Michele Venton’s success as a businesswoman and online retailer can be pinned on one precious thing: her family.
When the mother of two started the online emporium GirlZone in 2015, she tackled the obstacles women commonly face when returning to work after maternity leave, alongside childcare-related challenges.
While Venton created her business as a haven for working mothers, more than anything, she was inspired by her daughters.
GirlZone sells everything a young girl would ever want, from make up, arts and crafts to costumes.
It’s grown so much in just under five years, she was recognised at the recent NatWest Everywoman Awards, where she was a finalist in the Demeter Award category for the most inspirational woman running a business trading from three to five years.
One challenge Venton has faced while running GirlZone was driving traffic to her site, so she decided to become an Amazon seller, something she saw as invaluable given its ability to reach customers from across the globe.
GirlZone is now a successful online retailer selling predominantly on Amazon and via its own ecommerce site.
Despite the success, there is no GirlZone head office.
Venton continues to work from home, as do the rest of her employees, who include other working mothers – effectively giving them the freedom to be there for their children when needed, without office politics or bureaucracy interfering.
Offering her team flexible working arrangements was something Venton saw as a priority.
“Their eyes need to be opened, many business owners have an old school way of thinking”
“I offer it with open arms, I know how hard it is when you’re a mum,” she told Retail Gazette.
While flexible working is growing in popularity across sectors, Venton said many employers have not yet tapped into the benefits of remote or alternative working options.
“Their eyes need to be opened, many business owners have an old school way of thinking,” she explained.
“There are so many tools and platforms for virtual working, they just need to be exposed to them.”
Venton’s work isn’t limited to the UK. She travels to China regularly and also acts as a mentor to other women.
As GirlZone grew, Venton would increasingly receive message from women asking her for advice on how to start their own businesses.
So exactly how does one become as successful as Venton?
She put it down to passion and dedication.
“You have to live for it, you can’t turn it off, it gets you up in the morning – being an entrepreneur isn’t something you can pick up and put down,” Venton responded.
She also cited one other vital element: a strong support network. She told Retail Gazette she was lucky that while her husband worked, she spent two years doing the hard yards of building GirlZone before its official launch.
“If you have a real passion for running a business, no matter the obstacles you face, you’re going do it regardless”
While her successes have been many, she can’t pin down a highlight or favourite moment in her years of running the online retailer. But five years ago, Venton first attended The Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con convention as an ordinary attendee eager to learn and listen. That moment has now come full circle as she was recently invited to be a key note speaker at the very same convention this year in June.
“It’s the biggest high, five years on from when I was a complete newbie,” she reflected.
What advice would she give someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
“You’re going to need need capital or some sort of investment,” she said.
Venton went on to say that any aspiring business owners need to be able to make tough decisions and solve problems. She added that being your own boss isn’t as glamorous as people assume.
“If you have a real passion for running a business, no matter the obstacles you face, you’re going do it regardless,” she said.
Nonetheless, Venton was passionate about improving leadership visibility and equity for women in all business sectors.
“There’s simply not enough coverage for women,” she said.
“You need women for what they can bring to the table – the way workplaces are structured its impossible for them to fulfil their role as mothers and workers.”