Strictly Dancewear! A thriving Devon Business in Newton Abbot Devon
PUBLISHED: 12:35 18 March 2011 | UPDATED: 16:51 20 February 2013
From her office overlooking Newton Abbot railway station in Devon , Anne Walker, founder and president of International Dance Supplies, shares a few secrets of her success with Devon Life's Malcolm Twigg
From her office overlooking Newton Abbot railway station, Anne Walker, founder and president of International Dance Supplies, shares a few secrets of her success with Malcolm Twigg
When you set up your own dance school at the age of 17 youre either displaying the supreme confidence of youth or pursuing a dream. It certainly isnt a foregone conclusion that you will be a success in life, but its a pretty good indicator. Its a bit of a high-kick from young dance teacher to the boss of a company selling dancewear on the international stage, but Anne Walker, who heads up the enterprising International Dance Supplies (IDS) based in Newton Abbot, managed it quite well.
I opened the dance school (working from five church halls in Liverpool to start with) because I was furthering my own professional dance teacher training and needed the income to pay for it. The obvious way to do that was to start a school and teach, so I did, Anne told me. Id been in love with dance ever since my mother took me to the ballet to see Sleeping Beauty at the age of eight. From the early days I wanted to teach. I used to stand my friends in line and teach them ballet exercises, and then wed put on little performances. Ive been very lucky. Dance was always my hobby and it became my life at a very early age. Annes dance school took off quite well largely by word of mouth and by the age of 21 she had her own premises. But it didnt end there. There was already another career waiting in the wings.
At that time there was a dearth of dancewear. The choice in leotards was either black, black, or royal blue if you were lucky and most of it didnt fit very well. At the shows I used to put on for my school I liked the finale to feature the pupils in different coloured leotards, so I had to make them myself. Parents and friends, who were also dance teachers, liked them and asked me to make some for their own daughters or students, and it just snowballed from there. A friend and I went into business in her attic bedroom making leotards with a secondhand overlocker I bought for 50, with a loan from my mother. Running both businesses together, the manufacturing element taking shape as Harlequin Dancewear in 1978, it became increasingly apparent that it should be an entirely separate entity from the dance school.
Eventually Anne married a Devon man and moved away from Liverpool, although she commuted for around six years to keep the businesses going. The dance school is still running today, although under different ownership, but the fledgling garment production business for friends and local dance schools, which gave birth to Harlequin Dancewear, was fast transforming itself into a commercial retail business and a mail order supply business which is what it is today. All the dancewear production still takes place in UK, Anne is proud to say, although costumes and accessories come from overseas.
The current vogue for dancing programmes on TV has been brilliant for business: dance schools are booming and they all want garments and accessories. So what about Strictly Come Dancing itself? Would Anne like to take part? I would love to be able to dance like that, she told me. All my training has been in dance for theatre but if I had my time again I would make sure I did ballroom and Latin training as well.
Ive always been passionate about what I do. Ive always had a goal
Last year, Anne won the First Woman award presented by the CBI but, characteristically, credited her staff for the honour, all of whom contribute to making the business work. The company won the Mail Order Industry Catalogue award last year as well. So what is it that has made IDS such a success, I asked Anne, luck or hard work? A bit of both, she said, but mainly I put it down to the fact that Im lazy. What I mean by lazy is that I always look for a simple way of doing things its the easiest way to make something happen. And Ive always been passionate about what I do. Ive always had a goal; you cant achieve anything without having a dream. I have a motto: If you reach for the stars, all you get are the stars but if you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in.
Anne has her own little galaxy of international customers, which is being added to all the time. Her latest venture is to try to break the market in America with a line of dance accessories something that is in short supply over there apparently. And, if ever Anne is tempted to forget the early days, theres a permanent reminder at the top of the office stairs of how things started... her restored overlocker. From a dropped stitch or two, big things can happen if youre lazy enough.
Where do you like to walk?
Along the sea wall from Holcombe to Teignmouth.
How do you relax? Walking, and spending time in our beautiful cliff-top garden. We have more than five acres so there is always a lot to do.
Why choose Newton Abbot for IDS HQ? Its a great place to run a business, with easy access to road, rail and air links.
I enjoy a meal at The Elephant in Torquay and The Castle in Holcombe.
Favourite day out?
Salcombe or Blackpool Sands.
The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, because it just proves that you really can achieve anything you believe in.