Posted: Thu 3rd Feb 2022
The latest instalment in the Enterprise Nation adviser stories series sees Ryan Elliott joined by the popular Catherine Erdly.
As founder of The Resilient Retail Club, in conjunction with her vast body of work across the Enterprise Nation platform, Catherine's small business support has become the stuff of legend - netting her an award in the process.
Be sure to connect with Catherine on Enterprise Nation today, and if you have expertise of your own to share with our growing community of small business owners, you can sign up as an adviser right now!
You’re someone who is very well-known in our community, both as founder of The Resilient Retail Club and as an Enterprise Nation adviser. But let’s rewind a little – talk me through the opening stanzas of your career.
“I started in the retail industry in the year 2000, following a business degree at the University of Warwick, but when I graduated, I didn't really know what exactly I wanted to do.
“I'd always done retail as my summer job, and after graduating I was doing some research about what I could possibly do next, and I remember reading a description of merchandising, and it said that it's very numbers-focused and quite creative because you work with product, as well as strategic.
“As soon as I read the description of this job role, I knew that's exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t know the job existed, but as soon as I read about it, was sold.
“I pretty much immediately got a job at Laura Ashley, and then for 17 years, I worked my way up through various different roles in merchandising. I was in the UK, then I was in the US for about six years - my husband's American so we moved over there for a few years.
“I was working then in a multi-billion-dollar business because the scale over there is completely different. But I returned to the UK in 2008 and then for the next 10 years, I was working in various different UK High Street businesses, taking on bigger budgets, bigger teams - the biggest department I ran had about a £400m budget every year, and I really enjoyed it for a very long time.
“The funny thing is, at the time, running a business wasn’t on my radar. I'm very risk-averse in general, and I was all about building my career. But I started to see things differently in 2017; I was working for Paperchase, running their stationary team which was one of those jobs that sounds like a dream because everyone loves Paperchase, and it was a dream in a lot of ways - a great product, great team, but it was hard.
“But these big retailers are often very difficult places to be because they're all facing a lot of pressures, and one thing the retail industry is really bad at is looking at the big picture and working on things together. It's all very much like ‘I think it was your fault’, with their own kind of finger-pointy style.
“I’d also spent a decade by this point being full-time working mum, so in 2017 I just decided something needed to change. I didn't even know what it was that I wanted to do, but I just knew I had to change, so I gave in my notice for my job without much of an idea of what was going to happen next.
“In 2018 (I can't believe it's four years ago; it actually blows my mind!) I wound things up at Paperchase, and I probably put the start date of my business at April 2018, because during those first three months I was just mulling things over and figuring everything out.
“I quickly realised what I wanted to do was work with small businesses, because a lot of the ones I knew were doing really interesting things, but I didn't know whether my background was going to be useful.
“Therefore, I started off doing some free sessions with people, asking if I can talk to them about their business, to see if what I’m offering is useful? What I realised was there was actually a massive knowledge gap for a lot of small business owners – they’d started their businesses and they wanted to be creative.
“A lot of time people start product businesses because they have a love of product and want to do something creative with their life. But then all of the business skills specifically focused on product businesses - such as how you create a plan, how you trade your stock, how you know how much to buy - that just don’t feature in people's mentality. They just don’t have the experience, so that’s where it all stated.”
What is your favourite thing about running your own business?
“Not having a boss! Whatever happens, I can always tell myself I don't have a boss. Because to be honest, I had a lot of really toxic bosses - it was one of the catalysts for me leaving.
“If I’d sum it up, towards the end of last year (I live in southeast London, about a half hour’s bus from Peckham), I went to an event called ‘Pexmas’ which is a massive Christmas market, and every day there were 100 stalls, and across the three days it ran the stalls all changed, so there were 300 businesses showcased in total.
“And I went, and while looking at the trader list I recognised a lot of these people, with some of them already in my membership group. So, I thought, I had all my Christmas shopping to do, I would go to Pexmas Friday, Saturday and Sunday – to say hi to people and just to soak up the event.
“My favourite thing about running the business is that I went there and I probably every day I knew between a quarter and a third of the people with stalls, and some of them were saying to me they recognise me, or they’ve seen me on Enterprise Nation or listened to my podcasts.
“I think that's probably my favourite thing - feeling like I'm part of that community because they're all such amazing businesses and incredibly talented people. I also know the organiser Sarah, so to know that many people was a real highlight, and made me feel part of that community.”
On the topic of being a valued member of the community, you are also an Enterprise Nation award winner! What does it feel like to have your efforts recognised in such a way?
“Oh wow, it’s been absolutely fantastic! I became aware of the awards about two or three years ago. There’s someone called Fiona Minett, who runs Boss Your PR, who I met about two or three years ago, and I've worked with her on my PR and she's a big advocate for awards and she herself was shortlisted.
“I was really pleased this year to be shortlisted, and I basically thought to myself I won’t be cool about it, I'm just going to ask people! I love being part of Enterprise Nation - I think what you guys do is phenomenal, and I always take notice of who the top advisers are.
“So, I just went said to my community, via my newsletter or on Instagram, and I just said: ‘look, if you've listened to and enjoyed the podcast, if you read my newsletter, if it's something that you enjoy, and you feel like voting, then that would be really appreciated!’
“It was really nice, and I think people like to celebrate success as well. I had nothing but really, really positive feedback from people and so many nice messages about the award or about even my nomination, so to be a Top 50 award winner was amazing.
“It’s not a very English thing, I think, to ask people to vote for you, but people were really happy to celebrate someone in their community who was being recognised. It was fantastic!”
What advice would you give someone considering becoming an Enterprise Nation adviser?
“It’s a no-brainer. I mean, an absolute no brainer. It's very affordable to be an adviser, and I think you guys as a team do a really great job of listening, so for example I know that you're making changes to the platform, such as adding the ability to upload your own content, things like that.
“For me, as an adviser, I've been part of so many different things. I've done the e-learning with Amazon, I've done the Uber programme, I've done School of Sales, I've done Lunch and Learns, I've done Q&As and I've done webinars.
“The best things about Enterprise Nation? Firstly, you've got such a huge following amongst people who are looking to start their own business. So, if you're an adviser and you want to work with people who are running their own business, it just makes complete sense to work with Enterprise Nation!
“Also, the fact that that you promote your advisers. I know that I can submit my learning content and have that featured on the Enterprise Nation platform. It’s made a big difference to me – it’s got me in front of other people, raised my overall awareness, and being part of something like Top 50 has really helped my personal brand and my business brand, because Enterprise Nation are so very well recognised. To be part of all of that, as I’ve been a part of it, has been really helpful.”