Despite a childhood that included poverty, being in care a number of times due to her mothers’ poor health and bunking off school, her enthusiasm for fashion led to her managing the flagship womenswear store of a national fashion chain by the age of 18. In 1989 Anna and husband Steve Sun founded STORM, a brand of quirkily-designed watches that they aimed to sell through fashion stores – a revolutionary move at the time. Today STORM has over 30 standalone stores and distributors in 45 countries and the range includes jewellery, bags, fragrances, sunglasses and now spectacles. Here Anna talks about how she tackles the challenges in her day and in the business.
“I’m up by 7.15 AM to organise breakfast for my kids – I have three at home and one at university. Twice a week I have a personal training session at home. Two friends come too, which helps boost my motivation. Then it’s off to work taking phone calls along the way. I might be talking to our sales reps, a new distributor in Australia or ordering flowers for a large dinner party at home – I like to arrange the flowers myself.”
By 9.30 AM I’m at our office in Euston Road. It’s a far cry from our first office, which was above a pizza joint in Acton. It was so basic we had to keep the milk on the windowsill because we couldn’t afford a fridge. First I tackle my emails – too many. People should telephone more. It’s more personal and things don’t get lost in translation. Phone calls are especially important when dealing with overseas customers because you can ask for clarification and give feedback.I also take time to think about what I want to achieve that day. It’s especially good when you are very busy because stepping back and looking at your strategy calms you down. I always have a strategy for each meeting too, so I know what I want to achieve from it.
By 10.30 AM I’m in an internal sales meeting. I’m the managing director while Steve is chief designer, and my role focuses on sales and marketing. I’ve loved sales ever since I was managing a fashion store at 17 and enjoyed the challenge of beating targets for turnover per square foot. I think my poor beginnings made me subconsciously determined to succeed.
At 11.30 AM I may be in a meeting about new products. When we started, our designs were so unusual that factories did not know what to make of them. At one the response was, “What are these? We only do watches.” Now our designs are more sophisticated but we always ensure that they retain the unique quirky style that has become the signature of the STORM brand.”
LUNCH IS GENERALLY HOME-MADE SOUP AT MY DESK.
“I’m a keen soup maker – at the moment I like pumpkin and sweet potato, Indian dhal soups or Chinese recipes. Sometimes there’s a business lunch with a client but otherwise I prefer not to go out as it takes up too much of the afternoon. Between meetings and catching up with emails I try to set aside time to think about long-term business strategy – how to develop the business, how to tackle the barriers and how to handle our strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to get carried away and not do this often enough.
By 4.30 PM I might be in a meeting with our lawyer trying to sort out the sticky points of a licensing contract. Many of my meetings are about overcoming barriers. I believe that where there’s a will there’s a way, but sometimes it may not be the way you are used to. Where I find barriers, I try to work round them.”
“One of the toughest recent challenges I’ve tackled is the decline of independent retailers, which have always been the core of our business. It made sense to start supplying High Street chains but that would mean products having more commercial designs. It also meant that our loyal independent stockists, who valued our quirkiness, could feel that their business was being eaten into. Finally we decided to make a limited range for the High Street but offer the independents a wider mix of products so the real STORM fans will seek them out.
I try to leave the office by seven, but it’s often straight to the theatre, dinner, plays, or recently, a vintage champagne tasting, followed by a gourmet pizza with friends. I don’t do much networking except with everywoman and I love that. Sometimes when I’m out I meet people who know the brand or are wearing it. Even after 25 years of STORM it’s still a lovely surprise and I can’t help asking them about where they got the piece and why – each has its own story. It’s still a delight to hear customers saying how much they love our products.
I’m an owl – I don’t usually get to bed before one thirty and I can be up until three or four. I read fashion magazines, and get time to reflect. I’ve met a lot of challenges but I always say, ‘If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door’. Life is about making opportunities happen for yourself.”