CANDY Plum boutique in the charming town of Hillsborough is a familiar name with the fashion set throughout Northern Ireland, across the border and even across the world via the internet.
This is because the fashionably astute are aware that the mother and daughter team who have been running this store for just three years have something of a knack for sourcing exclusive, stunning garments that accommodate the style preferences of all ages.
Lynne, 54, and her daughter Zara, 22, have always shared an interest in fashion but a conversation three years ago saw them turn this enthusiasm into an enterprise.
“I’ve always been into fashion and clothes even as a child. Mum has too so you could say it runs in the family,” began Zara, who has a marketing degree.
Her mother Lynn’s former career before being proprietor of Candy Plum couldn’t be further removed from fashion, she told News Letter.
“My background was legal believe it or not but I always wanted to do something that was a bit more creative,” said Lynne. “Fashion is what I always wanted to work with. I was always artistic and studied A-level art and I sometimes think I’m a bit late starting but isn’t it better to do it later than never at all?” she added.
Realising Candy Plum as a family business came about after a venture that Lynne was involved in never materialised. A chat with her daughter and backup from the community of Hillsborough soon saw her realise her dream.
“Mum was to go and do another project and it didn’t work out so we decided to just do it on our own,” Zara explained.
“People were telling us to go for it and this unit which was always a boutique was lying empty. We had the support and encouragement of everyone so it made sense and we seized the opportunity,” she continued.
“I was hesitant at first,” admitted Lynne. “But then I thought why not because we had the same interests in fashion and we knew it could work.”
And it more than worked. Candy Plum now boasts an extremely loyal customer base of fashion forward generations who come from all directions.
Lynne and Zara have managed to maintain this clientele, they believe, because of their passion for the business and interest in fashion.
“When we began, we wanted to get things in store that were different and exclusive so we did our research and sourced new brands and balanced that with a collection of clothing that we liked ourselves and it worked,” said Zara.
“Now we know our customers well enough to know what they like so when we do go to the big shows in London and Paris we can pick things out that we know specific visitors to our stores will love.”
Because Lynne and Zara are so heavily involved in sourcing new stock, their complementary tastes mean that all ages are catered for.
Edgy fashion for the younger lady blends in with sophisticated regalia meaning that the store can be a day out for all females in the family.
As well as sharing a passion for fashion, Lynne and Zara both strive to exceed their customers’ expectations.
“We’ve a great database of customers — especially locally — and then there are people from the border towns and when they come in we have a great time, it’s like an experience,” said Zara. “My dad says it’s like a drop in centre!”
Lynn added: “We know our customers so well that we personally shop for some of them. We know what they like; personal attention, certain styles and so we buy with them in mind.”
Candy Plum is open six days a week and it will soon begin a personal shopper service that will see the store open in the evenings exclusively for customers that book a one-to-one shopping experience, but do these long intensive hours together ever impact on Lynn and Zara’s mother-daughter relationship?
“Not at all. It’s great working together and we agree on most things. We do argue - that’s just a mother and daughter relationship - but mostly, I find that we have different skills and that really complements the business. Mum is great at merchandising and dealing with the customers and I’m good at the business side so we play on that. It’s great to work with someone you know you can trust so much,” said Zara.
“And it’s such a sociable job that it doesn’t feel like work,” she added.
Lynne continued: “Zara and I just gel together and work so well as a team. For me, I think the best thing is looking at Zara and thinking that was me 30 years ago. I’m so proud of her with her marketing degree and how she uses that in the shop. She’s a great support to me and because our personalities are different it works so well.
“Mostly, running this shop is like seeing a dream evolve,” continued Lynne. “When we started we weren’t sure where it was going to go but three years on, I think, it has really taken shape and we’ve got our name out there. We’re so interested in what we do and we’re honest and I think that says a lot to the customers. We’ll never tell a customer something looks great on them if it doesn’t and they know they’re going to get that honest, friendly service with us which keeps them coming back.”
Lynn deems sourcing stock as her favourite aspect of being a fashion retailer. This sees her travel to mainland Europe numerous times a year.
“I just love going to the shows,” she said. “The show in Paris, Pret a Porter, is about four times the size of the Odyssey so we really have to research the labels before we go because if we wandered around aimlessly then we’d get nowhere. We always strive to have things that other stores don’t. You can’t always be completely exclusive but we aim to offer something that others can’t,” she added.
Zara enjoys putting her marketing degree to great use by looking after the store’s online sales.
“We’re trying to branch out with the website which is really working with people from around the world. I do all that side of the business and it is hard work and a full time job. I mean we’re up against businesses like Net-a-Porter online who have reams of people dedicated to that side of the business but it’s just me who does that here,” she added.
Looking to the future, Lynne and Zara ‘never say never’ in terms of opening a second or even third branch; Lynne is keen to get the personal shopper experience off the ground.
Reflecting on the past three years, Lynne concluded: “Owning your own business with your daughter, I think, is just brilliant. It’s such a satisfying job.”