When Alison Wright decided to make a change for her and her family’s future, she found inspiration in her own passion.
As a civil engineer, Alison was busy heading up projects for Irish Rail, a job which saw her commute frequently between Northumberland to Ireland for work. Rewarding as it was, Alison faced the constant challenge of being away from her family, and decided to explore something closer to home.
Saying Alison is a fan of outdoor sports would be an understatement. In 1987, she went to Nepal and set a new world record for running from Everest base camp to Kathmandu. She completed the 167-mile route — with a 32,000-foot ascent and 46,000-foot descent — in three days, 10 hours and eight minutes with her friend, Helene Diamantides. This record remained intact for 20 years, being broken only in 2007.
So, Alison turned her love for the outdoors and her experience as a female athlete into a new business idea — Gear for Girls. “Setting up a dedicated women’s sportswear shop was something I was passionate about,” she says. “And it kept me closer to my family.”
Experience & understanding define a business
Personal experience was a clear advantage for Alison as she transitioned from customer to retail provider. Her goal was clear: to find the best gear available to women and make it readily available to females across the UK. She explains:
“Before we started, women’s outdoor clothing felt like an afterthought, a small selection usually placed in the corner of a big sports shop. Brands just didn’t realise how many women were actually interested in outdoor sports and activities, let alone realising they were actively involved in these.”
Alison already knew that there was no outdoor clothing store dedicated to women in the UK, but she also knew the style and performance quality of clothing the market needed. Bringing together a range of garments from brands purely focused on outdoor wear, she was able to provide the customer with clothing that fits, looks great and performs, with the added benefit of choice.
“That means no more baggy bums, no more shrinking and pinking by manufacturers of gear designed for men,” Alison says. “Gear for Girls looks for garments designed from the top down and bottom up to fit a woman’s form.”
From the smallest to the largest
Over the past decade, Gear for Girls has steadily cemented its leading position in the industry. A local team of four key staff members, supported by three casual workers, fuels the business’s success by managing its different sales platforms and maintaining customer satisfaction.
All the Gear for Girls employees share an enthusiasm for the outdoors, forming a reliable and happy team that is constantly in contact with its customers, regardless of whether on a mountain top, riding a wave, or in store.
With an online store and a shop based in Northumberland, Alison has seen the impact the website has on the physical side of the business, coupled with the benefit of still being a local business. Gear for Girls receives the vast majority of its business through its website and in parallel, the Gear for Girls store has become very important to regular customers — to the extent that the growth of the business is reflected in the size of the shop itself.
“When we started 10 years ago we occupied the smallest shop on the high street. Now we’re in the largest — and this one’s starting to look really full. We’ve doubled our turnover in the last three years, and now space is becoming quite a challenge.”
To top off this journey of growth, Gear for Girls was recently selected as one of the 100 companies to feature in the Small Business Saturday UK campaign, an opportunity for it to get involved in the local community.
“We feel Gear for Girls is important to local communities and have a big board in our shop telling customers that we employ local tradesmen,” says Alison, emphasising the role small businesses play in local economies. “Being part of the community is a way for small businesses to compete with the bigger brands. Contrary to what people assume, we do offer competitive pricing. And this helps us show customers that their money is going to a better place.”
Always at your front door
For Alison, being online means being able to make Gear for Girls products available to all customers, regardless of their location. The online store accounts for 90 percent of the company’s business, making it key to its existence.
Alison knew a robust and active website was vital for success and initially sought out the help of a small web design company to get the digital side of the business up and running. However, this company later ran into difficulties and Alison made the decision to take the reins and switch her domain handling to GoDaddy.
“We chose GoDaddy because of its reliability and the feeling that we were really in control,” she says. “GoDaddy has since advised us on obtaining extra domain names, variations on Gear for Girls that allow us to stay on top of the brand.”
Gear for Girls has developed its online presence to include a blog and several social media links, allowing the brand to engage with its customers and foster the community out of which it was born.
Setting the standard
Considering the female demographic wasn’t on the map for outdoor clothing when Gear for Girls started, the business has played an important role in growing the awareness of female brands to where it is today.
Other brands now want to become part of Gear for Girls, and as the only women’s outdoor clothing store in the country, still after all these years, Alison says “we act almost as a seal of approval for brands in this market.”