International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated globally for over 100 years. Marked annually on 8 March, IWD aims to promote the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, to educate and raise awareness for women’s equality and call for positive change to advance women.
It may seem surprising, but there is still a long way to go until women achieve true parity with men in the workplace. And, although it’s no longer unusual to see a woman at the head of her own business, attitudes are slow to change.
We talked to entrepreneur Nadia Jonker, who recently took over the MBE franchise in Banbury, Oxfordshire, about what her business venture means to her and whether she has faced an particular challenges.
From the ground up
Nadia has a strong business background. Having worked in a corporate technology environment she has experience in business administration, financial management and leading a team. She has also been involved in several start-ups.
As a longstanding customer of the MBE centre in Banbury, Oxfordshire, when Nadia found out that the owners were retiring she knew she wanted to take over the store so that she could continue to offer fulfilment, shipping, mailbox services, print and marketing support to the local community. “I also wanted to modernise the business, build something from the ground up,” she says.
While starting a business is challenging enough, Nadia also faced an unforeseen setback when the store suffered flooding just after she had taken it over in late 2022. “The interior was badly affected and I had to fund the entire refurbishment, replacing the floors, repainting the walls etc., before we could begin refitting the store to bring it up to date. This was in addition to recruiting and managing a team, managing my resources and revisiting my sales and marketing skills.”
She was very grateful for all the start-up support offered by the MBE head office team, although she acknowledges that much of the responsibility for getting the store up and running fell to her: “It’s hard when you’re on the ground. You really have to be prepared to do everything yourself.”
Now Nadia has one member of staff to support her and is considering taking on another person because the store is becoming busier. “We’ve put up new branding and signage inside and we’ll soon be rebranding the exterior,” she says. “I feel as though my vision for the store is gradually being realised.”
Growing the business
Looking to the future, Nadia would like to grow her Auction Logistics business and believes there’s great potential in the area: “There are five big auction houses locally that have started using our bespoke delivery service. I have taken over all the shipping business for one of them, which is great.”
The store’s demographic is fairly affluent, although like many areas Banbury has pockets of deprivation. Being located just off the high street also means there isn’t as much passing traffic as Nadia would like: “We need to find away of attracting customers from the local community – particularly small businesses,” she says. “But people are slow to change and often prefer using their existing suppliers. What’s key is being able to show them the added value we can bring. For example, our shipping expertise means we can iron out any post-Brexit paperwork complications for our customers.”
Another hurdle is convincing people that the store still offers the same mix of services and personal attention as before. “I call it ‘new face syndrome’,” says Nadia. “A lot of customers are quite traditional and were used to the store being owned by the same husband-and-wife team for twenty years. We’re trying hard to acclimatise them to the change, and I’m please to say we’ve had a lot of positive feedback.”
More of a revelation has been the tendency of some customers to be surprised that there’s a woman in charge. “A lot of people just seem to prefer to talk to a man. They will look straight past me and talk to my employee, James. Sometimes they even ask me if my husband is there! But I enjoy winning them round.”
It does seem that even in 2023, there is clearly still a need for movements like International Women’s Day to help change attitudes and normalise the concept of women heading their own businesses.
Nadia’s advice to women who want to make their mark is clear: “Be persistent. Take advantage of the resources available to you. Reach out to other women business owners and learn from them.
“Being part of the MBE network is great. It’s good to work with a well-known brand, but they will also give you the opportunity to create something that is your own and you can put your own twist on it.”