Where Older Women Stand a Chance of Succeeding - Experience a Better Asset than Youth-capital Necessary-locality Need Not be an Expensive Streets - Privacy and Quiet Desirable-how to Stock the Shop - What to Charge - Profitable Byways - Cost of Training - Possible Profits
A woman left a widow with young children is often eager to find some way in which she can earn a living for herself and children. Here, at any rate, is one solution of her difficulty - to start business as a baby-linen outfitter. Her experience as a mother of young children will have familiarised her with the details of baby-clothing, so that from her own experience she will know what other mothers need, and how to help them with suggestions.
She can meet the mother on the common ground of motherhood and understanding of the child's body and the clothing suitable for it at different seasons of the year. The writer has in mind the case of a widow, left with a large young family, who turned her knowledge and business capacity to account in founding a successful business in a London suburb. She was a capable, motherly-person, and, moreover, a woman of refinement, and these qualities told strongly in her favour. After working up a sound little business, until her boys and girls were almost grown up, she sold it, and the family emigrated to Canada, where they are doing very well indeed.
But it may happen that a woman with young children has an invalid husband to support, yet the man is not so disabled but that he can keep the accounts of the business and do correspondence ; or the wife of a low-salaried City clerk may determine to put her shoulder to the wheel of the family coach. She always did take pleasure in making and fitting her baby's clothes, so why not turn her deft fingers to account for other people's babies ?
First to be considered are ways and means. It would not be safe to make the venture on a smaller capital than £150. About £80 of this would be spent on the purchase of stock, the rest in rent, lighting, rates, etc. The turnover of the stock should be rapid, because some of the daintier articles - children's hats and bonnets, for instance - quickly soil and deteriorate.
Next there is the question of locality to consider. The shop need not be in a main street, fortunately, so long as it is easily reached by the occupiers of private houses, both medium-sized and small ones. To open the business in a wealthy residential district of large, detached houses would be a mistake, for it is not the rooms of these large houses which know best the patter of tiny feet; and so strong is mother-love in the heart of the poorer mother that the money which, if spent in the purchase of boots or coat for herself would be rank extravagance, is willingly laid out in the baby-linen shop on a shawl or a bonnet for the baby.
Care should be taken to ascertain that there is no formidable rival in the field, and that there is really a need for such a shop. It is doubtful whether the existence of a large drapery store in, the neighbourhood is a drawback. Most mothers would prefer to go to a little shop in a quiet street to make their purchases, and dislike buying or having a baby fitted in the midst of the noise and publicity of a big departmental house. Moreover, there is the disposal of the customer's baby-carriage to be considered.
For a private business, therefore, a small shop in front of living-rooms, situated out of the main traffic, is best. The mothers may be trusted to find it out, and to recommend it to each other ; but, in addition, a little attractive advertising in the local paper and by handbill is advisable at the start, and the more friends and acquaintances there are in the neighbourhood, the better.
One essential factor in success is scrupulous - one might almost say relentless - cleanliness. Windows, counter, glass cases, paint, floor, everything, should be clean as clean can be, and very spick and span. This essential characteristic of cleanliness is necessary for success. Its absence is the warning signal of failure, displayed that all may read it, in the window of the shop about to fail.
Equally significant is a want of variety in the arrangement of goods in the window and display cases. If people see, month after month, the same articles in a window, in the end they naturally cease to look, and pass the window to find another with something fresh.
Careful attention should be given to investigation of the shops of baby-linen outfitters, and mental notes made of the most attractive and newer fittings, and their arrangement. There will be plenty of glass - a glass-topped counter to hold the smaller and daintier goods, glass shelves to a display stand, and one or two mirrors, if there is room for them. The shelves along the wall have stored in them cardboard boxes and cases to hold soilable articles.
At the ends of the counter there are usually some brass upright stands for the display of children's hats, bonnets, and hoods. But there is nothing like seeing other shop arrangements and fittings before deciding on one's own ; time so spent is never regretted. A common mistake is to overcrowd the window.
As to the stock, the intending shopkeeper is advised to consult the catalogues of wholesale dealers, and not to purchase extensively in any one kind of article at first, but to dispose of samples, until it has been proved by experience what articles are most in demand. These include the layette and baby's toilet basket, from brush and comb and puff-boxes to gowns and swathes - everything, indeed, that a baby wants from birth to the shortening time ; and a complete shortening set from little frocks to "nighties."
A clever needlewoman who has taste, and is apt at contriving, will be able to fashion many a dainty frock of nainsook, cashmere, or silk, hood of silk or crochet cotton, pairs of socks and boots of knitted or crocheted wool, though wholesale houses now supply most articles at prices which hardly justify the making of stock without facilities for purchasing materials economically.
Chiefly because of the privacy obtainable in a baby-linen outfitter's, girls and women resort to it for their supply of underlinen, day and night underwear, camisoles, spencers, knickers, dressing-gowns, bed-jackets, and corsets, as well as other articles and accessories familiar to the reader.
Baby's and children's millinery is an important department of the business, and to it special attention should be given. Many a mother who can manage to make a little child's petticoats and frocks is at sea when the hood, bonnet, or hat is wanted, and has to resort to a shop for it. If, therefore, an opportunity offers for doing so, it may be worth while to become for a time pupil to a good milliner, preferably in a city.
A Training in Millinery
The fees might be about ten guineas for a six months' course. Instruction is obtainable at a trifling cost in the women's departments of polytechnics and technical schools. These are advantageous to one who is engaged in a shop during the day, since classes are held in the evenings. It will be found that trimmings do not vary much, so that infants' millinery is not so intricate a subject as millinery for women ; yet a very fair profit is obtainable on it.
This question of profit should be carefully watched. It is safe to reckon on a price that will cover double the outlay on materials, plus the wage value of the labour - at any rate, when credit is allowed. If, for instance, the materials for a baby's bonnet cost 2s. 9d., and the wage value of the time spent on it is., then the selling price can be fixed at 7s. 6d. It must be remembered that the artistic skill and ingenuity are thrown in, so that the price is not really high.
On the whole, business profits should average 33 1/3 to 40 per cent. Every effort should be made to turn over the stock as frequently as possible, and to avoid giving credit. Whether this is done or not, must depend on the class of business.
With the spread of cash stores, and the habit of cash payments among the lower and middle classes, the vicious system of allowing credit will be regarded in time in its true light. Meanwhile, in a high-class business, the shopkeeper dares not press for payment from a wealthy customer at the risk of offence. Therefore, in choosing a neighbourhood for the venture, it must be considered whether the means of the shopkeeper will bear the strain of allowing credit. If not, she had better locate herself where cash payments are de rigueur.
It may be that a girl in a provincial town wishes to start at the bottom of the business ladder, and learn it so that she can become a manageress for some company, or, if she prefers, start a business on her own account. She would, of course, proceed on different lines, probably apprentice herself for two years, without paying a premium if living out of doors, and paying one of about £30 if living in. Her hours would be from about 8.30 to 7 o'clock, with half a day off once a week. She usually receives one shilling a week pocket-money, and, during the twelve months she is an improver, half-a-crown a week. This increases to £1 a week as an assistant, if the girl prove capable. After that, experience makes her services more valuable, and worth anything up to £60 a year resident, or an even higher salary.
As a manageress, she might expect a salary of £100, or in one of the departments of a large house from £200 to £300, or more, if she proved also an expert buyer. It will readily be understood that wisdom in buying is one great secret of success, whether the woman buys for her firm or for her own business.
An advantage in working up a business of one's own is that it can be sold, and thus all satisfaction that has been given, and custom obtained, bring in a financial return which a woman who works for a firm misses. This is a consideration to be kept in view.