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Inside Snow: Fiona ManbyInside Snow: Fiona Manby

Inside Snow: Fiona Manby

April 2024

When Fiona Manby left university with a degree in Spanish and business, she headed for the bright lights of London. A few years later, the opportunity arose to join the family business, Manby International Sportswear. Reluctantly, she left her London life and took the position in Suffolk. Gradually she rose through the ranks to become the current owner and now runs the business alongside a small team. She says it’s the best decision she ever made, we found out why.

SIGB: Manby is a product distributor for several snowsports clothing and accessories brands, but it’s also a manufacturer of gloves, thermals, helmets, snow boots and more. Seems like you guys have all bases covered, has it always been that way?

FM: The manufacturing came first and then gradually, as we moved from a ski clothing production business into accessories, it made sense to evolve. This means we hit different audiences and different price points, and that we work with many different retailers in the UK. We have something for everybody, whether that's an expensive, high-end winter boot, or a kid’s snow onesie.

SIGB: The business was started by your parents, Maggie and Roger, back in 1976, have you always been involved?

FM: I started working here in the school holidays, telling them how to run everything properly at about 15! I then went away to university to study Spanish and business, and then I worked in London for a bit. I had hoped I'd end up living in Belize in a hammock but my parents had a change in the business personnel in 2001 and it was sort of a ‘now or never’ situation. It was a struggle to adjust at that point. It wasn't something I particularly wanted to do. I didn't want to leave my fun life in London, but actually on reflection it turned out to be a really good change for me.

SIGB: Where did you get started in the business?

FM: When you are a small business you get involved in everything. At first, I was picking and packing in the warehouse and then I was sent off to look after the sales in the west country and spent a good ten years doing that. I lived in Suffolk, so I would up-sticks for three or four weeks and head around the country with a map (no sat nav at that time). I then got involved in the marketing and sales and very slowly was given more and more responsibility within the business. I had to prove myself for sure.

SIGB: What do you think small teams need in order to succeed in business?

FM: You have to listen to each other and help each other. I like having that connection with people one-to-one, face-to-face. Running a business is often about problem solving, finding solutions, bouncing ideas off each other, and I feel that you work better when you are together.

SIGB: Do you think you need outdoor experience to work in the snowsports industry?

FM: In a perfect world, you'd love people to have that kind of connection, but it's not always that simple and sometimes it's not important. If you have a happy, dedicated team that aren't always yearning to be somewhere else then maybe that’s a good thing. At the end of the day we've got to be satisfied with working at a desk a lot of the time. I love that the business is connected to what I love, to being outdoors, but it's not always going to work that way for everybody.

SIGB: There’s not many women operating in senior management in outdoor brands and businesses. Do you think being a woman has had any impact, positive or negative, on your career?

FM: I’d like to think that I've just got on with it and we’ve achieved what we’ve achieved because I am who I am, not particularly because of, or in spite of, being a woman. I'm very lucky that I have parents who didn't treat meany differently to anyone else, my dad encouraged me all the way.

SIGB: How do you think we could we get more women into sales positions or into management roles in our industry?

FM: I think women need to feel comfortable and supported, and also that they're able to have families and still work. I don't have kids, so I can disappear around the country to do my job quite easily, or go visit a factory in the far east for ten days at the drop of a hat. But we try and make it as easy as possible for our employees to strike a good work-life balance. I've got three women who are working in the business on part-time permanent roles, they can take the full summer out for the holidays or work nine until two so they can pick up the kids. I'd rather we work together so they can contribute effectively to the business.

SIGB: What would be your best advice for somebody wanting to run their own snowsports equipment business?

FM: Work hard to prove yourself and don't give up, you’ve always got to find another gear. For us, 2010 was a really busy year because there was so much snow - it was bonkers. Like others, we did so much business that season. Just when we thought we were at the maximum that we could put in, everything started to plateau and it was then that we just had to dig in and find another level to keep things going in the right direction.

SIGB: What is the best thing about working in the UK snowsports industry?

FM: I love working with like-minded people with whom I can share stories of being in the mountains. I feel very lucky to be working in a business that is connected with the outdoors and doing the stuff I love.

Find out more about Manby International Sportswear

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