Christy Foster likes being underestimated.

Online4baby’s origins date back to 1987. Foster founded the business with her sister Cheryl and has grown it into a £44m turnover business with a £4m EBITDA – all with 36 staff.

She doesn’t do vouchers, discounts or debt and after making the decision to take her manufacturing in-house, nearly 40 per cent of the business is now own brand.

Foster, who took part in a recent ‘What is the key to sustainable growth’ roundtable with MHA Moore and Smalley, takes straight-talking to a whole new level.

A lot of her approach to business was forged by her childhood.

Along with her sister Cheryl, she was raised in Oldham by a single mother and quickly showed her entrepreneurial talent.

By the age of 12, she was working on a market stall before and after school each day to earn extra money.

“I used to walk to school to save money on my bus fare,” she recalled.

She also excelled in sport at school but her ADHD, dyslexia and autism impacted on her academically.

“I couldn’t read at school and didn’t get one qualification,” she said.

Five of her  family went to Oxbridge but Foster applied her ‘crazy brain’ and her formidable buying skills to the world of business.

MHA Moore and Smalley RT

As eBay took off Online4baby, which is based in Chadderton, Oldham, focused on online sales and became one of the largest eBay baby stores in Europe.

“We sell baby products from prams to cots,” she said. “Basically anything to do with children.”

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Today Online4baby has grown into one of the leading UK eCommerce baby products businesses and is on track to become a £100m-turnover concern over the next three years.

“All our stuff is sold online,” she said. “We don’t work with any affiliates or third party websites. We don’t do vouchers. We don’t do discounts. I work differently to everybody else. I try and sell bigger with more value. I call myself ‘the Bundle Queen’.”

The average customer order value is £156 and Foster knows her numbers.

“I look at everything from a logical data point of view,” she said. “I used to go off my gut instinct when making decisions but now I look at the numbers. I can see problems in my business just by looking at my numbers.”

Last September she undertook a review of all their overheads and saved £1.5m from their cost base.

“We started by looking at the biggest spend to the lowest spend,” she said. “If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it. I don’t believe in cheap credit. I’m very sensible.

“All my relationships are based on trust. My word is my bond.”

She’s rebuffed countless approaches to buy Online4baby.

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“At the moment I’m not ready,” she said. “I think there’s a bigger number out there. I’m setting it up for a big sale value and I know what I need to do.”

Foster has led a digital transformation of the business, including a strapline ‘Power to Parents’ and a new-look website.

The company has a big focus on customer service, evidenced by its 4.6* rating on TrustPilot with over 30,000 reviews and the promise to  customers to speak to a  ‘real person’ every day between 10am-5pm.

Foster is also proud to be a female leader and has 50 per cent female representation on her board.

“I see it as my role to inspire other women to be strong and nurture their own talents,” she said.

  • Christy Foster was joined on the roundtable by Howard Jackson and Phil Denton, of EvaluateEd; Craig Smith, of EcoRenew; Chris Swallow, of Creamline; Stephen Solademi, of SOS Creative; Mark Blackhurst, of Digital Next; Naomi Timperley, of Tech North Advocates; Paul Corcoran, of Agent; Janine Smith, of Business Growth Hub; Akhtar Zahid, of Budget Greeting Cards, Andy Feeke, partner and corporate finance at MHA Moore and Smalley; and Sean Mitchell, partner, MHA Moore and Smalley