Daughter succeeds mum to helm Island Trading
The top role at Island Trading has passed from mother to daughter as the business celebrates its 35th anniversary.
Gillian Forge, who founded the company in 1983, has handed over the running of the business to her daughter Laura Farge-Lowe.
The store, at 93 Reid Street, is holding a two-day sale starting tomorrow to celebrate reaching the milestone of 35 years in business.
As they prepared for the celebration, Gill and Laura spoke about the pleasure and challenges of running a retail business on the island, and the importance of having a strong and knowledgeable team.
The business was started very much out of necessity. Gill and her husband had two children to support, and at the time the company her husband worked had fallen on hard times.
Separately, another local company was going out of business, and Gill took the opportunity to acquire some of its products and sell them. It was initially a door-to-door enterprise, and the products were swimming pool-related. This led to the opening of small store on Reid Street, opposite the present day location of Island Trading.
As the business became more established, it relocated across the street to The Stables building, at 91 Reid Street, and finally into the adjacent property where it has been for the past 18 years.
Recollecting the past 35 years, Gill said there had been ups and downs, including the major economic downturn of 2008. But through it all the business avoided having to make anyone redundant.
She said: “As a retailer we have to move with the conditions. We have a wonderful Bermudian team at the store. Working together has been our philosophy.”
Her daughter added: “We have always invested in people and trained them. The customers want knowledge and we have done a tremendous job of bringing suppliers to the island to talk with and help train our staff.”
In addition, Island Trading sends employees overseas to learn more about the products the store sells — knowledge they subsequently share with customers.
“Customers want to have that knowledge,” said Laura, explaining that customers appreciate learning about their choices from the staff. “And people often ask for a certain member of the team — say for Michaela or Sam. They like to hear different perspectives.”
Gill said one of the most satisfying things was hearing customers pay compliments about members of the team and the service they have received.
Among the staff is Sam DeSilva, who was 17 when he first worked for Island Trading shortly after it was founded. He stayed for many years before moving onto other things. Then, two years ago, he bumped into Gill and mentioned how he was facing reduced hours at his place of work. He was offered an opportunity to return to Island Trading and is now in charge of general operations.
“He said it was like coming home,” said Gill.
Michaela Lambe is the next generation for the team, and she has all ready accompanied Laura on a stock-buying trip overseas. Laura said: “She told to me ‘I think I’ve found my calling’. She has really focused herself on the indoor furniture customers.”
Other members of the team include Sonia Burgess, who joined a year ago, Marcus Samuels, Angie Outerbridge, Sue Kemp, and longstanding in-house design consultant Di Hines.
Laura previously worked in the banking sector in London and New York before returning to the island to join the family business almost six years ago. She has gradually been taking over more of the day-to-day running the business as she has transitioned into the role of managing director and head of the business.
Her mother said: “It was an easy transition. The time is right to have a younger captain.”
Laura added: “It has been a work in progress. It feels natural.” She is confident she can continue her mother’s winning business formula, which she described as “her passion for the business, the passion she has shown for the team, and her expertise and attention to detail”.
However, she also recognises the challenges. “Retail is hard. It needs to be open to listening to customers. Our island is always changing; customers are always looking for new things and we have to be ahead of that wave.”
When asked what has contributed to Island Trading’s longevity and success, Gill said: “Attention to detail, an underlying passion and a certain amount of pride when customers say they enjoyed the experience and they mention members of the team.”
While no longer running the business, Gill will still be around to assist, while also pursuing other activities away from the store.
Island Trading sells a wide range of casual indoor and outdoor furnishings, lifestyle items, swimming pool and spa supplies, and some clothing items, including rainsuits.
On her new role at the helm, Laura said: “I’m excited about taking over the business and expanding it. We want Island Trading to be known for our indoor furniture as much as our outdoor business — and also for our design business. We work with architects and designers, who work with the customers.”
The business is also looking to fill two positions, one is an administrative role, while the other is for a general manager who can partner with Laura in the day-to-day operations.
To celebrate its 35th anniversary, Island Trading is holding a two-day sale tomorrow and Saturday, with 10 per cent off all items, and 35 per cent off certain items, including select Brown Jordan, Lloyd Flanders and Skyline collections.