Collective support helps Jo hit the ground running in Nuneaton town centre
"Like going from crawling along to running the 100 metres against Usain Bolt."
That's how Jo Williams describes moving her small business from outer Nuneaton into the heart of town.
But it is a challenge to which the mum-of-two has risen impressively.
Joco Interiors is ticking over nicely at its base in Abbeygate Shopping Centre, as recently recognised by Jo's short-listing for the Coventry and Warwickshire 'Best New Business' and 'Entrepreneur of the Year' awards. Joco, with its mix of gift products covering different tastes and price ranges, is also short-listed in the 'Best in Customer Service' category.
It's a success story underpinned by Nuneaton-born Jo's hard work - with some vital help along the way.
When you set up and then expand a small business, some expert advice makes a huge difference. In Jo's case that advice has taken numerous forms, stemming from her own enterprise in entering, and winning, Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council's 2016 Christmas Windows competition.
That connected her to the borough council, whose economic development officer Chris Lawes put her in touch with Coventry & Warwickshire Growth Hub. And the Growth Hub's ongoing input opened up access to support including the borough council's own Local Discount Scheme, which led to a rate-reduction, and a county council Digital Business Skills for Retailers course run by project manager Aaron Corsi as part of the Warwickshire Towns Network programme.
"For 20 years I thought about starting a business," said Jo. "Then I started a shop in Queen's Road but it was really hard to get people in. It reached the point where I asked: 'Do I close or do I move?'
"I took the plunge and moved into the Abbeygate - and hit the ground running. I had to. It was like going from crawling along to running the 100 metres against Usain Bolt!
"I have had some great business and mentoring support from the Growth Hub after the borough council put me in touch. Gareth Edwards has been a huge help, often just by asking the questions that, because you are so busy, you probably would not ask until months later. It's great to have someone with that knowledge and experience to bounce things off. It's been really good, practical help, for example making sure I got all the rate-relief I was entitled to.
"The county council's Digital Marketing Course was fantastic. I knew my business in terms of stock and what customers want but needed help getting my business presence out there. I learned so much about logos, branding, business cards, leaflets and signage and bringing it all together which means I can adopt a dual sales approach with an online platform to service remote customers while also operating the shop."
Since opening in the Abbeygate in June, Joco has grown from effectively a one-person operation to a bustling business with four staff and one apprentice, with more recruits likely before Christmas.
Jo is delighted to be established in the heart of a town which, she says, has much to offer shoppers.
"I am Nuneaton born and bred and love the town and am really pleased to be in the centre," she said. "Nuneaton has loads to offer as a retail centre but sometimes does not shout enough about what it has going for it.
"I know I still have a lot to learn, with a lot of hard work ahead, but that's fine. I've got a great team at the shop and access to some top-class support."
That support is part of the wide range available from Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council, the Growth Hub and Warwickshire County Council whose business skills advisor Fay Winterburn chatted to Jo to pinpoint exactly which help suited her requirements.
"We are very keen to help support skills growth for the retail sector and it's wonderful that Jo has harnessed that support so effectively," said Fay. "It's great to see her achieving such growth and we would love to hear from other retail businesses keen to expand in a similar way."
For business skills advice and more information please contact Faywinterburn@warwickshire.gov.uk or call 01926 412216.
To see the full range of business support available from Warwickshire County Council, visit www.warwickshire.gov.uk/business