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International Women’s Day 2022 Profile: Ausra Miksiene

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we spoke to Ausra Miksiene, who has worked in the MBE Summertown store in Oxford for ten years and recently took over the ownership of the franchise.

Ausra, who was born and educated in Lithuania, graduated from university with a degree in physics and computer science. She then had several jobs, taking up journalism and then later becoming a project manager, before moving to England about 15 years ago.

“I was trying hard to learn English, and I found myself working in the MBE Summertown store,” she explains. “I had always wanted to build a career for myself and I really enjoyed working there, so I decided to stay.” She eventually became manager of Summertown and went on to buy the franchise (which also includes the Headington store) in December 2021.

Asked what she likes about MBE, Ausra explains: “It’s such a diverse business with so much to offer, and it’s never boring. The variety of products and services is amazing. One minute you’re shipping something and the next you’re designing something.”

With two thriving stores to run, Ausra relies on her loyal and knowledgeable staff. “I have a team of seven across the two stores, and they’re brilliant. All of them have worked for me for at least eight years. It can be challenging to manage people, but it motivates you to do well and make sure your staff are looked after and happy. Our credo at MBE in Oxford is that we work to live – we don’t live to work.”

Ausra’s own life is certainly busy outside of work. After becoming a mother (her children are aged 4 and 7), she started looking into her heritage and this led to her opening a Lithuanian language school in Oxford, where she does some teaching at weekends alongside the other tutors.

Broad focus

Each of Ausra’s stores is different in terms of its local clientele and neighbourhood, and each has a slightly different focus. “Summertown is unique,” she explains. “It’s a very upmarket, affluent area and our clients are very engaging. There’s a lot of support for local businesses and the sense of community is particularly strong.

“We concentrate our expertise here on design and print, from wide format down to business cards. But there’s also a steady demand for shipping and virtual address services. The high street itself is very well used by local people and there’s good footfall.”

In Headington, the focus is on pack and ship expertise, and Ausra offers MBE’s bespoke Auction Logistics service to customers of the local auction houses. There’s also good demand for printing – particularly from small businesses. Ausra is able to tailor her services to the needs of the communities she serves, but she also plays to the strengths of her team: “They all have their expertise zone – from customer service to design, print, packing and shipping.”

New opportunities

Ausra enjoys being part of the wider MBE team. “I’ve always had great support from head office. They are interested in my success. I feel that I am in business for myself, but not by myself.” She knows there is always someone to call on for advice if she needs it: “This is one of the benefits of a franchise – they help you in every way.”  

She is currently looking at how to minimise the impact of almost two years of Covid-19 on the business. “We were definitely affected by the pandemic. For example, student shipping and printing went down because all the students were doing distance learning. But on the upside, we gained a lot business from people who suddenly found themselves working from home. We also introduced a few great solutions to challenges that have come out of Covid. For example, we started creating plastic menus for local restaurants that could be sanitized easily so they didn’t have to keep throwing everything away.”

Now that restrictions have been lifted, Ausra hopes to see more faces in her stores. The surge in small businesses and working from home looks set to continue, and she enjoys showing local firms, freelancers and start-ups how her business can help theirs.

“People still want to come in and look at samples or talk about print, and we’re looking forward to welcoming even more customers now,” she says. “We’re always looking at new opportunities – how to grow and offer something different. We need to think of other ways to support the community.”

No obstacles to success

Ausra is glad that being a woman in business is not unusual now. “In some parts of the world, there is still a long way to go. But in progressive society, gender, race and background are no longer obstacles to success. We have shifted our focus and we now celebrate people’s ability, whoever they are.”
Her advice to other women who want to set up their own business is clear: “Go for it! Work hard, be smart and be successful. My top tip is to take any opportunities that come your way.”

She is looking forward to the future. “What is coming must be better than what has gone. I know can flex the mix of services MBE offers to meet new needs and opportunities.”

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