Keeping it local in Lymington

With Lymington seeing the arrival of several high street chains, it's now more important than ever to celebrate the town's local businesses. Elizabeth Barnett meets four entrepreneurs who have taken the plunge and set up shop for themselves

Company: Stork GiftsOwner: Natasha RushbrookAs a mother of five, Natasha knows more than anyone that spending time with your children and helping them learn is vital to their early development. During her experience, toys and games have played an imperative role in this process and so four years ago she decided to utilise her knowledge and impeccable taste by creating a unique online gift experience. Over time has become a great success and with customers telling her they long to be able to come and see the products for themselves, Natasha decided to bite the bullet and open her flagship store on Lymington High Street: "We were very lucky to find such a fantastic space to accommodate our business. For a while we really struggled as we found ourselves up against the big chains that wanted to come in to the town. But the people who owned this property wanted an independent retailer; they wanted to keep Lymington the way it used to be, which was perfect for us."

Working mumNow, just a few months down the line, and Natasha is brimming with pride at what she has achieved, looking after five children all under the age of 10, as well as building her business hasn't been easy: "I get up at seven in the morning and stop at nine o' clock at night, when I cant physically do any more - and that's seven days a week. "Its a massive commitment but its worth it when you look around and see how far you have come, just to have something to help with my childrens' futures is what drives me. Natasha has great plans for the future of her company, with her main aim being to open another store in London. But for now she seems more than content with becoming a new addition to Lymington's very prestigious High Street. Company: Ballard Fruit and VegOwner: Stephanie and Lewis Tait-Ballard

Newlyweds Stephanie and Lewis opened up their fruit and vegetable shop back in August and since then have enjoyed the sense of community surrounding Lymington and its new Angel Courtyard development. Fruit and veg has been in the Lewis's family since 1945 when his grandfather, George Ballard, owned a market stall in Southampton. When he retired George left the stall in the safe hands of Lewis's uncle, John Covey, who decided to take the stall around Hampshire, joining markets in Devizes, Wimborne, Dorchester and Lymington. Lewis started working for his uncle after leaving school and since then has perfected the trade ready to take over from John when he retired last year.

Love at first vegStephanie met Lewis five years ago: "I was working in Clinton Cards at the time when Lewis used to run the stall with his uncle and after our eyes met over the fruit and veg I knew he was the one and to see us in our own store now is a dream come true." At 27, Lewis and Stephanie pride themselves on being an example for younger people looking to establish themselves as entrepreneurs and have already built up a good reputation among the older generation that reside in Lymington. Stephanie says: "It's great to know that we have the support of the people within the town, I am really passionate about giving good customer service, printing off recipes and referring our customers to the other local businesses in the courtyard is all part of ensuring our store is successful." Lewis and Stephanie are the perfect partnership, when Lewis is out running the markets during the latter part of the week, Stephanie continues to work hard in the shop: "We have both come from hardworking families and we know that you get out of your business what you put in. We both love working here and are looking forward to building our family around the business to carry on the tradition."Company: Coralbay SeafoodsOwner: Dan Hymas

Somebody else to benefit from the community vibe of Angel Courtyard is Dan Hymas of Coralbay Seafoods. For 15 years Dan has been involved in the fish industry, starting work after he finished school in a small market in Watford where he was able to pick up the basics of the trade: "By chance my boss actually owned a business in Billingsgate so I was able to see both the wholesale side of the business and the retail." From there he went to work for several wholesale companies, which enabled him to travel around the country, sourcing fresh fish from some of the best areas in England.When the time came for Dan to move away from London, he knew immediately that the south coast was the ideal place for him: "I didn't want to move away from London to another big city so I decided to look around some of the smaller ports in Hampshire, Lymington was perfect for me as it still had the bustle and the passing trade, yet it wasn't too big and overcrowded with other similar businesses. Dan has spent the last few years working the local markets before taking the plunge and setting up his own store a little over three months ago.

Keep it independent"I think the big supermarkets have shot themselves in the foot by exploiting their suppliers. Programmes like Watchdog and Panorama have picked up on this and have shown them for the type of companies they are." This has benefitted small businesses like Coralbay. Dan is able to offer a unique and personal shopping experience: "I've gone for a more continental look around the shop to try and get away from the whole idea of serving behind a counter. I like to be able to interact with the customer rather than have that separation and divide that the counter creates." Dan continues to work on his market stall three times a week and hopes the store will be just as successful. Company: Kikis BoutiqueOwner: Kia SmithA year-and-a-half ago Kia Smith decided to make a life changing decision, after working as a teacher for seven years, her love of shopping and desire to find the most unique outfits led to her to pack it all in for a quaint little boutique store in Christchurch. "I've always lived in Bournemouth and used to enjoy days out to Christchurch and Lymington when I was growing up. After taking the first steps to open the store in Christchurch, when the space in Lymington came up I couldn't resist the opportunity to expand."

Warm welcomeKikis Boutique in Lymington has been open for just four months, yet already she is enjoying being a part of the hustle and bustle that the high street is famous for. "Everyone has been so welcoming. When we moved in all of the local businesses sent us good luck cards, it was really lovely." At the age of 27, Kia has come a long way, changing her career was a big step, something that she couldn't have done without the support of her parents: "My mum has always been an inspiration to me, as a child I used to look up to her as a style icon and even now she helps me with the sourcing and the buying of my products." Now that Kia has two successful stores under her belt, she is determined to take Kikis Boutique online and her brand new website, has arrived just in time for Christmas. "I think I would eventually like to own another boutique, I am still very conscious of my brand, I have always wanted to create a unique shopping experience and do not want to jeopardise that by having too many stores."

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