Karen Sheppard


My name is Karen Sheppard and I own a company called People First Mobility based in Skegness which is a retail shop selling mobility and disability aids and a workshop / warehouse out of town where we repair, and service must makes of mobility scooters.

The business was started in 2002 as a partnership. Unfortunately, I suffered severe depression and anxiety in 2013-2014 and in 2015 my marriage broke down. After seeking counselling and realising that I had been subject to emotional abuse without knowing it I decided I had to get stronger and
with counselling I started to stand up for myself.

When the marriage broke down, I had no hesitation in purchasing the rest of the shares off my ex so I could be the sole owner as I had a vision and a passion for the business and had so many ideas to make it a success. My mum died suddenly in 1999 and before she passed away we had been talking
about something that she had been using at the local supermarket to help her get around the shop.

It was a mobility scooter and she had used it because she couldn’t walk very far or around the supermarket. Looking in the local paper they cost around about £5000 at the time and she talked about how she would like one to go down to the shops as she had asthma and found it very difficult to walk very far.

When I see the smiles on my customers faces when they can finally get out and about and go to places even to the hairdressers or to the supermarket I think of my mum and how she would have been so happy with one. I give service to customers as if I would want somebody to have treated my parents. My father passed away 10 weeks after my mum and at the time my sons
were only 3yrs and 1 yrs old. I lost my brother in 1990, when he was only 36yrs in a tragic accident so a lot of the time I have felt very alone and had to battle through. You find an inner strength at times and that keeps you going.

One month after completing the purchase of my ex’s shares I was diagnosed with having breast cancer. I never smoked, wasn’t overweight, didn’t drink a lot and was fit and well with no family history so to be told I had Cancer was a massive shock to me. I underwent 8 rounds of chemotherapy , an operation and 23 sessions of radiotherapy. I was very poorly during this time, I had a few stays in hospital but every day I would FaceTime the staff in the shop and continue to push the business forward. I had been given an opportunity to fully have control of the business and I wanted to make the business a success.

I think it was having the business that kept me going through the treatment, it gave me something to focus on every day. No matter how poorly I felt I would FaceTime the staff in the shop and ask them what problems they had if any, did they need any help. l carried on doing the orders, I did all the accounts, the paperwork, weekly wages and VAT returns, even while going through chemo. I went into the shop whenever I could, you have some bad weeks where you are not allowed to be with people, but as soon as I could I was back in work
almost full time. I now work 7 days a week and it has not yet been 3 years since the end of the main treatment.

I am still on medication daily which has its side effects but I like to be busy. In the last couple of years I have won many awards including Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday, Small Business Saturday award which took me to 10 Downing St, I have won customer care in the local Business Awards and been finalist for customer care, independent retailer and lifetime achievement
Awards and won Business Person of the Year in the local awards. I’ve also been recognised by Jacqueline Gold #wow on Twitter and other awards on Twitter. Then I was recognised by Lady Karren Brady of the strong female leadership #sfl in February of 2019 and became the first ever winner of this award.

At the beginning of Last year I completed a retail management course and at
the end of the year I completed the iDEA Bronze award, Bronze champion, Silver and Silver champion badges with iDEA from Buckingham Palace. I have just had the opportunity to do my first ever public speaking event promoting the iDEA badges at Digifest with Jisc.

A few years ago, I would never have dreamt that I could sit in front of people and give any kind of talk. I find it very hard in my business at the moment because it’s still a male orientated business and they assume that as a female you can have no mechanical knowledge.

A lot of Sales Reps from companies will come into the shop and go straight to the male member of staff assuming that I am either an employee or that
they are my Husband If I could give anybody any advice who wanted to start their own business, it would be to try and find something to do that you like because you are spending so many hours on it you need to enjoy what
you are doing. Something that gives you a feeling of satisfaction.

Stay committed, stay motivated, stay positive, you will have tough times, there will be times when you wish you could wave a magic wand and you have to work hard and sort things yourself. It isn’t easy being your own boss you
come home at 5pm, if you can get away on time, and you can’t just sit there and put TV on and not worry about anything until the next day, you are constantly working , constantly thinking about the business, but the rewards are also fantastic, having a sense of achievement of getting things done
of doing things your way have being your own boss.

My proudest and most successful moment to date……. I have a few of those now, I have beat depression, I have beat cancer, I have turned the business around, won many awards, I have been to 10 Downing St and I’ve met many many fantastic people along the journey and that’s all in the last
three years. No matter what life throws at you always try to look for the positive. I’ve never once thought why me? I’ve just dealt with everything that I’ve been handed and fought hard and carried on climbing the ladder. I have another couple of years to go before they say I’m in remission, but I
live every day and every decision I make I think what is the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t do that, would I regret it and I try to challenge myself every day. I try to treat people as I would want to be treated and try to help people where I can. I always believe that there is always someone
having a worse day and if I can try to help or bring a smile to their day then I will.