How did you start? When my young daughter became very unwell I had to close my recruitment and HR business. I found myself spending many hours at home caring for her and brainstorming about what I could create in terms of a business that would work round her needs. I started by thinking about what I liked doing and embarked on a garden design qualification, as I love the outdoors and gardening has always calmed me – in my executive days my best ideas arrived over a cup of tea during a break from weeding the garden. However, I quickly realised that although I loved gardening, a career in landscape gardening wasn’t for me. Instead it inspired the concept of creating a range of home and gardenware.
What do you love most about what you do? I love the creativity of this venture. In all my previous roles it was the academic me that was needed; smart business suits and a level of formality, now it’s a much more informal affair. The Shed Inc. has also enabled me to collaborate with my best friend, who I admire for her creative talent and it excites me to see my rough sketches and ideas come to life with Susan’s skill. It’s a very different kind of satisfaction, but a great sense of achievement, which was definitely missing in my life.
What inspires you? A need to create a future and a distraction from my daughter’s illness and its demands was my original inspiration for the start-up. The ideas for designs and new products come from many things: family pets; the countryside; times spent with family and friends; and photographs. We have two new designs, one is a cockerel design inspired by Flora, the chicken that frequents the stables where my daughter’s pony is liveried. Flora will jump up onto your lap for a stroke and has even been known to help herself to your sandwich – she is a real character! Our other design is a starfish, inspired by a photo taken whilst Susan and I were staying in Norfolk with our families – the beach at Holkham was full of washed up starfish. Creating a design that has a meaning and story behind it will always be the focus for our collections.
What makes The Shed Inc. different? Colour and quality. I have always loved creating a balance of old and new, and bright and calm colours in my own home, but struggled to find good quality, innovative products at affordable prices. Our collection has been remarked on for its diverse appeal – it works just as well in a city apartment as it does in a country home. With our Mix and Match range I wanted to prove that using contrasting or complementary colours really could work. Our success has been down to not compromising on quality and daring to bring something new to the homeware industry. I have fully roadtested every product for quality and durability, and no matter how large we grow, we will continue to personally test each product before launching anything new. Customer satisfaction is everything and will continue to drive me.
Is there such a thing as an average day? My weekdays have a great deal of structure due to Florence’s needs. The mornings are taken up by her teacher arriving for home tuition, I will then get on with orders, marketing and paperwork. We have weekly medical appointments of some description to fit in and a trip to visit her pony is usually on the agenda, which allows for an evening of The Shed Inc with a relaxed and happy household. It’s very much a question of juggling. The busiest part of my day in terms of work is definitely the evening.
What are you most proud of? Daring to back myself when nobody else would have done. With a daughter whose health can turn days upside down, no real experience in this market, limited funds, the need to be home based, launching at a time when household incomes are stretched to the limit and no contingency plan, it’s taken some guts and plenty of determination. My girls were not entirely behind the risk and I have to confess I still have many sleepless nights. However, ‘speculate to accumulate’, my father told me, and so for once I took some parental advice. I have always been prepared to take risks, so it was a case of grabbing the opportunity. Sometimes the figures may not stack up and the business plan may not be textbook, but I am a firm believer that if you have a vision, instinct and sufficient passion, you can make things work – it will just be a bumpier ride.
Where do you hope your business going in the future? I would like to increase the number of stockists here in the UK and, in the longer term, take the brand to the USA. Distribution is always more costly and challenging outside Europe and so this will be a big step, but it’s something that I would certainly like to achieve one day. I am also keen to create some charity related products, which will enable us to raise funds and awareness for our two chosen charities, Maggie’s and Mind.
Other than designing what makes you happy? An event free day! But I do enjoy visiting RHS gardens or places of natural beauty. I also like a good meal out and a nice bottle of wine.
The Shed Inc 0844 409 7827 www.theshedinc.co.uk