Business wisdom from the desk of … SANDRA WALSH Owner, Canopi Creative Ltd.
After qualifying as a nurse, Sandra Walsh practised in Ireland, Australia and the Middle East. She opened her first boutique, Sandz, in Mount Merrion, Co Dublin in 1998, before moving it to Ranelagh in 2000 and opening a second location in Blackrock six years later. During her time in fashion retail, she noticed a gap in the market for a stylish arm-cover product to wear under sleeveless dresses. She founded Canopi Secret Sleeves in 2012; they are now stocked by retailers all over Ireland as well as internationally.
Describe your role:
I am the owner of Canopi Creative Ltd and the founder and master distributor of Canopi Secret Sleeves, which are stocked at Brown Thomas, Arnotts, Pamela Scott, Harvey Nichols and many boutiques nationwide, as well as at Fenwick of Bond Street.
Your company’s business priorities for 2016?
I’m currently expanding my team. I want to challenge the perception that Canopi Secret Sleeves are just for middle-aged women. We already retail in Russia, Canada and Dubai but I am just about to sign with a Northern European distributor in order to grow the business internationally. It’s very exciting.
Highlights and challenges during your tenure?
Having brought a new product to the market, a highlight has been watching it gain traction to the point where it is now sold in 200 stores throughout Ireland and the UK. I’ve encountered obstacles – it can be very challenging to get to the decision maker in a store.
Did anything in your early life experience or family background influence your journey to
your current role?
Yes, I grew up in a family business with very hard-working parents who gave me the strength and motivation to become an entrepreneur. Despite my nursing background, I always knew I would eventually own my own business.
An accomplishment you are proud of?
I appeared on Dragon’s Den last month and secured an investment of €100,000 from Gavin Duffy. It means we now have money to purchase more stock and also to invest in an international marketing plan. As the master distributor, I can now commission the talent to do that.
How do you approach difficult situations?
I tend to step back, put myself in my adversary’s position and try to find an outcome that is complimentary to both parties without compromising myself. For me, everything is about the relationship. If something doesn’t work, I find out what went wrong and try to remedy it.
Which is the most useful way to engage clients or suppliers?
I love to meet buyers and retail staff face-to-face in store. To me that’s far more beneficial than sending a generic email and it helps to keep me in the loop about what’s selling and what’s not.
What keeps you awake at night?
Very little as I’m an excellent sleeper! If a problem is weighing on my mind, and it wakes me up, instead of lying there worrying I will get up and take action. That’s a benefit of having an office at home. I’m also a recent convert to “Havening” which is a type of meditation created by Paul McKenna. I’m a loquacious person and I find it very calming.
How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
About 40-50 minutes, between skincare, applying make-up and dressing.
What is one characteristic a business leader should possess?
The ability to listen is absolutely vital. Only by listening can you can learn what your customers are looking for. You should hear what they’re saying, not finish their sentences.
Three pieces of advice you might give to women who aspire to be in leadership roles?
Surround yourself with like-minded people; have incredible value in your own worth and don’t put obstacles in your own way.
THE WAY I DO BUSINESS
1. STRONG POINTS: I’m very honest. My answer to most things is yes. If I genuinely can’t do something, I will admit it.
2. WEAKNESSES: I can take rejection personally, which is par for the course when you’re selling a product that you have designed and are passionate about.
3. LOOKING THE BUSINESS My style has evolved. Although I love formal business dress, I am now just as likely to wear cigarette trousers and a smart shirt with wedges to a meeting as I am a suit. It’s more modern.
4. WORK/LIFE BALANCE I opened an office outside the home which helps compartmentalise my time.
5. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE I surround myself with trusted advisers and let the professionals do their jobs.
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our July/August issue, out Thursday July 7.
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