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Sisters Striving To Satisfy Market Gap With New Baby Boutique
Katie Mallinson, Features Writer
Linda Holmes-Phayer and Gayle Phayer-Thompson
Sisters Linda Holmes-Phayer and Gayle Phayer-Thompson, from Huddersfield, have opened a new baby boutique on the outskirts of the town.

The transformation of their two-storey property was complete within three weeks of them getting their hands on the keys, but the vision for the brand – Luna’s – has actually been decades in the making. Here, they speak exclusively to The Yorkshire Times, about how their lifelong ambition became a reality…

“It was something we dreamed of when we were young,” began Gayle, recollecting their talks of owning a business together as they were growing up. “We had big plans for a clothes shop, stocked with stand-out collections that you couldn’t find elsewhere on the high street. But for years it was nothing more than a pipedream.”

Linda
That’s not to say they didn’t get a taste of the world of retail – or setting up their own companies – as their careers unfolded. Gayle worked in a jewellery store from the age of 19, and progressed to roles within well known high street brands, before running her own newsagents only a mile from her home. Sister Linda, meanwhile, became a qualified hairdresser in her late teens, and in 1999 set up her first salon in Bradford, with the help of her business-savvy husband Robert.

“For years I had worked in other people’s salons, either on their payroll or with a rented chair” explained Linda. “But the profession was low paid at the time, so I took on evening shifts at Sainsbury’s to supplement my income. It was here that I met Robert, who gave me the confidence, advice and support

I needed to ‘go it alone’.”

The pitter patter of tiny feet

Gayle
Whilst their careers had of course progressed in different directions, the pitter patter of tiny feet has continually brought the idea to the fore over the decades, particularly when Gayle had her two children Eleanor and James – now 20 and 19.

“For years we commented on the limited choice on the high street, especially when compared to wider Europe,” Gayle elaborated. “Supermarket lines have brought newfound affordability for parents, but sometimes this comes at a price in terms of quality. It’s also hard to get hold of something that’s a little different – especially for boys.”

When Linda’s three granddaughters arrived almost twenty years later, the market gap was still evident.

“There are some amazing brands out there that design incredibly beautiful outfits,” she explained. “But more unusual clothing and gifts are often more expensive. The alternative is to shop with one of the niche ecommerce sites that seem to pop up all over the internet, but many people are nervous about such purchases, particularly if they’re coming from overseas. Where have all the boutiques gone?”

Luna’s begins with a legacy

It was personal family tragedy that finally set the wheels in motion to own a boutique of their own. Linda and Gayle were left devastated by the passing of their mum Brenda, followed by the sudden loss of Linda’s husband Robert in the summer of 2018. So, Linda hung up her scissors after 40 years as a hairdresser and moved home to Huddersfield to be closer to her family.

“When we lived in the same town again, there seemed no better investment for mum and Rob’s legacy,” reflected Linda. “Now was the time to plough everything they had taught us, into something for our future.”

Things moved quickly after that. They took steps to secure their new 500sqft property on busy Westbourne Road, Marsh – only 1 mile from where they grew up – before it was even officially on the market. They then invested £16,000 to overhaul the space, decorating it from top to bottom, complete with new branding courtesy of FASTSIGNS Huddersfield.

“We’ve gone for light, muted tones to create a tranquil space for parents and babies alike,” explained Linda. “We want it to feel like a welcoming and friendly place where people can pop in for a browse and a chat.”

Selling 0-2 year-old clothing, gifts and baby shower accessories, the boutique stocks high quality yet affordable products that the sisters have for so long thought were lacking from the high street.

Hand-picked suppliers for stand-out quality

“We’ve carefully handpicked every supplier,” Gayle continued. “We placed minimum orders with each to begin with, which still felt risky as they were still looking for at least a £250 spend. But we’ve been delighted with the quality.

“We’ve gone to different places for our unusual baby gifts, tableware, baby shower accessories, plus Bonikka rag dolls handmade in Sri Lanka. We love what this company is doing as they donate a percentage of every sale to support girls at their local orphanage.”

This passion for giving back is continuing closer to home too, with Luna’s now a designated drop off point for Huddersfield Baby Bank.

“We’ve plenty of space so it makes sense to put it to good use,” Linda said. “When the existing drop off point is at capacity, we can take people’s unused nappies, unwanted baths, prams and more, so that they can be passed on to local families in need.”

A troubled high-street?

Reports of a troubled high-street are of course in the backs of Gayle and Linda’s minds, but they do still think bricks and mortar brands can succeed.

“We seem to have reached a point where you can buy baby clothes at the supermarket or in large stores on retail estates,” explained Gayle. “Or, there’s online of course. But all of these purchases are usually driven by convenience, rather than experience. It shouldn’t be like this – we’re talking about buying something for someone who has just come into the world.

We should be enjoying the opportunity to go out and handpick something special for them.”

“Despite ‘doom and gloom’ retail headlines, many villages are thriving,” continued Linda. “Huddersfield has always been a town rich with independent brands, and I think many people are still looking for that type of shopping.

“We’re going to take each day as it comes, but we’re hopeful that we can offer something with longevity.”

The exciting here and now

When asked of their long-term ambition for Luna’s, it’s clear the sisters want to become an established name in the local area, but they are just as excited about the here and now.

“Even though we’ve already encountered unexpected hurdles, we haven’t once felt stressed,” Gayle admitted. “Our mum taught us that how life pans out is down to us – only we can affect it. So, if things get difficult, we accept the challenge, work out how to solve the problem we’re faced with, and move on, with grace. We’ve definitely always got a glass half-full, especially when we’re tackling something together.”

Luna’s expansion is already on the cards, with the upper floor set to be renovated in the not-so-distant future.

“We’ve already been asked if we can stock clothes up to age 6, and we’re also exploring baby occasion wear,” concluded Linda. “The demand is definitely for more traditionally beautiful outfits, such as three-piece sets or delicately embroidered pieces. And it’s this feedback from customers that will define what you see next in the boutique. We are even looking into boutique-style maternity wear. We can’t wait to see our Luna’s story unfold.”

Luna’s is open Monday-Saturday 9:30 – 17:30.

Sisters Striving To Satisfy Market Gap With New Baby Boutique, 19th March 2019, 9:37 AM