Spotlight on Grey September
Hello, I’m Sara and I’m married to Craig who is a designer. We have two daughters - Lili and Nel and we live in a period house in Cardiff. I worked in the TV industry for nearly 20 years, starting as a production secretary and progressing to becoming a production manager working mainly on documentaries and short films. When our eldest daughter was born, I became freelance and worked on dramas within the script departments at the BBC and Sky until I set up Grey September almost 18 months ago.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
Whilst I loved working within the TV industry, I always had a life-long dream of owning my own interiors shop. As my family will tell you, I’ve always had an ongoing obsession for all things interiors, design and shopping! I realised as my children got older and more independent that maybe I could realise my dream of starting a homewares and interiors business online. I thought it would also give me the flexibility of balancing work and family life. My family have been instrumental in helping start the business, by giving me the encouragement and incentive to do so.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
A catalyst for the business came after a ‘research trip’ weekend break to Copenhagen. Being immersed in the Nordic / Scandinavian style focussed our minds on what style we wanted to follow for the business.
Whilst the children were at school, I literally started the business at my kitchen table with my trusty laptop. And on a ‘grey September’ morning I decided to just go for it! What did I have to lose? My husband is a designer and was therefore able to help me develop the technical side of building the website and the branding for the company. I had a strong vision of what I wanted and Craig was able to transfer that onscreen for me. I now work from our converted attic at home but I’m sure as the business grows we may have to reconsider this!
3. How did you fund your business?
I started the business with an initial £2000 investment, which I saved from an earlier script job. By running the business online and working from home, I knew the running costs would be relatively low and therefore manageable and low-risk. As the business grew, I decided I needed to work less on the TV work and focus fully on the business.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
The hardest part of starting up the business was securing those first few suppliers. Without a website or customers, it was difficult to sell the company to a supplier. Suppliers would always want to know what other brands you stocked! But once the first few suppliers were on-board, the process became a lot easier.
5. What help was missing for you?
A pot of money and a business guru!!! But in all honesty the answers we required were mostly available online and we’ve learned as we’ve gone along!
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I can’t pinpoint anything specific that has ‘gone wrong’ but the biggest hurdle for me was my lack of confidence when it came to the whole buying process. I knew exactly what I wanted to buy but was just so nervous talking face-to-face with the suppliers. I remember attending my first trade show in London with a handful of home printed business cards and feeling like a total fraudster. I think I managed to speak to one supplier before scuttling away! But as soon as I had an online store, customers and stock to sell, it all became easier and my confidence grew as the business did.
7. What have you learnt?
I’ve learned that providing good customer service is vital in our business. Instagram has been instrumental in promoting and growing the business and has allowed me to communicate openly with my customer base which has been of great help and satisfaction. I was also given a piece of advice by my sister-in-law (who ran a successful clothes boutique in London at the time) was to buy in small quantities which I tried to follow in those early days. I’ve learned so much in a such a small period of time but also know I have so much more to learn!
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
If you’re passionate and believe in something then just go for it!
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
One of the most rewarding aspects for me is seeing where our products end up. When someone tags you into a picture on Instagram or comments on the service they’ve received it really makes it all worthwhile.
The buying process and sourcing that new product to stock is also another highlight. As my family will tell you, I can’t go anywhere in the world without ‘just popping into this shop’! Even on our summer holidays, I’ve always got an eye on the local products with the view to it being added to the store. I don’t buy anything for the store that I wouldn’t buy for myself or my home. I try to keep developing the business by visiting trade shows most recently Maison & Object in Paris.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
I find the scale tends to fluctuate every day… sometimes an 8, most days a 10! It’s very hard work running a business, the business has become my life – I find there’s not an ‘off’ button. I’m constantly thinking about the business and the ‘what next…?’. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoy my ‘work’ and tend not to see it as work. And I like being my own boss…!
Nicola Says "As is often the case, a business becomes your life, I hear this time and time again, there is no off button, please consider this carefully if you want to start up, you must thoroughly enjoy what you do. Good customer service is so important, take time to understand your customers, what drives them to buy from you and keeps them coming back? You can't build a business unless you do.
Sara also de-risked her business by continuing to work while running it from home. this is often the case and can be intense in the juggling period, when the business is taking off but you still have a day job to go to.
And believe in yourself! I hear so many times, how confidence holds people back, especially women"
The Girl with The Green Sofa