Many entrepreneurs are inspired to start a business in the wake of a negative experience, but not too many can say they built a fashion brand after almost losing their partner.
But for Amy Richards, founder of Sterling & Hyde, it was that prospect that inspired her to start up.
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Based in Sorrento on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Sterling & Hyde is a women’s fashion accessory brand, stocking leather handbags, jewellery, hats, scarves, shoes and the like.
In addition to its own handbag designs, Sterling & Hyde encourages customers to come up with their own designs. The business also has an in-house, on-the-spot jewellery alteration service.
But as Richards explains, it took a tragic event to give her the courage to pursue her passion.
“I was a HR manager and lawyer working at O-I Glass when I went off with my friends to do the Kokoda Track in 2009,” Richards says.
“On the day that I left, my partner Pete had a near fatal motorbike accident on his dirt bike on a motorcross track. He ended up in intensive care.”
In addition to a brain injury, Peter had two collapsed lungs and multiple broken ribs. According to Richards, he died on the operating table at least three times.
“I found out about this just before I was due to set off on the actual trek. I flew home immediately. Pete stayed in hospital for six weeks and had months of rehabilitation,” she says.
While Pete has made a near full recovery, the ordeal prompted him and Richards to re-evaluate their lives. They decided to move from Melbourne to the Mornington Peninsula.
“I had always dreamed of opening my own fashion boutique and this was the life-changing event which gave me the courage to do so,” Richards says.
Sick of carrying three bags to work – a handbag, a laptop bag and a gym bag – Richards began designing leather handbags that could be used for all three purposes.
Styling & Hyde opened its doors on August 28, 2010.
“As an avid fashionista, I always felt a personal touch lacking in the boutiques I used to go into,” Richards says.
“So when creating S&H, it was essential to truly cater to what a woman wants, which is quality products, value for money and exceptional service.”
This commitment to value and service has proven successful. In addition to Richards, the S&H team consists of a store manager and two sales assistants.
In its first year, Sterling & Hyde became profitable in three months, served more than 6,000 customers, launched an online store, and built an online following of more than 1,000 women.
In the 2010-11 financial year, the company’s revenue was $360,000. It also appeared in the 2012 StartupSmart Top 50.
“Our store is performing well because of our clear focus on the customer, thereby stocking the products they want, and going above and beyond… to provide service,” Richards says.
Richards is understandably proud of her story.
“I turned a tragedy, such as my partner’s accident, into a success by having the courage to use such a life-changing event to change my course in life,” she says.
“I put everything on the line to do so by selling my two houses to create Sterling & Hyde… [even though] I had had no prior experience in the retail industry.”
“We moved 100 kilometres away from our family and friends to a town where we knew nobody so I could open Sterling & Hyde.”
“I now have a profitable business which is well respected and has customers travel over two hours to come and shop with us. Such customer loyalty is rare.”
“When everything was suggesting this is something I should not do, I did it anyway.”