Entrepreneurs uncovered: Fran Bishop

How a pair of patent leather shoes led to a children’s wear chain

Owner of The Pud Store – and Apprentice finalist – Fran Bishop talks about how working as a barmaid and a formative childhood experience helped shape her as an entrepreneur.

A mishap with a new car, a coat and a can of paint in a supermarket car park led Fran Bishop to launch The Pud Store in 2014, a group of high-street stores selling discounted children’s wear. 

Despite having little clue about retail, one supplier had faith in her vision and, with funding from Barclays, Fran opened her third store at the end of 2018 – not long after making it to the finals of BBC One’s The Apprentice.

Tell us about your background. 

I dropped out of university at 20, got pregnant, then got married. In between that, I worked as a barmaid and that was probably where I learned every single business skill under the sun. I learned from everyone – builders, the 90-year-old guy next door, young people coming in with fake IDs… 

Working as a barmaid and having to really graft made who I am in business. It’s also why I can probably just have a conversation with anyone – especially when it comes to creating relationships with suppliers, I'm not afraid to pick up the phone and chat, just to make sure that there's that relationship. 

How important is it for you to have that personal touch with your customers? 

I think that's what's missing in the shopping experience. You can walk into some big high street stores and they won't know you from Adam. Yet, when you walk into one of my stores, we make that conscious effort to take notes to remember a child's name or birthday.

You run your business in an unusual way – can you tell us more? 

The Pud Store is primarily a discount children’s wear outlet. We buy past-season and bankrupt stock, and stock that’s delivered late from overseas that stores won’t take – and we sell it at around a 70% discount. 

We’ve got three stores and will be adding two more in March 2019. What’s different is that we don't have a transactional website, but 30% of our sales are made through social media sites – we have dedicated staff who monitor these social sites all day, replying to everyone and giving personal shopping experience if they can't get to the stores. 

When people do come to the stores, we'll write them personalised notes and give them chocolates – that kind of thing.

What gave you the idea for The Pud Store? Have you always been interested in retail? 

The whole concept came about from me being in supermarket car park with a trolley full of shopping and my six-month-old baby.

I opened the boot of my husband’s new car and the inside was covered in paint. In the middle of it was my little boy’s new jacket. The jacket was really expensive and it was covered in paint. 

I thought, “Where am I going to replace this jacket at a reasonable cost”? I tended to feel a little bit judged in children’s boutiques. When you go in like a new mum, no makeup on, they look at you as if to say, “Can you really afford to shop here?"

Then I thought, “Why can't I create shops that are welcoming, have payment plans and where we do stuff for the community?” So I thought I’d buy a few samples to see if I could sell them – it literally started as organically as that. 

What were the main issues you had when you first started out? 

I had no idea what I was going to do, where I was going with it, about my supply chain. I didn't know anything. All I knew was my end game – ‘I just want a lorry with my shop's name on it’. That's all I wanted.

Suppliers were just laughing on the phone at me, but one took a chance on me. He said, “Do you know what? I like you.” Four years later, we’d spent an incredible amount of money with him and he said, “You were the risk that paid off.”

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? What do you think about that word? 

I want to be financially free. Obviously, that's what drives us all, but when people say, “You've got a chain of shops – why don't you stop?” I'm like, “Why? I'm enjoying it.” And I do genuinely love what I do.

But I don't think I'm an entrepreneur. I think I'm a ‘social shifter’. I like to use the business to do good things in the community. I employ anyone from any walk of life. I don't even read CVs – but I do check references now.

What drives you to open more stores and to make a success of the business? 

We didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up. I was taught to work for everything. When I was about six, my mum brought me a pair of patent leather shoes. They were really expensive. I remember going to school and just hearing the clicking and clopping up the stairs, and the happiness that brought me – I can't describe it. I know it's material, but I still smile when I think about those shoes.

I remember feeling that when I'm in the shops and sell a little girl a dress. Mum pays for it and their eyes light up – it’s this single moment of joy. I know they’ll have that same memory when they’re 40 or 50 years old and think, “I once had this beautiful dress. I wore it and felt like a princess.”

That’s part of what drives me – to create that pocket of happiness. And every day we create those small pockets of happiness.

To what extent do you feel like you’re setting example for others, or helping other up-and-coming retail entrepreneurs?

I recently ran an event in Doncaster town centre because I was upset at the way the media was portraying the town. 

I said, “Let's do something really positive for the town.” Quite a lot of retail units on the road my shop is on are empty, but because of that event, two new leases were taken on units next door to me. They were like, “We want to do what she's done. We believe in retail.” 

How awesome is that? Filling empty high street shops just because people believe in what you're doing and say, “I can do it, too.” I think that's amazing.

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