Irish Women in Business: Maria of Nicola Ross
For the latest in our series of editorials focusing on Irish Women in Business, we’re talking to Maria of Nicola Ross.
Nicola Ross is a store in Naas, Co Kildare, which specializes in evening wear, occasion wear and day wear.
We caught up with Maria to find out how she built the business up from the ground and what it’s like working in the fickle world of fashion…
I have always been very passionate about business. Growing up in a family business, I feel it is very much ingrained in me. My parents owned and ran a successful pub in Milford, Co Donegal. We grew up with business at the dining table. It was generally the topic of conversation as we all worked in the pub at some point. I definitely feel my parents love of business rubbed off on me.
From a young age, I had a keen interest in fashion and religiously kept up to date with the latest trends. My interest in the fashion business particularly came about as a result of my husband’s company. My husband owned a ladies jeans brand, now known as Kate & Pippa. I became very involved in his business, particularly in the design process. It was something I was very passionate about but also felt I had an eye for spotting what sells, what works and what doesn’t.
Nicola Ross then opened in 1990. The boutiques are named after my eldest two children, Nicola and Ross. We later added a younger section to the store, named Miss Jenny after my youngest daughter. At the time, I was working in the bank. But I knew this was not the career path for me. My involvement in my husband’s business highlighted this for me. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed and had a genuine interest in. The offer of redundancy came up in the bank and it was an opportunity I jumped at. It was the opportunity to follow my passion. I can honestly say I have never looked back since then. I used the redundancy money to invest in buying in brands and opened up my first boutique in the Moat Mall in Naas.
Initially, my aim was to bring exclusive boutique brands to Naas at a competitive price point. At the time, there was a clear gap in the market to offer boutique fashion at high street prices. This market was not catered for, with most local women travelling to Dublin to shop. I focused particularly on sourcing a cross section of brands to offer unique styles for women.
I always believed it would be a success. I saw the potential for success in the fashion business as a result of my husband’s company. Fashion can be fickle so it’s important to get it right when buying in brands for the season. But I felt I had a clear understanding of what customers were looking for and a good eye for winners in terms of what sells.
It has no doubt been a challenging route to get to this point, with lots of highs and lows. Initially, I opened my first boutique in the Moat Mall in Naas, a 500 sq ft premise. The boutique focused particularly on casual wear brands at a competitive price point. The business was doing extremely well however it was clear we needed a larger store in order to capitalize and build further on the success. We then bought a premise on the Main St in Naas and relocated. Originally, it was a two story house which we converted into a 4,000sq ft store.
As a result, our brand portfolio increased significantly. We were able to stock a huge cross section of brands catering to different markets. The aim was to become a destination store, a one stop shop for all things fashion. The business went from strength to strength with sales rapidly increasing year on year as we added more labels to the store. We continually invested in the business in order to ensure we remained a leading boutique. We decided to extend the store and renovated to include a second floor of casual wear.
When the recession hit, Business got particularly tough. Customers had less disposable income and fashion was not seen as a necessity. We had to diversify the business in order to survive the recession. I decided to specialise and focus on Mother of the Bride/Groom, Occasion Wear and Guest of the Wedding Outfits. The store is now one of Irelands leading Mother of the Bride/Groom and Occasion Wear boutiques.
We later opened a second state of the art store in the Monread Shopping Centre in Naas offering catwalk looks at high street prices. Following on from this in January of this year, the store on the Main St underwent a major facelift and refurbishment programme unveiling a brand new store to celebrate 25 years in business.
No two days are the same in business. Every day sets a new challenge and new targets to be reached. I love the changing aspect of business as it keeps things interesting. My working day very much depends on where I am. I regularly travel on buying trips to Paris, Milan, Hong Kong, London and Madrid. I always use these buying trips as an opportunity to source new labels and improve our offering. Most of my time is spent on the shop floor styling women for that all important day. I take great pride in finding the perfect outfit for the customer for that special day. For me, the best part of this business is customers leaving the store feeling confident they’ve found an outfit they look and feel their best in.
The best moment to date was this January when we opened a brand new state of the art store. I worked alongside Galway based design company, Irish Times Design to create a superior shopping experience for our customers. We closed the store for two weeks in January 2015 to facilitate the refurbishment. The construction team worked tirelessly around the clock to create a retail environment of different class.
Since re-opening the store, myself and the team have been overwhelmed by the response from customers. We have witnessed somewhat of a Mother of the Bride/Groom phenomenon with women travelling from all over the country and even one lady waiting outside the store for it to open having come straight from Boston en route to visit her family down the county. The success of the new store has most certainly surpassed expectations. The entire ground floor of the 6,000sq ft. store is now totally dedicated to Mother of the Bride/Groom and guest of the wedding. While the second floor is devoted to casual wear from leading brands.
I feel what sets our business apart from the rest is ultimately the service. We aim to provide a truly enjoyable shopping experience for our customers. The Nicola Ross team have over 25 years’ experience in styling women for that all-important day. Our experienced stylists pride themselves in finding the perfect outfit that customers feel and look their best in. There is a genuine commitment from staff to help customers find what they are looking for, we aim to please!
I want to build on the success of Nicola Ross to date and make it an even more successful business. I am continually trying to improve the business to ensure we remain one of Irelands leading Mother of the Bride/Groom and Occasion Wear boutiques. I feel it can always be better. We are continually travelling to source new and exclusive labels to offer our customers. Our customers are obviously the key to our success, I am so grateful for their continued custom and want to create the best possible shopping experience for them. Every day is a new challenge with new opportunities and I don’t plan on taking anything for granted I want to keep improving on what we have achieved so far.
To find out more about Nicola Ross, check out the website here or follow them on Facebook here. To suggest other great Irish women to feature in this series, please get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or email at Hello@her.ie.