To coincide with International Women’s Day, female entrepreneur Jenny Griffiths tells us about her journey from overseas soldier to business builder.
In 1996 I joined the army having left education with no formal qualifications. I was recruited into the Adjutant Generals Corps (staff and personnel support) and spent the first three years of my service in Norfolk. During this time I achieved the rank of lance corporal and served two tours of Bosnia and spent some time in Canada.
In 2000 I was posted to the Army Training Regiment in Winchester where I served as an instructor training basic recruits and gained qualifications in Skill At Arms and nuclear biological warfare defence.
I was always very physical and enjoyed stepping outside of my comfort zone and often volunteered for jobs that were outside of my role.
In 2004 I deployed to Al Amarah in Iraq as a sergeant, where I volunteered for an additional role as regimental sergeant major’s driver – a role I thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately my career was cut short after a training accident, which left me unable to walk. I spent over three years having operations and learning to walk again.
As well as the physical challenge of learning to walk again, I had to overcome the psychological battle of adapting to civilian life, outside the structure and rigidity of life in the army. This coupled with my injury lead to a very testing time within my life.
I realised how important it was to have a positive focus, something to motivate you to get your life back on track. It sounds like cliché, but it is true. Without a aim or goal, it’s easy to fall off track, which unfortunately has happened to many ex-servicemen before.
In 2006 I met my partner Paul and by November 2009 we had started our first company as property developers – a way to put my results-driven energy to use. This was going well, but we always wanted to try something different.
In January 2011 we saw an opportunity to build a retail business from scratch, using our own money. The building had previously traded as a village store and had been closed for business for about three years.
At the time, the shop had fallen into disrepair so we saw a real opportunity to change people’s perceptions of what they could get from a village shop. We didn’t want a typical English village shop. It couldn’t just be a place to get a pint of milk, a few eggs and nothing else. It had so much more potential than that. I wanted the idea of a village shop to evolve.
By really tapping into the needs of the needs of the local community, we have been able to transform the store and the overall image of village shops. We renovated the building and included an on-site coffee shop, which has gone from strength to strength. It has now become a central hub to the local community and with that, a thriving business. Customers can find community notices and we also open our doors on a regular basis to host church meetings and other community events.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing since the day we opened. During the summer of 2011 we hit a low due to a wet summer and with all of our cash tied up within our property business, we were struggling for cash flow. So we secured a business cash advance from Boost Capital. It means we’ve been able to maintain a steady cash-flow for both businesses and continue to invest in our offering and brand.
We have recently taken the big decision to run the store under a symbol group – this in our case being SPAR. Both of these major decisions have helped to add value to our business in the form of a better range of products for our customers and better prices. However we have been able to retain the original ethos of the store, which uses local suppliers and fresh produce. It also allows us to be more competitive and stay ahead of our closest competition
The result has seen a 30 per cent increase in footfall and we are now on track to fulfill our plan to exit the business in 18 months. Not bad for a former army clerk.
Entrepreneurship isn’t always about the latest technology or fancy business model. It is about taking a fresh approach, commitment and determination – skills I happened to acquire during my time in the army. Anyone can take the experiences and skills from one life situation and apply them to another. The results can change your life forever.
The transition to civilian life is not an easy one for any previously serving soldier, however, with some guts and determination, anything is possible.