Last Wednesday and Thursday, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (Salises) of The University of the West Indies (UWI) held two events in Tobago to launch its Outreach...
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Vanessa Mohammed Entrepreneur with fashion flair
Vanessa Mohammed, 35, was a flight attendant with BWIA for seven years before the airline closed to make way for CAL. It was a job she thought she excelled at, one she loved so much that she readily admits being left shocked and heartbroken when she was not re-hired at the new airline. Left floundering, she turned to her faith, praying for a job that would allow her to have a good life & to travel, and all that she’d had (but was now gone). Her prayer was answered when she started working in car sales, a job that turned out to be such a good fit for her ‘skills set’ that it afforded her the means to travel to many places around the world while she worked there. When the economy took a nosedive after the CLICO crash, car sales also went down & once again she had to move on. She was then hired at Caribbean Chemicals where she is the current Manager of the Industrial Department.
Always something of an entrepreneur, she also had a good sideline business doing corporate gift baskets, and knew that someday she wanted to run her own business but didn’t really know what it would be. One day however, she came across an email about Columbia being a great industry source for many different products, including the manufacture and wholesale of some very alluring swimwear, & the proverbial light bulb clicked on. Following up on the email led to meeting the person who would become her main connection to Columbia. She rolled up her sleeves & got down to the ‘ground work’, coming up with a long list of potential suppliers & making contact with every one of them, doing all the necessary market research. Without even having a store, she decided she wanted exclusive distribution of one particular line that she absolutely loved. So determined and persuasive was she that the supplier decided to come to Trinidad to meet with her. Vanessa made sure that she was prepared. She compiled a detailed market plan, complete with powerpoint presentation, showing how she would create and supply a market that would be worth their while.
Two days later, she got her exclusive distribution rights and placed her first order. With the help of her boyfriend, who was always a pillar of support & sound advice, she began to put her market plan into action. She hosted her first wine and cheese soiree at a friend’s house, going all the way to make sure she created an experience that her specially invited guests would appreciate. Flowers, scented candles & homemade sangria greeted them on arrival. By the end of the evening her merchandise was practically sold out and orders received for more.
The business began to grow in leaps and bounds. Friends were eager to offer their homes for events. Others began to ask for ‘first viewings’ when new orders came in. Because she still held her day job, there would be people coming to her home on evenings, nights, weekends. Vanessa accommodated them all as much as she possibly could. And if they couldn’t come to her she packed everything into large plastic bins and went to them.
Exhaustion began creeping in. The idea of a store began to grow, but without the necessary financial resources she didn’t know if she could make it happen. Then, sadly, she suffered through a personal loss that hit her so hard, and left her in such grief, that nothing seemed to matter anymore. It took a great deal of time to heal from that loss, but the prospect of the store proved to be an eventual lifeline out of the abyss. Buoyed by the love, guidance and unending support of her parents, family & friends, she channeled all of her focus into making her store a reality instead. Her dream-come-true, Bikini Cabana, opened a year ago. Vanessa already has more plans afoot. She is excitedly looking forward to moving in the next few months to a new location that will also hold a romantic little tea shoppe for patrons to enjoy a truly pleasurable shopping experience. She believes 100% in great customer service, and it shows throughout her entire career – flight attendant, car salesperson, business manager, small business entrepreneur and now retail storeowner in a very competitive industry.
Her plans for her future definitely include marriage & a family of her own, but for now she is focused on her business dreams. She was the official swimwear sponsor of the 2012 Miss T&T Universe pageant and has already been invited back for the 2013 edition. She will also be the exclusive distributor of chef Bernard Long’s signature line of handmade truffles at her new store.
Vanessa, though justifiably proud of her achievements, is eternally grateful to the people in her life for always supporting her as she continued to ‘find her way’ and knows she would not have made it without them. She is blessed with good looks, a warm & loving nature and self-confidence, but it is clear that she does not sit by and just accept what comes her way. She works hard, has weathered loss, and never has to be reminded to be grateful for her blessings.
You can find Bikini Cabana at 4A Alexandra Court, Alexandra Street, St Clair, or call 721.4042/223.9732.
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