy first encountered self-employment while working for an advertising agency - she set up her own newspaper.

Later, in 1989, she opened Beachamp Place in a small shop next to Bests of Honiton.

After three years, she moved the business to larger premises, opposite St Paul’s Church, where it is now firmly established as a brand in High Street.

But, if she had taken legal advice offered to her all those years ago, she may not have made the move.

“I was told it wasn’t too late to back out,” Mandy said. “Luckily, I ignored it.”

She then encountered a problem when she went to open a bank account for the shop.

“I was asked for a five-year business plan - even though I didn’t want to borrow any money.”

Mandy complained, received an apology from the bank and got her account.

She hasn’t looked back since.

One of the biggest pitfalls of being in the fashion business, she said, is having to commit money in advance - for the next season’s looks - without knowing what the trading conditions will be like when the goods arrive. She said, once manufacturers get orders in they want the stock out of factories as soon as possible.

“At one point, winter boots were being delivered in June and I had no where to store them,” she said. “I started returning deliveries.”

Not everyone who comes through the shop door is genuine, as Mandy and her staff have discovered over the years.

Shoplifters and distraction burglars have struck at Beauchamp Place several times.

“I once spotted a dress poking out from a woman’s bag,” she explained. “I said: ‘Isn’t that one of our dresses?’

“The woman pulled it out from her bag with a flourish and said she wanted to try it on. I was so shocked, I let her.

“I now know we do have the power and authority to turn to these people and say we don’t want them in the shop.

“We have had three distraction burglaries over the years.

“These are upsetting, as you feel you should have done more (to prevent them).”

Mandy praised her staff, saying Beauchamp Place is very much a “team effort”.

“The reason why I love my job is my customers,” she said. “Ninety-nine per cent of them are lovely and I get immense satisfaction helping them to find an outfit they feel fabulous in.”

Mandy was speaking at Riva, in High Street, last Wednesday morning.