When Kristy Withers started children’s furniture retail business Incy Interiors in 2011, having a mentor would have saved her “so much time, money, and energy”, she believes.
That’s why, six years and $7 million in revenue later, Withers is starting her own entrepreneurial “Pay it Forward” program, mentoring budding businesses and providing them space in her Chatswood store to promote and sell their products.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Withers says the idea for the program came to her only last Tuesday in “one of those moments”, during a photo shoot for an article in the Daily Telegraph.
“I was at home doing this shoot, I had this amazing photographer, and I thought ‘this is pretty cool, I’ve finally got to this stage’,” she says.
“My parents have always been really big on being thankful and grateful and giving back when you can, so I began to wonder what I could do to help businesses that were just starting out.”
Quickly, Withers put out an Instagram post to her 53,000 followers, asking for anyone “starting out or establishing themselves”, saying the businesses could use space in her Chatswood store “however they like (legally) for a week at no cost”.
LONG ONE BUT WORTH IT I PROMISE! I was at this shoot on Tuesday and I took a moment to really appreciate how lucky I am. Whilst I have worked my butt off to get here I was also very lucky to have lots of support along the way so it got me thinking, what can I do to help other entrepreneurs who are starting out? I’m going to start by giving up part of our Chatswood Chase store to anyone starting out or establishing themselves. They can use the space however they like (legally) for a week at no cost. Simply email me [email protected] with your business details and when you would like it and we can make it happen. Make sure you tag anyone who you think would be interested #incyinteriors #incychatswood #entrepreneur #smallbusiness ? @photographybypip
Less than a week later, Withers has already lined up five small businesses to show off their goods, saying she was “pretty easy going” on the types of businesses who could participate, as long as it was nothing illegal or anything which would compete directly with her business.
“We’ve got a wallpaper designer coming in, someone who makes their own bed linen, and even an interior designer coming in to do a workshop,” she says.
“It’s really whatever people want to do, plus it brings more people into our stores.”
Withers is still in discussion with another four businesses keen to get on board and wants to give the opportunity to as many as she can, saying the expense of establishing a retail presence is a serious worry for many young businesses.
“It’s just such a big ongoing expense, even for my size business it’s still our biggest expense. I figured that’s the biggest opportunity to help, as retail can be tough,” she says.
“This lets these businesses go in and test out the market, plus we’ll promote them on our social media where we’ve got a pretty big following.”
“I just think it’s a nice thing to do.”
Along with the space itself, Withers says she’ll be offering mentoring and advice to any business who wants it, something she’s been doing for a while through two relationships with other businesses.
“If I had someone to tell me to not make the mistakes I made when starting out it would have saved me so much time, money, and energy. It’s really important,” she says.
“I never asked anyone to help me, and I didn’t even know you could ask people. Having someone’s brain to pick is invaluable, so I’ll help these businesses out as much as they want.”
For other businesses starting out, Withers believes alongside mentoring, strategy is key to get right early, saying it’s the “difference between being in business and not being in business”.
“If you can get the strategy right from the beginning and have a good understanding of it you’re set,” she says.
“The other area is being stubborn and not being flexible with change, you have to listen to how the market is.”