Before launching her business Niamh was a pharmacist by profession and laterally Head of Medical Affairs for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in the UK.
The Travelwrap Company was founded in 2007 and the signature product, the Scottish cashmere Travelwrap was brought to market. The Travelwrap won UK Luxury Gift of the Year the same year and the following year Best New Business in the International Stevie awards for Women in Business. Last year Niamh was a finalist in NatWest Everywoman Entrepreneur of the Year.
In 2016 the business moved from selling mostly B2B to an e commerce model and the Travelwraps are now sold direct to a growing global audience. 50 per cent of the business is international, 25 per cent to the US. The company was shortlisted for a Queens Award in International trade in 2018.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I founded The Travelwrap Company in 2006, having left a senior role at Pfizer. My previous career was as a hospital pharmacist. I used to travel to the States with my Pharma role and grew to hate the airline blanket that was offered. I have always loved cashmere and have a passion for design so came up with the concept of ‘Travelwrap’- a high end ‘special blanket’ for ‘grown up’ girls. In 2006, Pfizer moved offices, I was offered voluntary redundancy and saw the opportunity to start my own business.
I am a creative, determined, self-motivated and resilient individual. When I started The Travelwrap Company it was with global ambitions to create and grow a brand internationally. I am passionate about business and an advocate of female entrepreneurship.
The Travelwrap Company has allowed me to be economically productive while managing a growing family (we are a family of eight!) I have thoroughly enjoyed the completely new skill sets I have acquired and developed through running a business and connecting with a diverse cross sections of individuals along the way. Like many entrepreneurs I value the control over my own destiny and the day to day autonomy.
I suspect I fit into the ‘Expressive Leadership’ profile! I enjoy engaging with people both within our business and in connecting, exchanging ideas inside and outside the business. I am responsive and sensitive and have an energetic and enthusiastic approach to business which I feel allows me to have my own leadership style which helps me bring people with me. My team members are very motivated to grow our brand. The downside of my profile is that with energy come emotion which sometimes I could do with less of! I am also naturally less interested in the operational and financial detail that is absolutely required to run a small enterprise. However, completing the 10ksb Goldman Sachs business programme five years ago filled in a lot of those areas of business expertise and knowledge that were missing for me. These days have a much better measure of the necessary business, financial and operational strategy needed to achieve economic success
I have learnt a huge amount about business over the last 10 years, a lot of it through my own mistakes and naivety! If I was to start my business again I would do it all very differently, I would certainly advise myself to work out some of the bigger finance issues before I started. I would also work out properly how to fund the initial stage of getting the product to market bearing in mind it takes a couple of years of trading for most businesses before it turns a profit and finally a marketing plan to acquire new customers.
I am ridiculously proud of our brand, it defines me. Our mission statement: Our Travelwraps will always be best in the world because we care passionately about our cashmere, our craftsmanship and our customer is at the centre of everything we do.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I always think of days as ‘war days’ and ‘peace days’ in the office. Put it this way, there are not that many very peaceful days! So most days & weeks present a challenge of one sort or another.
During our early years in business revenue grew slowly and margins were being eroded by rising cost of cashmere. Six years after I started the business, we were still losing money and we were churning capital my husband used to call our business ‘an expensive hobby’! Our turning point came when I decided we needed to drastically change our business model. We cancelled all upcoming trade shows, changed our pricing structure and built 5 additional websites serving different regions. I started working with a knitwear designer and we introduced our design-led ‘travelwraps’. We added value to the offer by introducing monogramming, reconditioning and even bespoke travelwraps. We built on our original collections, adding My Little Travelwrap (for kids) and a men’s collection. As we began to grow our traffic internationally, conversions and profit improved. As a small independent Luxury British brand we now find ourselves with a growing global loyal customer base. We saw our revenue and profits begin to grow to grow and our business slowly felt like the fly wheel was beginning to turn.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Bringing a new concept ‘the travelwrap’ to market and now scaling an international luxury brand.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
My husband, who has supported me financially and emotionally every step of the way.
I have a little painted stone on my desk he gave me a couple of years ago that reads, ‘well done’, which is a reminder to myself when I need it that I have come a long way!
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have a business mentor that has supported me for the last 5/6 years. Simon has run a couple of big global businesses but not in the luxury sector so where he helps me is with generic business skills, financial insight & scaling our business. I also tune in to many female business women & leaders that that I admire or follow. Some of them are even travelwrap fans, so a perfect fit! Often the best role models and mentors are busy people, so tapping into different networks for different skillsets makes sense.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I believe we can drive gender parity through grass roots change at an educational level for girls. I am a supporter and volunteer for the organisation called Modern Muse whose aim is to inform, inspire, connect and empower girls of 13+ – giving them valuable exposure to a broader range of career role models. These role models are successful women, from a variety of backgrounds, ready to share an insider view of their day-to-day work lives. Modern Muse is committed to change by empowering mentoring and supporting girls to develop a leadership mindset.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I would say read every day. I love the quote from Warren Buffet; ‘Read for half an hour every day, that’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest’
…and if I am allowed a second one, develop your public speaking skills from an early age. Don’t be afraid to learn how to own the room!
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
We are currently promoting and selling into UK and USA, we sell internationally but I would like to grow and promote the brand worldwide. We are looking at investment opportunities at the moment to scale our brand globally. My heart lies in entrepreneurship so if and when we exit the Travelwrap Company I am pretty sure I will still want to be involved in building & growing another business, maybe just a voice at the table next time rather than CEO!