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RBC highlights the innovation and creativity of small business owners across the Caribbean. Their ability to adapt to change and overcome challenges is a testament to the strength of Caribbean people.

After witnessing the increasing demand for high-quality, brand-name clothing, Warren Ramjohn, a former welder and fabricator, started The Vault Clothing and Accessories store in 2009. Soon after, his wife, Cindy Villafana-Ramjohn, left her job as a human resources analyst to join him in managing the business.

After a year of running the business from home and against the advice of family and friends, they took the risk and opened a storefront boutique during the recession in 2011.

Warren and Cindy share their advice on what has helped The Vault continue to thrive, even during challenging times.

Always deliver excellent customer service both in-person and virtually

Cindy advises business owners to make customer service their number one priority by going the extra mile to accommodate each customer and make them feel comfortable and valued. Some of the ways in which she does this are by greeting every customer, offering personalized assistance, replying to all messages and comments on social media and even video calling customers who are unable to visit the store. She ends by saying, “You’re not in business only to get sales but to build a strong clientele.”

As more businesses open and online shopping has become easily accessible, competition in the retail market continues to increase. Cindy and Warren have always focused on understanding and meeting the needs of their customers which, they believe, sets them apart.

“We’re not just a business that sells clothing, we take pride in providing excellent customer service,” she says. Cindy expresses her gratitude, stating that even in the midst of a pandemic they have managed to keep the business afloat. While customers often comment on the high quality of clothing sold at the store, Cindy believes that the service they provide — whether in person or online — has resulted in a loyal following of clients over the years. She added that they still have customers who have shopped at The Vault since it opened.

Your skills and knowledge from previous jobs are transferable to your own business

Cindy has been able to apply her past experience in human resources to communicate and work with clients while Warren has transferred his knowledge from his previous business to oversee logistical aspects such as sourcing, purchasing and importing the clothing and accessories. Cindy adds that along with using their skills to their advantage, it’s their constant drive and ambition which make the business better and stronger.

Stay up-to-date with current trends and be willing to adapt your business practices

Covid-19 has resulted in a surge in online shopping. Noticing this trend, Cindy introduced a secure e-commerce platform that enabled them to sell their products online. Currently, 90% of their sales are conducted online and the products are delivered to customers via post.

Cindy advises, “Don’t take anything for granted, be willing to adapt because business and customers’ needs are always evolving.” Access to goods, delayed shipping and increasing import costs are just some of the issues that Cindy didn’t anticipate but had to work around. While it’s good to have set systems in place, she sees adaptability as a necessary quality for all business owners.

Have short and long-term plans for your business

Uncertain economic activity can halt the planning process especially for a business such as The Vault where purchasing revolves around considerations such as social events and seasonality. Nonetheless, Cindy advises that planning ahead ought to form a crucial aspect of any business. While long-term planning may not always be feasible, short-term plans should be established.

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

Owning a business can be all-consuming. Cindy emphasises that it’s important for her to remember the things that matter most such as her well-being and spending time with her family. She has two young children and says, “Everything in my life is just as, if not more, important than the business.” When asked about maintaining a healthy work-life balance, Cindy laughs and adds that she would sometimes relax by binge-watching shows on Netflix late at night, enjoying a cup of coffee, exercising and reading.

This couple has been able to combine their individual skills to efficiently manage their small business for more than 12 years. With their focus on customer service and their willingness to adapt, they have kept their business afloat even in the midst of an ever-changing economy and evolving customer needs. The success of The Vault is a true testament to small business resilience.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions,