I was thrilled to be included in the February/March edition of Brand You magazine which is aimed at women in business around the world. Here’s my “Fempreneur Story” as told to Brand You.Justine Knox
Following the crash of my parents’ hotel business in 1985, which left us having to start again from scratch without a penny, I decided to leave school early to start earning a living. I was an eccentric, independent, and strong minded teenager, and it was the hardest time in our lives, but I learned more from these experiences than school could ever have taught me.
I quickly understood that even if the worst happens, you can pick yourself up and start again, which is exactly what we did. There wasn’t the time to moan about what had happened, it was a question of survival and we worked hard to do that. We had only been living on the Spanish island of Mallorca for a year, but coming from a family of hard working people who didn’t quit it never entered any of our minds to pack up and move back to the UK.
I learned to spot opportunities: between the age of 15 and 25 I ran my own babysitting service; a cleaning company; worked nights in a bar where I learned to speak Spanish; set up the island’s first mobile Mobile Phone company (I worked out of my car and checked there was network coverage in the client’s village before selling them the unit); launched, ran and then sold a very successful children’s luxury clothing boutique stocking clothes I couldn’t possibly have afforded for my own two children, and even worked in timeshare which I had to quit because it felt so unethical, I couldn’t stand to think of being party to another couple losing their savings in a bad investment.
In my early 20s I met my husband Bruce, a.k.a. “The best decision I ever made”. He owned a dive school, but the lifestyle was not ideal for raising a family, so we sold his business and pivoted: Bruce had worked as a builder years before in the UK, and we sent word around the community in Mallorca that he was available for renovation work.
Every business I had developed up to this point had prepared me, and given me insight into running a successful enterprise, but nothing had quite stuck. I liked earning money, but I wasn’t passionate about or inspired by what I was doing. However, as Bruce’s building work increased so his clients needed support and I found myself being asked to help choose tiles for their bathrooms or colour schemes for kitchens. I soon earned the reputation as the builder’s wife who “had an eye”, could speak and negotiate in Spanish, and didn’t like to see people be ripped off or waste their money on tat. I discovered that I had a talent for visualising the ergonomic flow of a house and instead of just offering my opinion to my surprise and delight it was being asked for. It was around this time that “The House Doctor”, Ann Maurice, was very popular on TV. I watched her programmes avidly and dreamed of training with her. I explained to Bruce that I wanted to spend a small fortune on studying in the UK, which would mean leaving him in Mallorca with a business to run and two small children to take care of, and after only a couple of minutes thought he agreed! This was to be the second best decision I ever made. Although the concept of Home Staging for house sales was ahead of its time for the island, the interior design skills I learned through the courses I took with Ann took me to Educator Level and gave me the knowledge that I needed to reinforce my natural instincts of colour, form and flow.
Stepping into the limelight as “Justine Knox, Interior Designer”, took a little bit of getting used to, but with each successfully completed project and opportunity offered I gained confidence. The business expanded beyond my professional services to encompass the “Knox Design Store” which started as my showroom and developed into a stand-alone store for unique home furnishings which I source from all over Europe. The business employs 9 full time staff, plus the trusted tradespeople that I repeatedly contract for reformation work on my projects. My parents got back on their feet as well, they are still living in Mallorca, and are still the brilliant example that I admire and cherish dearly. Bruce and our daughter Marisa work with me in the business, and Jack, our son, has gone into hospitality, working as a Superyacht chef.
I’ve now been an interior designer for 20 years. The value that I give to my clients comes from who I am: my life experiences, all the tough moments and the breakthroughs, have increased my skill set, and inform my decisions. About 70% of my business comes to me through word of mouth. When I am designing a home for a new client, I do so after I have spent a great deal of time learning about their lifestyle, getting to know them and deciding if we will fit well together. I want to make sure that I can express their personality in their home, and make it a beautiful but practical and comfortable place for them to live in. Once I am sure of that then the fun begins!
The greatest asset in my business has been my husband Bruce. He’s always motivated me, yes he will ask me tough questions about my decisions, but in the end he’s always supported and encouraged me. Even though we have a multimillion euro business that we started from nothing, I don’t consider myself a millionaire. My priorities are always to pay the rent, pay the staff, pay the bills, I invest in the business, and if there is anything left then I pay myself. I still save up for the things that I want.
I am known for my use of colour. Clients now seek me out because they want me to push them out of their comfort zone. A client recently said to me “If we were left to do it ourselves, everything would be grey!” Mallorca has a vibrant colour palette of the blues of the sea and the sky, the greens of the countless pine trees, the creams and beiges of the beaches and rocks and the hot pinks, oranges, yellows, reds, and purples of the native wildflowers that grow here. There has been an accepted “look” in the luxury housing market of stone, black and cream, but I find it quite dull and soulless. I believe your home should inspire you and make you smile when you walk through the door, and for me an easy way to access that joy is through the use of gloriously rich colours. I’ve reached a stage in my business where I only take projects on if they want colour, and a little bit of craziness!
My tips for other business people:
- Invest in yourself. Seek to continue to learn at whatever stage of your life you are at.
- Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Without taking that step you won’t get anywhere.
- Identify who your ideal clients are, and then only work with them.
- Be prepared to work extremely hard when you are founding your business, but don’t accept that as the norm forever. Plan for the day when you can start to take some time off to enjoy your success.
- Aim to scale, and hire with your head and your heart.
- Implement systems in your business which you can use remotely to delegate whilst you are away.
- Hiring staff is a skill in itself, don’t rush it, ask the right questions and listen to the answers.