Welcome to part two of our Wonder Women Collective!
In the second interview of our series of inspirational women who also happen to be Mums, we talk to Karen Wood. You may not have heard of Karen.. yet, but you will almost certainly have heard about her business! Karen is the MD of Strider Bike Distribution for the UK and Ireland. Strider have now sold 1,000,000 bikes and have taught more toddlers and young children how to ride a bike than any other brand and Karen has been instrumental in that success. In our interview we hear all about her brush with a bullet in Columbia and how she spectacularly quit her job following struggles meeting travelling expectations whilst being a Mum to a four year old and an 18 month old. Karen’s exciting and inspirational story is a must-read. We defy you not to feel empowered by her story.
Tell us a little bit about your job or career before you launched your own business:
I Spent 10 years driving overland expeditions – taking people in a converted truck across Africa, S.America and across to India after back packing my way around the world whilst dodging uni. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just didn’t want to be told what to do, so I guess that was the first hint that I was an entrepreneur and needed to do things my way. I learnt to be very resourceful, fix engines in jungles, deal with difficult passengers and blag our way out of difficult situations. I had also been shot at in Columbia so decided I had used up my lives and came home to the UK. By chance, I was offered my first “proper” job by chatting to a guy in a waiting room of a recruitment agency that was there to interview others and he offered me a job on the spot. I worked my way up to being a business manager for a blue chip medical company within 5 years, before standing up one day in the boardroom and quitting on the spot. I had a 4 yr old and an 18 month old and I missed spending time with them whilst stuck on motorways and corporate life wasn’t for me. I knew it so decided to not prolong the agony longer, I figured we would work the financial problem out later and my husband was very supportive.
“We were broke but then I spotted a Strider Bike in the USA.”
Tell us about your current business:
Strider was a business I started 7 years ago, with toddler in one hand and laptop in the other. I spotted the unique balance bikes being manufactured in the USA and just knew I could do something with them. I missed signing the distribution contract for the UK by only a few hours, so I built myself up as the largest Strider dealer in the UK instead. Back in those days we were the only brand that wasn’t a wooden toy bike and Strider are the originals but it was still a struggle. Selling online was a new venture, so I bought a coding book, built a website and told anyone that would listen about the bikes. In 2014 I then got the call to offer me exclusive distribution that I accepted on the spot. Despite needing to raise funding for our first container, finding a warehouse and with Christmas only a few weeks It simply felt right to take it. Mind you, that autumn was one that I don’t actually think I slept more than 4 hrs a night. I even had to drive to the port and cry outside the port directors door as our first container got pulled for a customs check, except the port had no staff to drive it through the x-ray machine. I made them sort it in time to meet our own deadlines.
What made you take the leap to decide to start out on your own?
Gut feeling it was the right thing to do
What do you love most about your job and why?
Being completely in control of the brand and what I do with it. I love holding the reigns and the responsibility of the whole brand for the UK and Ireland is mine to shape as I like. I am really proud of it and I am still as enthusiastic as I was on Day1. I simply love getting out of bed and working on it. I am also quite partial to the business trips to the USA where I take the whole family and we go and hang out with the global Strider Team. I get my travelling fix.
How do you juggle being a Mummy and having your own business?
Not brilliantly! The first year of distribution I was also a full time mum and doing the school runs. Rarely was the house clean, clothes were never ironed and food was more often than not still in the shops and I worked late every night so was tired and grumpy. However the kids got stuck in and helped. They have both developed good business sense and now have their own jobs at events we run and a salary so it is teaching them great life lessons. In 2015 my husband quit his career and joined me. Now I take on most of the business decisions and and he runs our warehouse and the logistics. We share the responsibility of the kids although I probably do less than my share.
Do you have any particular ways or rules to make sure you balance things so you get family time too?
Yes, we now have an office away from the house and the phone automatically diverts to answer at 5pm. I also never allow phones or gadgets upstairs so whilst I do tap away on the phone in the evenings on occasion, we do have our evenings and weekends back. Its also lovely we never need external childcare as the kids come with us everywhere, and if they are sick then it isn’t an issue.
Is there anything in particular that makes things a little easier for you?
Online shopping! If it can’t be bought online and delivered we don’t have it. I work with brilliant reception staff that take in everything for me.
Do you come across any negativity from others because you’re a working Mum? If yes, what?
I don’t think I have ever stopped to notice. My social calendar is next to non-existent anyway if it isn’t school or work related, but being a mum helps me relate to our customers, as I can offer genuine honest advice to other parents looking to buy their child’s first bike. I think the only way it becomes negative is if you use it as an excuse for poor performance..
Businesses nowadays are not just about contact via email, potential clients reach you via social media as well as websites, do you feel a pressure to keep up to date with social media and if so do you find this impacts on your time, especially in the evening?
I use a lot of scheduling tools for social media so evening posts are set up weeks before. I am very organized and have a photographic memory so it all helps to keep on top of it. I am also very fortunate that Strider parents often become great friends to the brand and also to ourselves, so often questions left by others are answered by our own customers before I even spot them.
What do you think the hardest thing about having children and being your own boss is?
Last minute demands from schools. Too often I get info about sports days and events that I simply need more time to juggle my diary. However, I haven’t missed anything yet. The other thing is dealing with their demands when I am stressed. In distribution I am at the mercy of other suppliers and shipping containers around the world has problems of its own so trying to keep it altogether and not get cross with the kids under pressure can be a toughy.
And what’s the best thing about it?
That I am doing this to give them a far better standard of living and I can do it around them as they inspire me. Customers comment that my kids are very grown up and polite and its all down to them helping me with the family business. I don’t mean to go and buy material things, but I do spend a lot of money on experiences and holidays so I can show them the world. I take holidays to suit us, although don’t ask me to count how few I have taken this year..
What advice would you give another Mummy who is considering changing their job or career to follow their passion?
Be prepared that there will be tough days. There will be times you wonder why you are doing it and times that partners “don’t get it”. Also be completely honest with everyone at all times. I see too many mums trying to sell themselves on the basis of unproven track records. Work hard, very hard and with luck it may come good. Don’t give up at the first hurdle…
You can see all of Strider’s fantastic products on their website here . Karen organises a host of fantastic Strider events across the UK where you can take your little ones to participate. See the events calendar here for more details.
We would like to thank Karen for taking the time to talk to us about juggling motherhood and work. If you know a #mumspirational Wonder Woman you think the world should know about, let us know! Comment below or contact us here or via our social channels.