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How I set up a retail business when sickness forced me to take early retirement

Deborah Stone, Theo Paphitis & Deanna OppenheimerDeborah Stone is the inspirational winner of the 2009 Barclays Trading Places award. When cystic fibrosis forced her to retire from her job in the NHS, she set up her own retail card and gift shop, The Gigglebucket, which is going from strength to strength

Christmas is a very busy time for Deborah Stone. She owns The Gigglebucket — a retail card and gift business in Liverpool as well as an Amazon shop — and has a two hair and beauty salons called Blow, writes Rachel Miller.

There are plenty of seasonal challenges to face. Stock management is one of the most difficult issues, says Deborah. “In the past we have fallen down on stock management, selling out of things really fast because online sales had taken off. So we need to constantly monitor what is selling and order more where necessary. It means we have to micro-manage stock levels every single day.”

Meanwhile, it’s always busy in the salon in the run-up to Christmas. The challenge there is to make sure January’s not too quiet. “We run offers with discounts on hair cuts and treatments if you come back in January,” says Deborah.

Overcoming adversity

Deborah has overcome more than most to get where she is. She suffers from cystic fibrosis and decided to set up her own retail business when she was forced to take early retirement from her job in the NHS.

“I found out I had cystic fibrosis when I was 16,” explains Deborah. “I cried my eyes out, stayed in bed and told my Mum there was no point in going to school. Even my teachers advised me not to bother doing my GCSEs.” That was advice that Deborah chose to ignore. “After a couple of days, I came down and said I was going to school. That was a real turning point.”

Deborah went on to get nine GCSEs (with eight A grades), took her A-Levels and obtained a degree in orthoptics. “I ended up working in the NHS and got quite high up.”

However, Deborah’s health deteriorated after the birth of her daughter, Isobel. “The disease meant I couldn’t see patients face-to-face and so I couldn’t do my job properly.” While she was off sick, she considered her options. “My body was knackered but there was nothing wrong with my brain. I thought, if I am my own boss, no-one can sack me.  It spurred me on to set up my own business.”

Spotting a gap in the market

Deborah spotted a gap in the market for a local card and gift shop and also quickly found an empty retail space. With lots of help from local business support organisations, including Fresh Start, she opened Gigglebucket in December 2006. 

Deborah is full of praise for the business mentors that have helped her and also the staff that support her — on good days and bad. “My staff know when I am having a bad day and they will take things off me.”

Thanks to this support and her own determination, The Gigglebucket has gone from strength to strength. Since 2006, Deborah has gone on to open two hair and beauty salons, Blow, with a friend.

This case study was first published on December 2009.

You can read other inspirational case studies here.