#TRADETALK with Carina Lepore

  1. Jas Sensi

    Jas Sensi UKBF Newcomer

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    The bakery owner who doesn't bake and reigning champion of BBC’s The Apprentice, Carina Lepore, talks all things business, the reason behind Dough Artisan Bakery, and of course COVID in the latest instalment of #TRADETALK.

    Could you tell me about yourself?

    "I am Carina Lepore and I am 32 from South London and the reigning champion of BBC's The Apprentice. I am currently the owner of Dough Artisan Bakehouse, the company I went pitching on The Apprentice.

    Why did you decide to start your own business?

    "From a young age, I have always aspired to have my own business and be my own boss.

    "When I was 18, I left education and I pretty much knew university was not going to be my cup of tea. I wanted to do something myself, so I went and opened a retail shop and started sourcing stock, learning the trade and finding out how important products are as well as being on-trend and understanding your market.

    "So I knew from a young age that was what I wanted to do but it was just finding out which field I was going to end up in."

    "I didn't know I was going to end up owning a bakery, but I believe my journey was written from day one. So now I am a bakery owner who doesn’t bake."

    Obviously, you won The Apprentice, but was that your biggest achievement so far? Or did something else beat it to the top spot?

    "Nope, that is 100% my biggest achievement in business to date. Getting on the show is an achievement in itself.

    "You just sort of apply for the show, and you don't know what you are going to get as the application process is very vigorous from the get-go. The show is tough, as you would know by watching it, but even from the interview stages before filming, it's so hard and people don't see that.

    "As soon as you get through the hunger comes out and you want to win the process, because there are 16 others who want the same dream as you, and you’re all up against each other.

    "But, yeah winning that is my biggest achievement to date and just having Karen [Brady], Lord Sugar and Claude [Littner] support you on the end of that journey is honestly life-changing."

    Have you got any regrets in business?

    "No regrets at all.

    "In life, I don't hold regrets. I am a very big believer that your path is written. My mum used to say to me a lot of the time, ‘don't stress, everything will work out and be okay and if it is not okay, it is not the end of the world.’"

    "I try to hone that in everything I do. Whatever happens, even if you fail at something, I do not see it as a regret, I always try to coast it into a learning objective."

    How would you describe your management style?

    "I am a huge believer in my team and the people I surround myself with, and I am a believer in investing in them, more so than anything else. I would lose everything else over my team. They are at the forefront of my business.

    "Even before my bakery now, I was a manager at a retail store for many years and I have always been praised for being relatable, and I like to know my people and respect them.

    "Respect is a massive thing for me and my management style. You come across many leaders and everyone is different. I try to pick and choose certain traits from all different types of leaders I have worked with and come across."

    "Adapting is very important. Not everyone's the same and not everyone works the same."

    What is the message behind 'Dough Artisan Bakehouse'?

    "Funny you ask that – my son asked me the same thing. It was a bit random. My sister and I, and my friend Craig, who is a graphic designer who runs our website, we all sat there in Costa with our notebooks out and had a list of names and potential ideas.

    "I had my heart set on 'Dough', so we sat there and started to design the logo. For me, I wanted to have a modern-day bakery, with a family twist because my dad is a very big part of the business. He is the head baker.

    "Essentially, I wanted a cool, simple name that is relatable."

    Obviously, no conversation can avoid mentioning the ongoing pandemic right now. How has that impacted your business?

    "We have found different ways to boost company morale and keep our employees energised and passionate. I love seeing my team be excited about new creations, that makes me excited. Honestly, we are just thinking about ways to keep going.

    "At Dough, we have gone to only doing takeaways, like at the start of the pandemic. We only closed once in the period and that was due to electricity problems. The first time around we were like the crux of the community. We were delivering to all the vulnerable people in the area. Us, the butchers next door and the grocers came together and worked together to help our community.

    "During the period when everyone thought things were going back to normality, I opened another branch and it was a bit strange.

    "We opened the store and it was fantastic, we got a great outdoor space. The people of the area loved it and were buying into it. It was nice to see because that is what we are about, giving back to the community, seeing smiling faces. Having that all stripped away is tough."

    "I do not want to slow down, pandemic or no pandemic. But I can tell you this, if there was no pandemic, we would have had more stores popping up on the high streets by now. I want to get a big bakery hub and be in more areas and be more present."

    Where do you see your business post-COVID?

    "Thriving, let's hope.

    "Post-COVID I would like to say the feeling of the world would be going back to supporting your local businesses again. The economy needs that push again, but obviously when it is safe."

    So, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

    "This goes back to The Apprentice actually, but the interview stages. Before the start of the show and getting through the rounds, you have the chance to meet the producers, directors and lead executives and everyone and I remember having a conversation with one of them and they would say to me ‘just be yourself’.

    "I remembered that and that's exactly what I did. Even throughout the show there were talks about ‘what is Dough?', ‘who is Dough?' and to put it simply, it's Carina.

    "I as a person have to resonate through my business and that is the biggest thing I have learnt. If I lose that, I have lost myself."

    Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is starting their own business?

    "You just have to be extremely passionate in whatever field you are working in. For example, if fashion is your field, be a master in it. Don't be afraid to reach out to other people and gain advice from people who have been there and done that, because it will stick in your brain.

    "Networking is key, reading is key. As the quote goes, knowledge is power. That is true. Don't think it is going to come easy, because I can tell you it is not. You have to constantly be on the ball.

    "Your business will become your whole world, and that is the most important thing."

    #TRADETALK is our new series of interviews with UK-based small business owners. If you’d like to be featured, get in touch with Jas on UKBF or email [email protected].