A passion for sewing and lessons from her dressmaker mother motivated Fiona Larkins to move from retail management to running her own clothing alteration business at the tender age of 24. In 2024, her city-based business is celebrating 30 years, and still going strong.

Location, location, location

Armed with a can-do attitude, Fiona identified a need in the market for a clothing alteration business that provided a little more when she founded A1 Alterations in 1994.

“I had a younger-minded approach to how clothes could be styled and worn and I altered them as such,” Fiona explained.

“I also took a genuine interest in my clients and meeting what they desired and how they imagined their outfits to look like.”

“The premises for my business was very important as it needed to be open and approachable and not tucked away up narrow staircases or something similar.” After searching for a location that fit the bill, Fiona opened her shopfront in Perth’s Carillon Arcade on an initial six-month lease.

Revenue is not the only reward

Fiona said that making lots of money was never the main goal when opening her own business, but it seemed to flow in naturally.

“I felt that if you love what you do and the conditions are right, all will be provided,” Fiona said.

“Along my business journey I have met many beautiful clients and celebrities.”

“With certain clients I have built a trust that has progressed from when they came to me with their first school ball dress, to their first job outfits then wedding attire.”

“I treasure this trust and our ongoing relationships.”

You can always benefit from good advice

Fiona credits another part of her business success to never being afraid to take advice from people she respects in business, believing that there is always something to be gained from their input. This includes turning to the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) for ongoing support during her business lifecycle.

“The SBDC has helped me in many ways with their practical seminars and hands on advice.”

“Their response is immediate to your needs, and they have pointed me in the right direction when I needed it.”

“To be honest, sometimes my questions seem very simple but knowing that they listen and provide reliable answers is reassuring.”

Photo of Fiona Larkins, owner of A1 Alterations, sitting in front of a sewing machine.
Fiona Larkins, owner of A1 Alterations, is celebrating 30 years in business.

Seeking support during times of adversity

After enjoying 27 years in her prized Carillon Arcade location, Fiona’s business (along with all other tenants) was faced with the disruption of receiving just 30 days’ notice to relocate, following a decision that the aging shopping centre was no longer safe for tenants and the public. The timing coincided with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail industry.

“Tears, stress and all the uncertainties of the future flashed before my eyes,” said Fiona.

“I was unsure where to go, whether I could do it in such a short time and who I could call on for help.”

“I was not even sure that A-1 Alterations could survive the relocation as our place in the Carillon was such a business strong point.”

Fortunately, Fiona was able to secure a new location for her business in nearby, historic Trinity Arcade and retain her four employees. She believes that this testing period drew out a level of resilience she never knew she had.

“I had to save A1 Alterations for the livelihood of my staff and for the loyal customers who depended on us,” Fiona elaborated.

“I was open to all help that was offered by clients, friends and family and of course, the SBDC,” she said.

Fiona said that her SBDC adviser provided invaluable help in reading and interpreting the termination notice for her Carillon location.

“When I opened my doors one week after transitioning to my new Trinity Arcade tenancy, it was the best feeling,” Fiona declared.

“My advice to others is to never under-estimate what you can do, when you are hit with a sudden upheaval like mine, if you really love your business.”

“My future plans are just continuing to do what I love.”

More information

For more information on support available that assisted Fiona’s business, see the following information.

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Small business stories
02 May 2024