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Pickles Of Preston, Nikki Keefe - International Women's Day

Wednesday 6 March

To celebrate International Women's Day we chat with Nikki Keefe, successful business owner of Pickles of Preston.

Friday 8 March is International Women's Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of woman around the world. What better way to do this than to learn about the achievements and challenges of one of our very own hard working traders, Nikki Keefe, owner of Pickles of Preston.

Hi Nikki, what inspired you to start your own stall in the local market?

My family have owned market stalls since the 1950s, so I have years of experience in this environment. I began working within markets before I'd even left school. I've always enjoyed the atmosphere and diversity of working in a market environment so when an opportunity arose for me to open my own stall, I jumped at it.

I bought Pickles of Preston in January 2011 as the Pickles family where retiring, I owned a deli stall in Leigh market previously but that was a long way to travel and having two children under two, it was very difficult for me. They offered the stall to my mum first but she already had four businesses so she asked me if I would be interested, and the rest is history.

That is an impressive family history. As a successful, entrepreneur what challenges have you faced and how did you navigate them?

I have faced and overcome lots of challenges since opening my own business. The move to the new Market Hall was a big one along with the COVID-19 lockdowns, recessions, and the current cost of living crisis all of which have affected the way people now shop. I navigated these challenges by ensuring that I always have diversity in the products I have available, to suit everyone's budgets.

I expanded my business during lockdown, offering local delivery and introducing trending products such as graze boxes which were, and still are very popular. I also created my own website over lockdown by following YouTube tutorials. This meant that I could start to send my products further afield. I have a very trusted team of staff which helped a lot during covid. Taighlor started working for me as a Saturday girl and then continued to work for me for 8 years, she was great helping me with the hundreds of graze boxes we made in lockdown. Belinda worked for Pickles for 32 years but has now had to finish because of back problems, although she does help me out from time to time when I'm short staffed.

Wow, you've worked hard to diversify and keep your business going. How did you acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for running a successful business?

A lot of my knowledge comes from my experience with family members who owned similar businesses. Many of the skills and knowledge I've picked up over the years were transferable, and I have benefited from three generations of experience to fall back on. I have also developed my own skills and knowledge through reading and consultation with local businesses.

What challenges did you face when establishing your stall, and how did you overcome them?

One of the main challenges I have faced was the move to the new Market Hall. At this time, I had the huge challenge of retaining my current, loyal customer base as well as attracting new customers via social media.

It sounds like you put in a lot of hours, how do you manage your work life balance?

It's very challenging managing the work-life balance. My Husband is an assistant head teacher so we both work full time with three children and a dog. I am lucky that he can look after them in half term and we have a very supportive extended family. I've learned through experience that it is important to make time for myself and my family.

Are there any support networks or resources you have found particularly useful?

I have found that social media can play a big part in promoting my business and attracting customers, especially in these current times. Posting images and videos of what I have on the stall that week attracts a lot of customers as they know what to expect when they get here. I'm also a member of the National Market Traders Federation and Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) which I find helpful.

The FSB do lots of courses to help improve businesses which I have attended over the years for things like staff issues and social media courses. Speaking to other local businesses within the market has helped me, as some have been doing it a long time. My sister has her own medical aesthetics clinic in Buckshaw Village so even though it's completely different to my business she does offer me lots of guidance and help because she is a very successful business owner too. I think it runs in the family!

Can you share a memorable experience or success story from your journey as a market trader?

I have lots of fantastic, memorable experiences. Over the lockdown period a very popular Preston venue collaborated with me, and we were in the local media. I have been interviewed numerous times on local radio, Northwest Tonight and BBC national news twice, these are always exciting and interesting experiences.

Meeting Nick Park on the unveiling of our new Wallace and Gromit statue was a high point for me. I had the opportunity to meet Prince Edward and Princess Sophie of Wessex when they visited Preston Market Hall as part of the Late Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations; they even tried our local cheeses. It's not quite meeting royalty, but another excellent experience was being invited to the Town Hall last year in my capacity as a local woman in business, to celebrate International Women's Day and the naming of the new road, Edith Rigby Way.

As a successful business owner, what advice do you have for other women looking to start their own business?

I would advise any women looking to start their own business to be ready for a lot of hard work and to always have a flexible approach. Changes will arise and problems will need to be solved so you need to be open to new ways of working. Most of all to endeavour to always follow their dreams as the passion for what you are doing is what gives you drive and keeps you moving forwards.

Nikki and Nick Park at the unveiling of the Wallace and Gromit statue bench
Nikki Keefe
Nikki with tray of cheese
Nikki with staff
Nikki and Belinda in the old Market Hall
Nikki on the Flag Market
Popular graze boxes
Cheese and chutney
Assortment of cheeses
Goose eggs in basket