With the exception of a few years in property development I have always been in business. My father was a baker and from the age of 4, I was serving my own private clientele, so retail was very much a part of my upbringing.
I followed a career in housing and enjoyed a number of years as a regional development manager for a housing association. However self employment was in my blood and when an opportunity presented itself I through myself into a new business venture in the telecommunications industry and was part of and then leading a team which grew a company from nothing to £50 million. An exciting rollercoaster of an experience which taught me a great deal about the business world and whilst you may think there is little similarity between the communications industry and our present business, at the core, are customers and the level of service is crucial to success.
Around 12 years ago I looked to make a complete change. In my business life there had been little time for hobbies but one I had taken an interest in was flower arranging. I found creating something from a few flowers and twigs to be a rewarding experience and was surprised when people wanted to buy them from me. An entrepreneur at heart I took the hobby to a new level with private tuition which landed me in a florist shop. I thought dried flowers were interesting, but the minute I touched fresh I completely fell in love with them. The variety, the colours, the form and the perfume were fascinating and I realised that to have real access to them you had to own a florist shop, so I enrolled on a part time course at the local college and bought a shop. I loved my shop and had 8 happy years there. Along the way I bought and sold a few more shops, started one from scratch, but realised that it was a difficult business to build alone and that I was not getting everything I wanted from the business. I decided to go back to one shop and set about selling my second. I looked at businesses for sale to see what was going on in the market although I need not have bothered as someone who knew the business wanted to buy it. But at this point I had looked and instead of looking to sell my business I spotted one to buy. I am usually quite measured in my actions but as soon as I saw it I knew that I wanted to buy it. Even a few words of the ad and I was certain. I arranged a viewing and put in an offer before the week was out. I was familiar with hand made soap, I had sold many brands in my shop and had tried to make it before. What sold me on this business was the quality of the soap it was exceptional by far the best
I had tried. The business was just the equipment, the recipies and a small mail order base and a couple of trade accounts. The packaging was none existent and the company had traded mainly on craft markets which in 2004 -2006 was very popular.
I developed a strategy to sell to the trade which involved designing new packaging and increasing the product range.
If I wanted to learn to make something I went on a course, read, and took on board private mentoring. Quickly I learnt about candle making and found this sat very well with our range. The scents transferred very well and within a few weeks of learning the art I came up with a complete range which we took to the Autumn Fair. I had only made less than 100 and was astounded to sell over 3000. Quickly we scaled up production from one pan to waxmelters and ever since we have continued to expand the range.
I had always had a fascination with bath melts, again I learnt how to make them and immediately launched our full range with a beautiful stand and this became a very important part of our core business.
We developed a range of dead- sea salts and to make our offering more gifty and a bit different we came up with the bath tea bag a simple concept but one which really caught on. At present this is one of our fastest selling lines.
I could go on with every new product from room diffusers to face masks to our newly launched wax melts and our vast array of gifts.
What we do is innovate, it is not sufficient to come up with just a new design of box, we are interested in new products and continue to develop ideas all the time.
Packaging is very important to us and we have a wonderful designer who draws every design we have from first principles to ensure we have a wonderful library to choose from. A personal breakthrough for me was finding someone who could put what I was imagining into a format that could be understood and used. We have always used local packaging companies as consider this to be an important uk industry which needs supporting.
Our team of staff our all full-time permanently employed, again an important part of being in business for me. I am not at the stage in my career of doing everything for the least possible cost, it is important to employ local people and give career opportunities to people who are creative and excel in using their hands rather than a computer!
We decided in 2013 to open a flag ship store and we wanted to be able to speak to customers directly, have feedback on new products be able to give our trade customers a permanent showroom and try and come up with ways to increase our business which could help theirs.
I was fortunate at having a family member, my daughter in law, who was experienced in retail management and the perfect premises and location, the old spa baths in Buxton. We opened the shop it was immediately a success and it is now an important part of our overall strategy.
As you have probably guessed I am not in the first flush of youth!! and building a business is stressful and requires bags of energy and so to prepare us for the next period of growth my daughter has come on board and she brings new thinking, computer skills and organisation.
We now feel we have the right products and this has been independently judged with one gift of the year winner in 2014, two runner ups and a total of 6 shortlisted products from only a total of 8 entries, a pretty good success rate.
Being in business presents many challenges it is never nine to five and it is not really working, it is a complete way of life but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. You have to earn a living but the real joy comes from seeing your products on the shelves, people telling you they never use anything but your soap, hearing it is the best candle they have ever had, these things are priceless.