Business Hour

Paula Baxter worked for many years before finally starting her own business. The skills she learnt along the way have helped shape her success. Photography: Samuel Reynolds

Much is made of supermodels being discovered as teenagers and catapulted to fame, and it’s not a dissimilar story for Paula Baxter. We might not be talking about worldwide stardom, but if the 17-year old Paula hadn’t persuaded a customer in a Blackpool café to indulge in a cream cake, she might not be running her own successful business today.

The customer, Angela Clough, was so impressed with Paula’s personality and ability to sell, that she offered her a job on the spot. Paula went to work with Angela in a menswear concession she managed at Top Man in Blackpool, and soon learned she had a natural flair for merchandising and customer service.

Reminiscing about those early days, Paula smiles. “It all started with that chance encounter with Angela and the cream cake,” she laughs. “I had no plans to go into retail, but she inadvertently set me off in absolutely the right direction.”

“People soon started noticing that Top Man in Blackpool was out-performing much larger stores in Manchester and Liverpool. We made a great team.”

Paula’s mum, a teacher at the time, persuaded her to continue her education alongside working. “It was my dream to run my own business, so I opted to study business and finance,” says Paula. She believes her dedication to her studies, coupled with a positive attitude, led to her being offered the concession manager role when Angela moved away.

With consistently impressive sales figures, Paula found herself in high demand. She progressed further in Top Man, before being approached by River Island and becoming assistant manager of its Blackpool branch at just 21. Three years later, she was managing her own River Island store in Warrington.

“I just loved talking to people and making them look good in the clothes I picked for them,” she laughs, when asked the secret of her success. “These guys would come into Top Man needing a pair of shoes to get into a nightclub, and they’d leave 30 minutes later with the shoes, a shirt, a whole new outfit including the socks!”

“I even got to dress Take That for a video shoot they were doing in Blackpool in their early days.”

It’s not hard to understand why customers like Paula. She has an open, engaging manner and is very friendly but, more than that, she’s honest and will only sell something if it’s right.

“I could tell instinctively what would look good on someone, and I would never sell them something that didn’t suit them,” she says. “It’s the same now with people’s homes. Customers come to me because they want to update or improve their interiors. I’d never sell them something that wasn’t perfect for their home.”

For over 10 years now, Paula has run her own business, PAD Contemporary Living in Poulton, selling stylish furniture and home accessories. The idea had been there for years, but it was once again a chance situation that set the ball rolling.

“We’d bought a new house which needed new furniture and we had to go over to Manchester to find things that we really liked,” she explained. “I couldn’t understand why there were no contemporary furniture stores closer to home.”

She had left clothing retail a few years earlier when she was head-hunted for a training assessor role, looking after retail apprentices and managing their progression. This was shortly after her son, Cameron, was born, so the timing was perfect as the role didn’t involve weekend work.

“I loved the work and it taught me a great deal,” she remembers. “It was incredibly rewarding to see these young people progressing in their careers and many are still in retail now.” It was, however, a very demanding role and, with Cameron still only young, Paula left to work for some friends who had a fireplace business, giving her more time at home.

“And then I started this place and became totally immersed in it!” She laughs, looking around the showroom with its beautiful sofas, dining suites, lighting and artwork. “Cameron was often here with me though, and I love how my regular customers have watched him grow up.”

Paula still had enough spare time to join Cameron in his Taekwondo lessons, gaining herself a 1st dan black belt in the process. Nowadays, she prefers to go walking in the Lakes, visiting her favourite hotels and restaurants, and Cameron is old enough to help in the showroom and with deliveries.

Her advice to anyone just starting out on their own? “Stay focused and don’t be disheartened by the obstacles that will inevitably come up. Positive things happen to positive people.”



Tedd Walmsley

Be the first to know

To get exclusive news, be the first to know about our special offers and competitions, sign up to Live Magazines for FREE.

Tedd Walmsley managing director of Live Magazines shares his views on the latest topics in media.

Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn to join the conversation