HerStory 4 - Gemma Bennett Bailey @ Foregate Garage
Today's guest is the lovely Gemma Bennett Bailey! Gemma runs the only City Centre garage in Chester alongside her husband, as well as being involved in an incredible breastfeeding group!
Hi Gemma, thanks for joining us! First thing's first, tell us a bit more about your business.
"My husband and I purchased Foregate Garage Ltd in February 2016. Paul had been working there 18 years prior. The garage has been going for over 50 years. They had never advertised and just get business from loyal customers and word of mouth. It's an independent, family run business. Prior to purchasing the garage I was a care manager. I moved to Chester 2004 and completed a BSc Psychology degree, started working in care and worked my way up. I supported adults with Aqcuired Brain Injuries in a residential setting then moved to supporting adults with Learning Disabilities in supported living."
That's such a huge journey and what a difference to go from care work to running a garage business! What inspired the change?
"I was actually on maternity leave when we look the leap. Like I say, Paul had worked there 18 years so we knew it was a thriving business. When the opportunity came up to take over we had to jump at the challenge. It was obviously a busy time as our daughter was 6 months old when we bought the garage but so far so good. It really is a challenge but can also be flexible around child care. I get to spend every morning with our daughter going to toddler groups and seeing her make friends and making lots of amazing memories together."
How has it been juggling motherhood around your business?
"It can be hard at times. I do a lot of working from home as well as the afternoons in the garage but like I say, it's flexible. She is obsessed with cars and loves going into work!"
It's incredible you're lucky to have so much flexibility as a mum. What impact do you think the career change has had on you personally, mentally and your family life?
"Positive for family life as I get to spend the time with our daughter and take her to different groups. I wouldn't be able to if I was working full time. It's been a learning curve as although I'm used to management, being your own boss is a completely different ball game! I get plenty of interaction with the staff and customers which is great. We have some fabulous customers. I think with Paul being there so long they feel like they know him and in turn know me which is lovely. They are friendly and loyal! I was used to managing staff but book keeping, accounts, payroll, invoicing and learning about cars is very different! It's quite scary when you realise you have the responsibility to pay your employees! Paul does work a lot more hours than me. He's done really well there and I'm proud of him. He's witnessed it being run so well over the years and has continued that as well as making little changes to improve the running of the business. Being a mechanic there and owning it is a big big change.
We pride ourselves on excellent customer service. I know a lot of people have negative stories a out garages and a lot of females are worried they will be "ripped off" but there's no worries of that with us! We have also donated prizes to a few fundraisers in Chester like BFFC, Mush-up Mums and the Special Olympics."
We LOVE how much of a positive effect it's had on your families life. Now you're in a position to use your business to help the local community and causes close to your heart, that's huge! Well done! Tell us a little more about what you do with BFFC.
"I volunteer with Breastfeeding Friendly Chester (BFFC). We find feeding friendly establishments in Chester and sign them up. They take a training guide which helps them train their staff about being breastfeeding friendly, go on our directory and put a sticker in their window so others can see they are bf friendly. I started volunteering because you only seem to hear horror stories about people being told to cover up. I've never had any negativity and I'm still breastfeeding almost 2 years. I really struggled to breastfeed for the first few months and I received amazing support from health professionals and now I'm so passionate about breastfeeding. We all know about funding cuts so if there is anything I can do to help make it easier for 1 person then I'm happy with that. We also organise events throughout the year to raise money for business cards. We designed these cards to give to a breastfeeding mum to say well done for normalising breastfeeding in public. I've also donated a lot of breast milk for babies in hospital with North-West milk bank. They are amazing and the milk is transported all over the UK!
In fact, Foregate Garage is the first garage signed up as breastfeeding friendly in Chester!"
The work you're doing is phenomenal Gemma! We know so many people who've struggled or had negative experiences feeding their child in public, so being able to help making it better for new mums is incredible! Its still such a controversial topic at the moment. What's the biggest struggle or difficulty you've had to overcome?
"I really struggled to feed my daughter. She had tongue tied which was snipped at 8 weeks old. I received amazing support from Bosom Buddies and it inspired me to help with BFFC."
You've done so much amazing work - what would you say is your proudest moment so far?
"I randomly think on a regular basis how amazing our bodies are! Breastfeeding is amazing. I have such a strong bond with my daughter and it helps with immunity. I never realised there were so many health benefits of breast milk. It's fascinating!"
Back when you took over the garage - is there one bit of advice you wish you'd had?
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity - go for it!"
To any other girls thinking of setting up their own business - what's one bit of advice you'd give them?
"If you think you can make it work then just do it. Plan and prepare everything before hand, business plan and cash flow forecast are vital. Get advice and support."
And final question - one for the HerStory playlist - what's your go-to song to put on and get you super ready for a day of work?
"I still love Black Eyed Peas - I got a feeling!"