LEARNING CURVE | One-stop shop proves right move
Starting out their shop in a converted garden flatlet, Anthoula Buchner and her mother, Barbara Demas, grew Little Cherub Dance Wear into a thriving business that is still operating 20 years later.
While Barbara retired from the business at the end of 2018, the shop, which operates from a premises in Westbourne Road, is still going strong, catering for most forms of dance and offers active wear.
Buchner, now the sole owner, says hard work, dedication to her customers and a good work ethic played a vital role in the longevity of her business.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?
I am an ex-gymnast and dancer and we started when my daughter was just seven years old, as she started modern and tap dancing.
She currently owns her own studio.
I just felt there was a need for a one-stop shop, so it's now a total of 20 years that we have been going.
What is your core service?
Definitely all genres of dance.
Where was the idea born?
I decided that I needed to get my creative juices flowing and so I spoke to my mom and we started together.
FRIDAY’s What makes your business unique?
Definitely the quality of our dancewear, and most importantly, excellent service and turn-around time.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
I would hope they would need to do some serious research of what is needed for each genre and take the time to meet with all the studios to discuss their needs and be prepared to “run” for your customers.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?
We were actually quite lucky as I managed to get focused straight away.
I contacted studios and we managed to keep our heads above water.
At that stage though, we were operating from a flatlet at my mom’s house, so we didn’t need to pay rent, which was a God-send and enabled us to build our stock.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?
Do not promise something if you cannot deliver.
It’s very important to create a trust relationship between yourself and your customers.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
Holidays – when the studios or clubs are on holiday there is generally not much business.
However, we have to maintain our stock and have new and exciting things all the time to keep the interest.
So, when there isn’t a business, it becomes a problem to pay for goods, etc.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
My late father was an extremely hard worker, he always said to me: “Be true to your word and gain the trust of the people you work for.
“Have a good work ethic at all times and you will be happy within yourself.”
How do you measure or define success in your business?
It boils down to the same thing every time – grow your business through hard work and dedication to your customers.
Be the person who always delivers.
We have now grown and started an online shop to ensure that the dance community has everything they need.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
It’s back to customer service and a large variety available.
If I don’t have what they need, I make sure to source it for them.
What kind of advertising do you do?
I am very active on my business Facebook page and do adverts in the programmes for various shows.
What is your company’s vision?
I would like to service the Eastern Cape and also nationally as I do with the SA Tumbling and Trampoline team.
What is your target market?
Dance and activewear and sometimes synchronised swimming
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
It’s very rewarding when customers send personal messages or send a Facebook message to thank you for everything that I did for them.
When I see how my customers whom I have known since tiny tots blossom into either champion gymnasts, one, in particular, a world champion, and then dancers who have got scholarships overseas and are also doing extremely well in dance companies, knowing that I have supplied all of these very successful young people.
How important is social media and an online presence for your business?
We have to move with the times, hence the start of my online shop.
As I said previously, I am very active on my Little Cherub Facebook page and regularly have competitions where people like and share my page, thereby getting more awareness and exposure.
How many people do you employ?
It is myself and I have a lady who comes in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons to help as my mom has hung up her shoes and retired.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this? We have expanded since we started, moving to new premises was the first step.
Expanding with an online shop is the next big step and we will be introducing new items in the not too distant future. www.dancewearpe.co.za
How did you acquire funding for the business?
Well, my mom and I sold three Kruger rands each and used the cash to buy our first stock.
What was the first step in launching the business?
When we were in the process of buying all the stock, I contacted all the studios and also all the gymnastic clubs, having been a gymnast myself, and my son was a high-performance gymnast as well.
I am still very much in contact with all the owners of the clubs as we were all gymnasts as kids together, so I used my contacts well.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?
The customer is always right, no matter what! Stay neutral with everyone.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
PE is not like other centres, PE people are very conservative and don’t spend money easily as there isn’t much to spend, so having to be able to supply goods at reasonable prices is a constant battle and I am forever looking for good deals to offer my customers.
How important has mentorship been to you in your entrepreneurial journey?
I am always open to suggestions and take very seriously what the teachers have taught me over the years to make sure I supply them correctly.
What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Definitely, as said before: Service delivery, honesty, and reasonable prices.
How do you motivate staff?
I am a very motivated person, so it doesn’t take much for me to get excited about something.
What do you wish people knew about your industry?
I think people actually do realise the time and effort I go to, ensuring that costumes and attire are ready on time.
I have managed to establish good relationships with my customers so they know I wouldn’t ever let them down.
New customers will obviously take time to know that.