Swiss-born, Italian-raised Alex Morris came to the UK in 1994 for a year-out but never made it back home. She moved to the North East in 1997, and says the region now feels, “very much like home.” Over the past 17 years, Alex has forged an impressive career as an entrepreneur and a sales and marketing consultant.
For her latest project, which officially launched at the end of the March, Alex is heading a network of creative professionals known under the brand name, Plainsight Consultancy. The project, which has been 18 months in the planning, brings together North East-based freelancers whose combined skills are managed by Alex, to fulfil a client’s individual needs.
Alex became a business owner at just 22 years old when she opened a fashion boutique in Hexham.
“I was in Hexham for a couple of years but what I could do was quite limited in terms of the fashion I could sell,” she explains. Alex therefore relocated her boutique to the cosmopolitan suburb of Jesmond. It was fortuitous timing as Foot-and-Mouth hit weeks later, devastating the economies of market towns across the UK.
Being based in Jesmond allowed Alex to stock the fashion brands that she wanted. The business grew and the boutique moved to larger premises on Clayton Road. While Alex narrowly missed the devastating knock-on effects of Food-and-Mouth, there was no avoiding the 2008 credit crunch and the UK’s worse recession for decades.
“The whole of the retail and fashion industry was in crisis,” says Alex. “There was nothing anyone could do.”
Personally, Alex was also going through a divorce and so, when someone offered her a “lot of money” to vacate her prime Jesmond retail unit, she took it. “I wanted an easier life and to downsize,” recalls Alex. “I also wanted to return to
Italy.” But a home-coming wasn’t to be when the job she had arranged back in Italy fell through six week before she was due to fly. It was 2009, and Alex found herself with no shop and no job.
“I started putting my CV out there after 11 years of being my own boss. It felt very weird,” she admits. Alex was then approached by Maurice Duffy from Global Blackswan who was about to embark on some retail ventures and needed a project manager. She was perfect for the job and after meeting Maurice, was hired as a business development consultant.
Alex was with Blackswan and GFI Consulting for a year before being contacted by Julian Blades from North East fashion retailer Jules B. “Julian was wanting someone to look after the operation of his shops, since the internet side of the business had grown so much,“ Alex explains. She became area manager for the Jules B stores and helped put more infrastructure into the outlets and then moved on to develop a marketing department for the retail side of the company.
It was while at Jules B that Alex decided to take action on an inspiration provided a couple of years previously by Mary Portas and her TV series Queen of Shops. “I was watching what Mary Portas was doing and thought, ‘I know what’, ‘I could have told them that,’” she recalls.
Alex formed a vision to become a freelance retail consultant and, having previously studied a degree in theology, returned to university to complete an MA in Media and Cultural Studies. “I had 15 years of retail experience but I wanted to have a qualification that would endorse this,” she explains.
Alex combined her study with freelance consultancy work, registering the business name, Plainsight Consultancy. She initially worked on a number of large-scale, time-consuming projects but it was when Alex was invited to a networking event of creative freelancers that set Plainsight Consultancy on a new course, as Alex explains: “Everyone was sat in a circle talking about their creative expertise, projects they had worked on and the clients that they had. “When it came to my turn, I had to say, ‘I don’t do any of that… I just ‘make things happen’. “But that was exactly what the group needed; someone focused on selling their specialist talents to clients.
Plainsight Consultancy, a collective of freelancers offering a range of creative services including branding, marketing, digital, design, advertising, film, animation and photography – project managed by Alex – was born. “I’m kind of the face of the business,” explains Alex. “I do the sales and the account management side of business and then I get a team together depending on what the client needs.”
Plainsight Consultancy currently has 11 specialist creative freelancers, all of whom have their own businesses, but combine on jobs as needed. Many of the freelancers have experience working on large scales projects for giants such as Nike and Adidas and are highly skilled in their particular areas.
“They are the best at what they do,” explains Alex. “They’ve all worked at agencies in the past and have started out on their own. “The problem is that most jobs need a varied skillset. At Plainsight Consultancy, I can collect the right freelancers for pretty much any job.”
With no work premises or costly overheads, Alex is keen to stress the financial benefits to clients – opening up services to SMEs that may otherwise be priced out of the market.
Alex is now focused on getting work in for the network of freelancers – using the personal service she has been developing since she first opened a business at 22. “I’m a big believer that people buy from people,” she explains. “It’s all about customer service and building a relationship with a client. “That will never change.”
Written by Alison Cowie for and on behalf of North East Times Magazine.