What’s your background?
Varied! I grew up in the South West (I am sorry!) in Taunton, Somerset, and moved to London when I was 18 to read Law at Queen Mary University. During my degree, I was fortunate enough to be offered a training contract at a top solicitors firm, Clyde & Co, and worked in the field of international commercial law. Whilst I enjoyed elements of practicing law, I felt slightly constrained as it had always been an ambition of mine to be self-employed and have my own business. I took the bold (and possibly slightly mad) decision of not accepting a qualification job in the knowledge that if I did, it would be very difficult to leave.
I moved to the North East a few years ago. I fell in love with the countryside and people during a weekend hiking along Hadrian’s Wall. I was offered a squash scholarship by Newcastle University to study for a Masters degree in E-Business, which I accepted. I thought it would be ideal to combine my love of sport with preparation for running a business. Sport has been a large part of my life for some time now. I played squash quite seriously when I was younger and have dabbled in cycling, triathlon, Muay Thai boxing and most recently CrossFit. I have been a Sports England Squash Coach since 16, and recently qualified as a Level 3 personal trainer and nutritionist.
Where did the idea for Bespoke Vinyl Art come from?
I wanted to buy a really personal gift for a close friend and I just couldn’t find anything special enough. We had just decorated the room where our record deck lives, so I wanted something for that room. At first, I looked at making a coffee table made up of his favourite vinyls. I mocked it up using just using some tape, vinyls and cardboard, left it against a wall, turned around and realised it would make a great wall art piece.
Why do you enjoy working with vinyl?
There is something uniquely soulful and tactile about vinyl, with the unmistakable crackle creating a real element of nostalgia. The vinyl resurgence is real, but it’s not just die-hard music enthusiasts and generation X reverting back to vinyl, millennials are said to be a large driving force behind the resurgence. It is so rewarding when people look at the individual vinyls that make up the art and share their memories and stories about each one. Perhaps it was their first dance at their wedding, or the song their parents used to play in the car. I think it is this which makes classic vinyls very special. Plus, they look great!
How long have you been running the business?
I made the first piece as a Christmas gift in December 2018, and received such positive feedback I thought it might be a viable business. I started planning in January and launched my website in July.
Why did you decide the time was right to launch?
I don’t think that there is ever a perfect time for anything. I have to constantly ignore the lawyer perfectionist in me because if I waited until everything was precisely ‘just so’ I probably still wouldn’t be trading today. I launched the website in July without any marketing or advertising in place because I simply couldn’t afford it. It is only just beginning to find its feet now, as I am reinvesting any profit from sales to try and broaden our reach. The truth is, if you never step into the ring, you never know how you will fare – so just starting is more important than trying to determine when the optimal time to start is.
What challenges have you faced so far?
Reaching my target market with a very limited marketing budget. As soon as people see the product, and particularly when they understand the uniqueness of choosing personal songs and memories, they love it.
Where do you source your materials?
I personally hand-pick all the vinyls myself using local vinyl stores when I can. The LED neon effect wording is built up of a mixture of foamex and acrylic, which is moulded and bonded to create the letters. A lot of work goes into each piece, but we think it is worth it.
Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
Ha! I am getting there. I am usually up at 6am and either in the gym at The Retreat (my other business) or at CrossFit training by 6.30am. I have started doing my training at the beginning of the day so that I know nothing can get in the way of it, and my head is clear for the day. I tend to then split the day between Bespoke Vinyl Art work and The Retreat work. I always take two hours after lunch to get away from my desk, and either take the dog for a walk, or practice my golf. I start work again at about 3pm and tend to work until I am hungry, prepare dinner, and then work again until late. It is a long day, but I love what I do.
What are your plans for the business in future? And can you tell us more about The Retreat?
For Bespoke Vinyl Art my short- and medium-term goal is to increase the brand awareness. I have an online shop opening on the website imminently, which will showcase some limited-edition stock items, such as The Beatles, and allow customers to place a bespoke order rather than it being enquiry only. I am also actively looking into adding another couple of products – possibly going back to my original idea of a coffee table. Longer term, I would also like to ship my products abroad to foreign markets such as Japan.
Outside Bespoke Vinyl Art, I am opening a boutique luxury health and wellness club, The Retreat, in December. The Retreat will offer private personal training, nutritional and wellness programmes, physiotherapy and provide a place to just chill out in private. Half day packages will also be available. My reason for opening The Retreat is to provide an environment for people to be able to exercise in private.
What are you watching?
I don’t really watch TV anymore, but if I do it is Golf TV!
What’s your coffee order?
What’s your drink of choice?
Tommy’s Margarita. Every time.
Favourite place in the North East?
Derwent Reservoir. I go there when I need some time to think or just need a break.
How would you spend your perfect day off?
I don’t have many full days off anymore, but I think my perfect day off would start with some exercise or a trail run with my dog Reggie, brunch with family and friends, a round of golf, and then a potter down to the pub on my motorbike!