Housewife to handbag guru

Marian Starrs is an advertisement for the benefits of someone setting up their own business. A glint in her eye, an ever-present ghost of a smile playing on her lips and with plenty of stock at her disposal, the Omagh lady has gone from housewife to handbag guru in under 12 months, throwing off the shackles of convention and establishing what has proven to be a fun, worthwhile and extremely viable business.

Situated in the bosom of Omagh Enterprise, Handbag Couture is thriving and this is all down to hard work, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit on the part of the former Clogher native.

She loves being her own boss, she says and what is more, her love of handbags is as plain as the proverbial nose on her face. In short, Marian is testament to the fact that businesses can beat the economic downturn. “Things are going good,” she smiles, surrounded by her stock, mother hen-like circled by brightly painted eggs.

“We’ve loads going on between parties and our gift-wrapping – but it’s the only way to be.”
A self-confessed handbag fanatic (who keeps a comprehensive collection of her own at home), Marian has only been in business since last September but from the look and feel of her premises, this could easily have been a September last decade.

“How did I start? Well, for years and years, handbags were my thing, my passion,” she explained. Things were that serious, I was being given handbags as gifts after baby-sitting – for example. For years as well I’d talked about doing the shop thing, or even just concentrating on parties, but then I just decided to go for it.

“What I did then was decide to go through the Go For It programme and I have to say, I couldn’t have done it without them. I rang and booked the course thinking, ‘what have I got to lose?’ and here we are.”

Marian also emphasised that the market research she carried out prior to the Go For It programme was more than beneficial, not least in opening her eyes to the cut and thrust of the handbag industry.

Establishing contacts with wholesalers, researching styles and prices and generally familiarizing herself with the concept of bringing handbag couture to the female half of the Omagh populace was, she says, invaluable.

“I knew the concept of handbag parties existed too, but the only place I could find that offered them was in Scotland. They’re an American concept called Push Parties and to be honest, they are proving really popular.

“Basically, I bring around 50 handbags to a person’s house and the person who hosts the party gets a free bag. It’s like a girls’ night in and people have a few drinks and sometimes a buffet – the ultimate girls’ night in. “I started in September last year but things didn’t really get going until October but by then I was thinking, ‘what have I done?’ I was really in at the deep end and things were so busy, especially with the parties. But thankfully I managed to get through it, even though I was a bit naive.”

Also offering a range of evening or clutch bags, Marian and Handbag Couture include a service where they will find you (the lady), that perfect evening bag to go with your dress or pair of shoes – a mission which is easier said that done, she adds.

However, come January and February this year and Marian was beginning to think the initial rush on handbags had petered itself out.

Admittedly, the worst winter in living memory didn’t help.

“The winter was bad,” she smiles, “And I was like, ‘wow, this could be all done by the end of February’. Thankfully, things picked up again and the handbag parties picked up too and we’re still here.”

Whilst she is very appreciative to Omagh Business Complex for their hospitality and help over the past 10 months, Marian would like to think a bespoke premises in the town centre could become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

Currently she’s looking at marking her first birthday, albeit in a low-key manner and she also has some offers lined up for Christmas; then there’s the imminent arrival of a website and not forgetting the all important parties.

“I’m trying everything at the moment and the website is one thing which will be happening
in the next few weeks, and then there’s Facebook as well. We also offer late night opening for people who can’t make it in during the week or during the day.

“It’s very exciting and I have to say, I love it. I love to see the way someone’s face lights up when they come into the shop and see the handbag that they want. It’s great satisfaction for me that I’m on the right track.

“I’m just going along month by month and to be honest, I didn’t think I’d make the first year, but there you go, I even surprise myself. “Parties are already booking in for September and October and people are ringing all the time to see what weekends are free. The gift-wrapping service is also proving really popular so it’s going really well. Hopefully, it’ll keep going and going. Fingers crossed.”

For more on Marian’s handbag parties contact 028 8224 9494 ext 250. Handbag Couture is situated at Unit B23, Omagh Enterprise Company, Gortrush Ind. Estate. You can also view her range on Facebook.