Penny Rawson - the founder of The Edit on how she built a £1m business
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 July 2019
Penny Rawson from Lymm reveals how a surprise illness drove her to make her boutique-owning dreams a reality
A few years ago Penny Rawson was working on the shopfloor at Topshop, dreaming of owning her own business.
Like many busy women it was the kind of thing you put on the back-burner until something drastic happens to make you re-think your life.
And that's exactly what happened to Penny. She was happily progressing in her job until she discovered she had a rare brain illness, then everything changed.
With nothing to lose she set up the 'modest boutique' she had planned in her dreams and incredibly it has turned into a million pound business, The Edit.
Penny, who lives in Lymm with her husband Tim and 10-year-old daughter Georgia, hit the ground running after launching her first shop in Hale three years ago.
Within six months Tim, 34, had quit his job in HR to help out and they rapidly expanded, opening sister stores in Knutsford, Alderley Edge and Didsbury.
The reason for its success are simple - savvy label choices that bridge the gap between high-end and the high street.
'I'm 36 now and I kind of felt I had grown out of Topshop and River Island but I wasn't ready for M&S. I felt there was a high street entry level price point gap,' explains Penny, when I catch up with her in Alderley Edge.
There are lots of beautiful aspirational brands out there, but actually when you're going on the school run you don't want to be wearing something you bought from Selfridges. You need nice knitwear and great fitting jeans! I try to buy things that you can wear every day but at a guilt-free price.'
Of course, there's also the experience Penny gained as a management trainee. She left Manchester University with a degree in neuroscience and found she was good at retail, rising through the ranks and eventually finding herself responsible for a 600-strong workforce at Debenhams In Ellesmere Port.
But she is the first to admit that she would never have grasped the opportunity to go it alone had she not become ill.
Penny has a condition called Idiopathic Intercranial Hypertension, a build up of fluid in the brain which causes excruciating pain and sight loss and the onset was so insidious that not even she realised she was going blind.
'It was really strange. I lost my eyesight from the left and the right and the centre over a course of a week,' she recalls.
'You would think how can you not notice? But I was really busy. Then, one day I was in the kitchen cooking, with loads of people around the house and I thought there's definitely something wrong, so I drove to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and they said "Do you not realise you've lost this amount of eyesight?"'
The doctors soon determined the cause was a build up of fluid and gave Penny a lumber puncture.
'It released all the pressure and my eyesight came back, just like that,' she says.
'It was really strange. They have no idea what it is caused by. It's usually something you get if you're really obese so I've had a bit of a difficult path getting treatment for it. It's so rare.
'But every cloud has a silver lining. I would never have started my shop without it so I'm very lucky in some ways.'
The illness was a catalyst for The Edit. Realising she probably couldn't sustain the kinds of work pressures involved in her management career, she quit her job and decided the time was right for that small shop.
'I did love my job but the hours were very long,' she explains. 'I'd start at eight in the morning and not finish until 6.30 at night, which meant my daughter was in daycare. Having my own business has made a great difference to me. I can now pick her up from school and have much more time for her.'
Hale was chosen for the first boutique simply because she knew the area had great footfall.
'Footfall is absolutely key to a business like this. I have seen so many people open shops where they think people will come to them, but the reality is, they don't.'
Luckily Tim supported her all the way and they had ploughed so little money into The Edit at the start that they were soon making a profit.
'I launched it with just two month's pay, matched by a loan from the bank,' she reveals.
'I wasn't really worried about it because I wasn't planning to take on staff or buying too much stock.
'And when you are not working it doesn't seem to be a risk. I don't think I would have done it if not for the illness.'
To cut costs she roped in friends and family to paint the walls and help out, then six months in, Tim quit his job to join the company.
'Because the business had just really taken off I needed another pair of hands and I knew it was turning over enough to pay both our salaries,' she reveals.
'If you start it on a shoestring, it's all about being commercial making money, making it work.'
Her advice to anyone who considers launching their own retail business in these challenging times is to know their stuff.
She credits her background in retail and knowledge of the area as valuable assets.
'And Tim says, always assume the worst. Because we opened in a recession we've always been cautious.'
A software company called Vend has also given them great management support and recently named them one of 14 'Remarkable Retailers'.
With The Edit expected to turnover £1.2m this year, Penny's is an incredible success story but she admits the future is unclear.
'I don't have major ambitions because of my illness,' she says.
'But I feel very blessed to be able to escape the nine to five. And sometimes I can visualise the store being on every high street in the country.