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Although Hayman, 44, won’t reveal how much she sold Diva for, she will say: “Enough for people to be scratching their heads as to why I would be working this hard all over again!”

She adds: “I tried to retire but found myself itching to do something more. You can only have so many holidays, walks and coffees so I decided to open a bag and accessory chain for my Diva customers who had grown up into sexy young women.”

Hayman created Diva with husband Mark, a well know retail guru. He was CEO of Diva and is now CEO of Colette Accessories. The couple share a dynamic that works, both in the office and at home.

While Colette Accessories is just a year old (the first store opened in April 2010), there are already 30 stores, with another 20 planned for 2011. The speed at which it’s growing came as no surprise to Hayman. “My husband has experience in rolling out chains at a rapid rate. He was involved in rolling out the 3 Mobile stores, opening 26 in one day, and then Diva, so this has been a walk in the park really.”

The Colette customer is a little older than the Diva customer and appreciates quality at affordable prices, Hayman says. “There is nobody else in the standalone handbag and accessory market offering great prices with a cool sexy approach to fashion accessories. Our prices are more competitive than other accessory operators, giving us a nice competitive edge.”

One has to ask, is Colette Accessories going up against Diva as a competitor and how does this make her feel? “Diva was my creation and a company that I am still very proud of,” Hayman replies. “I sold it when we had secured 88 stores and left the company when we had 110 stores. It was a huge achievement for me and I want only the best for the company. Nothing would make me sadder than to see it lose its credibility.

“Colette Accessories is a more grown up version of Diva. Yes, there may be a crossover of customer but my customer is ‘sexier’, she doesn’t buy Disney, she’s not girly. She’s a fashionista, she knows fashion and the current trends. She reads Vogue and Cosmopolitan and looks for inspiration on style.com. I think we have a large point of difference in both our offering and image.”

Between selling Diva and starting Colette Accessories, the Haymans took some time out but didn’t find it as enjoyable as they’d hoped. “We spent time cruising the Whitsundays and travelling as well as a lot of time with family but never really relaxed. It’s a funny thing; everyone wants to retire early but if business is part of your DNA then you can never really stop striving.

“We were on holiday in Europe, having discussed the idea for a few months previously when we decided: ‘Let’s do it’. Both Mark and I are very energetic people. Relaxing can be quite tiresome, we get bored easily and needed something to sink out teeth into. That was in August 2009 and in April 2010 our first store opened.”

These days, it’s not just Colette and Mark in the Hayman family business, with daughters Bianca and Natasha having also joined them (daughter Chloe recently left the business to start her own with her husband). “Mark and I have worked together for the most part of our 25-year marriage and so have found the right dynamics in our work/home relationship,” says South African-born Hayman. “We are both very respectful of each other’s roles. Mark runs the company and I handle the product, VM (visual merchandising) and marketing. We are good sounding boards for each other so dinnertime is never dull!

“Big decisions regarding the business are made together but otherwise we both get on with our roles. Bianca works for us as visual merchandiser and Natasha as my buying assistant.”

There’s no doubt 20 year-old Natasha has a job most girls her age would kill for. “This is Natasha’s first job and I’m so proud of her, she really has thrown herself into the role,” says her proud mother. When asked if there is a succession plan, Hayman replies: “I would love nothing more than to hand over the role to Natasha in years to come. I have given her the hair buying category which she will do with my assistance this year and hopefully take over next year on her own.

“It’s a great way for her to cut her teeth. We are going on a buying trip to London and China this month, which will be her second trip in a year. She’s very fortunate to be fast tracking through the ranks.” It helps too that Natasha is the same age as the Colette Accessories customer. “She goes to clubs and festivals and comes back with lots of ideas.”

Hayman has no intention of building this brand quickly, rolling it out and selling it, as she did with Diva. “I love what I do. Getting up and going to work is not a chore for me, I can’t wait to get to work every day. I am always coming up with new ideas. It keeps my mind active and gives me a wonderful sense of achievement. I call it my purpose with passion.”

She of course loves accessories and wears her own label as well as others. “I generally wear larger bolder pieces but only one or two at a time. I have so many pieces of jewellery and handbags (both designer and Colette Accessories) that Mark has threatened to convert one of our guest rooms into a closet! I often walk into a room and people are oohhing and ahhing about my jewellery and bag and I say “Well this necklace is $12.95 and the bag is $49.95,” and noone can believe it. The art of accessorising is how you put it together, which is what I am trying to convey to my customer. You don’t have to spend a fortune to look fabulous!”

It’s probably no surprise that the Haymans were always confident that this new venture would work. “I am delighted but I did expect it, I wouldn’t have gone into it if I wasn’t confident it would work. It’s probably been a quicker success than I thought it would be. I thought that I would have to educate the consumer to accept the concept of lower prices with an upmarket image but they have caught on beautifully.”

How does she make sure that the business doesn’t get in any IP battles for producing cheaper products in the style of designer brands? “We are very careful not to tread on toes but strive to adapt as best we can to offer our customer the trend rather than the copy. We are not a market stall in Hong Kong, we are a credible business with educated customers. I don’t believe they would expect anything less from us.”

Fashion designer Diva grows up has recently taken some widely publicised legal action against the Haymans, claiming Colette Accessories customers might be mistaken into thinking they were buying something aligned with the Collette Dinnigan brand. While Hayman is careful about what she says on the subject, she will comment that the public has been very supportive.

“My focus is to deliver one of the best retail concepts Australia has ever seen. To believe that we would invest so much money, time and effort creating a retail brand aimed at the shopping centre customer, most whom have never heard of Collette Dinnigan, off the back of her brand, is ridiculous.”

And why indeed shouldn’t Hayman use her own name? It was a very deliberate choice. “We loved the fact that our competitors would have to mention my name at each of their range and competitor review meetings (a reminder of who they’re up against), and we felt that I needed to be the persona behind this lower priced format. I’ve always been a very private person so getting me out there has been slow, but this year I’m starting a more visible campaign to connect with our customers.”

Colette Accessories is already embracing social media with a blog and Facebook page and has not underestimated the importance of online. “We are planning on launching online sales in the latter part of this year. I am very excited. We have so many calls daily from people that want to buy our product but can’t get to a store or live in regional areas. Watch this space!”

Longer term growth plans for the brand are 50 stores by the end of 2011 and 80 by the following Christmas if, Hayman says, she can hold her husband back. Having previously owned a huge and established chain like Diva, it’s an interesting concept for them to be starting again but, she laughs: “It’s like childbirth: you forget the pain!

“Seriously though, it’s been both challenging and exciting, I have never done handbags before and I absolutely love it! Initially I was really nervous about doing bags but really felt that the market was lacking in trendy fashion handbags at affordable prices.“

What would her advice be for a retail startup? Hayman says there are many aspects to opening a retail business but one crucial tip would be to invest in your systems. “Reporting is the key to the success of any business, whether it be staff, finance or product. And be prepared to give it 100 percent, any less is not enough.”

When she’s not working, Hayman enjoys learning to play golf and finds it a great way to de-stress. “We have a holiday home on Hamilton Island so we try to go there for weekend breaks, it’s the most relaxing place on Earth. The rest of the time outside of work is family time. We are very close to our girls and catch up at least once on the weekend for dinner or a movie in our home theatre.

“I travel for business six times a year and Mark joins me at least twice so that we can combine business with pleasure. Last year we did the Amalfi Coast and this year we are doing Greece. Life is good. Busy but good!”

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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