Helen Lord was born and educated in Manchester and began her career as a personal assistant at ICI in Runcorn.
She founded Used Kitchen Exchange when she realised there is a healthy market for pre-owned and ex-display kitchens – taking advantage of a bargain price when renovating her own Victorian property.
As well as value for money, Helen is a keen advocate of the environmental benefits of buying pre-owned items.
She took her business from sole trader status to full incorporation in 2016, the same year that she won the NatWest Everywoman Award 2016.
She lives with her family in Cheshire.
What started you on the road to success?
I have been a fan of re-use sites for many years, so when renovating our Victorian home I took full advantage of the savings of buying pre-owned. This led to us buying a real bargain: a used Clive Christian kitchen from eBay, which was originally £140,000, for only £5,000. Despite limited experience we managed to get a beautiful kitchen for a fraction of the cost.
The financial and environmental savings that buying pre-owned delivers gave me the idea to set up Used Kitchen Exchange.
Did you have a hero when you were younger?
As a teenager, I always felt an affinity towards the folklore surrounding Maid Marian and Robin Hood. She was portrayed as independent, head strong, and equal to any man, all while unapologetically embracing her femininity.
As a young girl, I thought she was everything a woman should be. My oldest daughter is called Marianne, so this has obviously stayed with me.
Do you have one now?
Not anyone famous – my heroes are the people I live and work with, they put up with me after all!
My children are intelligent, free thinkers who I learn from daily. My husband Phil is incredibly supportive and always has my back, and the team who work with me make me so proud. They believe in our business and do their utmost to provide the best service possible. I am extremely fortunate to have this.
Do you get bored easily?
My life is pretty full on, so I don’t have time to get bored. If I’m not working, I’m thinking. I have a notepad by the side of the bed just in case inspiration strikes, and often record my ideas on my phone when I’m out and about.
I genuinely enjoy the challenge of improving both myself and my business. My issue will be when I retire and am not constantly thinking about work, so maybe come back to me then with this one.
Who do you admire in business and in life generally?
One thing I struggle with is maintaining a good work/life balance. I really do love what I do, yet it can be all absorbing, so I admire people who manage to maintain a healthy lifestyle, go to the gym and still find time for their hobbies.
I also wish I was someone who loved to get up early in the morning… I am definitely not THAT person!
How would you describe your leadership style?
I hope to inspire. I am self-starter and, following a difficult childhood, mental health and financial problems, I hope I am able to understand life’s struggles. I try to maintain empathy while being constructive, knowledgeable and motivational. I was once described as a considerate extrovert, and I’ll take that.
What are your ambitions?
My ambitions have changed with age, but my personal drivers haven’t. I have always been motivated by success and making a difference, and while success can mean many different things, for me it always begins and ends at home.
What qualities do you look for in a colleague?
For me, belief in our company’s core values and ethos is a must-have, particularly as a company that’s doing good for the environment. Having people who are truly passionate about what they’re doing can make all the difference.
A team that can bring out the best in each other and support each other will always make for a better working environment. Colleagues who stick to the washing-up rota are always a bonus too.
Do you think business is valued by society?
Every society has an economy, so business is always valued. I feel a more challenging question is whether business values society.
Businesses can only be said to be truly valuing society, and by extension, our planet, when they consider the economic, environmental and social aspects of their activities.
This is one reason why I am proud my business is B-Corp pending. The B-Corp movement is accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and find a more inclusive and sustainable economy. This makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Here’s a magic wand – what are you going to do?
How many times will I be able to use it? (NB: always check the terms and conditions before you proceed.)
What’s your favourite time of day?
This definitely depends on where I am. If I’m on holiday, then it’s siesta time on the beach with a jug of sangria and a good book. At home, it’s the luxury of a lazy Sunday morning in bed, and in the office, it’s close of play on a Friday at the end of a successful week. The last one just feels amazing.
Do you believe in luck?
Yes and No. I believe in probability.
Luck is about being in the right place at the right time, but you can increase the probability of you being there.
My most successful business deals have been developed through good networking. To me, effective networking is making business ‘friends’ – don’t just ask about their business, get to know them as people and build a great rapport. I was always told to use my ears and mouth in the ratio that nature gave them to me, and I believe that listening is an essential skill to improve the probability of success.
Used Kitchen Exchange is definitely taking me on an exciting journey, and I feel I haven’t reached my destination yet. We are a disruptive business that is changing the way people think about their kitchens.
Building awareness and changing minds will always take time, but for now I’m enjoying the ride.