A new boutique baby store is all set to cater for pandemic babies this spring, with a wide range of nursery products and a new online store, thanks to help from the Go For It programme in partnership with Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
The Go For It Programme is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) programme.
Whiteabbey baby business Babylife opened its doors in February last year and was planning to host a series of community events, including first aid courses and baby massage sessions, but was forced to mothball its plans when lockdown came into play three weeks later.
Owner Suzanne Jennings says she had been thinking about the idea for a few years, having noticed a lack of boutique baby shops in the area, but decided to go for it after the Mothercare chain closed.
The mum-of-three says that for many mums purchasing baby items, it can be a bit of an anonymous experience, and she and her husband wanted to make that experience of browsing for baby essentials special.
It’s not every baby shop that would give flowers when a pram is purchased, for example.
“It’s about making life special – I want to make it a special time especially for first time mums, from finding out they’re pregnant, coming in for a one-to-one appointment and finding everything they need in that journey,” she says.
“When Mothercare closed, I was still using baby products for my youngest and I had family members who were having babies – and I saw a gap in the market.
“I saw a need and we wanted to meet that need – I wanted to offer a family-friendly atmosphere when customers came in.”
When she was planning her store, Suzanne found the perfect premises on the main Belfast to Carrickfergus road and quickly applied to the Go For It scheme for assistance in making their dream a reality.
The Go for It programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors across all 11 council areas of Northern Ireland. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.
“My advisor Karen Wilson was a great help – she was pulling out all the ideas that were in my head and putting them into a business plan,” Suzanne says.
“I had three face-to-face meetings and Go For It massively helped with market research.”
The pandemic meant a change of tack – instead of offering a high-end customer experience on the premises, the entrepreneur had to pivot to build a website where customers could find high-quality prams, travel systems, car seats, cots and beddings without having to leave home.
The store was able to reopen in June 2020 by appointment only, and Suzanne found business starting to gear up as word of the store got about.
Despite the post-Christmas lockdown, the store has now built a strong e-commerce portal where customers can browse online and is bringing in new lines all the time, Suzanne says.
“We’re the only stockists in Northern Ireland for Mima, which offers really high-end prams and car seats, and some of our other brands are CYBEX, Nuna, UPPAbaby and Silver Cross,” she says.
“We also offer the Shnuggle range from Newtownards, which has a lovely bath range, as well as changing mats, Moses baskets and cribs. We do everything from rocking chairs to mattress protectors and even baby gyms and walkers. We have some lovely things from Zazu who do sleep soothers and night light projectors and a new range of Carriwell maternity and nursing bras.”
The shop celebrates one year this month with special offers in store and online.
My advisor was a great help - she was pulling out all the ideas that were in my head and putting them into a business plan
Suzanne says she would advise anyone with a business idea to get in touch with Go For It.
“It was a massive help – I would say if anybody is thinking of opening a business, they can really help with laying out and formatting your business plan,” she says.
Councillor Jim Montgomery, Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said: “The Go For It Programme, delivered by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council provides new entrepreneurs with accessible, free and tailored support in the start-up stage of their business in areas such as financial and business planning, and sales and marketing to help get their business up and running.
“I wish Suzanne every continued success in developing and growing their enterprise and encourage anyone thinking about starting their own business to get in touch with the Go For It Programme!”
If you have a business idea you’d like to develop or if you are thinking about starting a business contact the Go For It Programme on 0800 027 0639 or visit: www.goforitni.com.