Spotlight on Curious Egg
If you need anything unique, finely crafted objects for your home but especially limited-edition art, then this is the place to look for it. The wallpaper, I have in my spare room or the recent art in my study, Lorraine curates a fantastic collection of interesting and unique items for your home.
Lorraine is a professional artist who sources items to sell through her website here.
My name is Lorraine Aaron. I’m a professional artist with a background in making art for public places. I gained my degree in Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Scotland and also studied at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago followed by a period spent studying in Florence. Over the past 20 years I have worked as a sculptor, painter, public artist and gallery artist as well as teaching contemporary arts practice and running a successful art consultancy business.
Making work for public places has given me an obsessive interest in art, interiors and architecture and how the combination of these can alter the places where we live and work and contribute to our health and wellbeing. I am passionate about putting together intriguing objects and unexpected materials to create inspiring, adventurous interiors.
I set up Curious Egg in 2015 with the help of my husband Roddy. We love visiting new places and through our regular travels off the beaten track, we often explore hidden studios and local artisan makers and entrepreneurs.
I’m constantly on the hunt for fine crafted objects, interesting limited-edition artworks and tactile, characterful homewares. I enjoy uncovering and sharing the fascinating stories they tell.
Curious Egg is my little corner of the internet to share ideas and conversations about interiors and art as well as some of my most interesting product finds. My aim is to bring art and interiors together in a relaxed and imaginative way by offering a small, carefully curated and ever-changing range of beautiful and interesting products that will help you to craft your home and celebrate your individuality. If you are looking for something particularly special or that is completely unique to you, I also offer a bespoke sourcing service. I can often source unusual items or commission a piece on your behalf through my extensive network of fellow artists, designers and craftspeople across Scotland, the UK and far reaches of Europe. If for some reason I can’t source or commission it, I may be able to make it for you.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
We wanted to build something creative of our own together. We had both reached as far as we wanted to in our individual careers – My background in public art and art consultancy, Roddy’s in e-commerce.
Having worked alongside architects and planners on public buildings and developments it always amazed me how art was still seen as an add on ‘decoration’ at the end instead of at the very beginning of a project where it could have the most impact on the whole physical space. I felt the same approach could be applied in the home.
I could see a gap in the market to bring high quality but affordable contemporary art and artist designed or crafted products to the interiors market to help people create really individual, soulful spaces. I also wanted to break the stuffiness and exclusivity of commercial galleries and work closely with young and established artists to bring their work into everyday homes - making buying great art as natural as buying a cushion for your home!
2 How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
Well the first thing we did after jumping off the cliff and packing in our jobs was to get ready to hit the road! We’d planned a sourcing trip and after selling up and moving out of the city, we rented the new house out to go travelling in a campervan across Europe for almost four months meeting artists, independent designers and makers a faraway as Slovakia.
We got back in the August of 2015 and spent the next four months getting ready for launch. We bought this Victorian house knowing we’d convert two rooms into individual office/studio spaces and we have separate storage for stock. It’s getting tight now though so it probably won’t be long before we’re looking for new premises.
3 How did you fund your business?
We used our own savings which gave us enough to get essential equipment and our initial product assortment and suppliers in place. Roddy’s background in e-commerce meant that he was able to be quite hands on with the development of the website which saved a huge amount of cost. His background also helped us to get some of our initial marketing activities underway and since then we’ve had some additional support from the bank to help fund the next growth phase.
This was easier having our first year under our belt as there isn’t much funding out there for retail start up unless you ‘re launching your own product. Finance is changing though and there are new models emerging that offer flexible temporary finance which could be a lifeline to small businesses.
4 What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
I think the hardest thing has been just the incredible amount there is to do even just to get launched! I had no idea that retail could involve so many equally important components. Nothing happens unless you make it happen, so you have to get used to juggling an enormous amount all at once at full pace and with no predictable pay cheque at the end - it takes some mental stamina to say the least!
Both of us are grafters and have been used to working long hours in the past and it’s great to be building something that’s our own, it makes you feel free. On the flip side though, it’s always there needing something done and the old cliché of never being ‘off’ is very true. Although you think you go into running your own business knowing this, you don’t really KNOW it until you’re in it.
5 What help was missing for you?
Between us we had a good range of skills and business experience but neither of us had experience of interiors retailing. I found there was plenty of advice for launching a new product but not much advice for new start up retail buyers on working with suppliers and seasonal activity– we just worked it out as we went along and have actually built up really good working relationships but that’s a lot to do with life experience and I could see a younger me might have struggled.
Being quite an unusual business it’s been hard to find a mentor who understood our vision. It can be tough when you’re responsible for everything from decision making, sourcing and buying product, setting up suppliers and artist contracts to the whole look and feel and voice of the store with no one to offer a different perspective.
6 What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I wouldn’t say anything has gone ‘wrong’, the main thing is that everything takes a lot longer than you think and I’d say that’s the biggest eye opener so the timelines change. There are always unexpected twists and turns and you have to be able to make quick and important decisions to be able to adapt.
We had planned to launch in October but due to a few setbacks we ended up doing a soft launch virtually on Christmas eve just as the doors were closing for Christmas – probably not the smartest move but unavoidable at the time - our official launch was just over a month later!
Looking back, I also wish we’d had time to renovate the house so that we could use it to show off our products in context because now it’s so hard to find time to decorate and finding space for product photography is tricky-you have to be creative with backdrops!
7 What have you learnt?
So so much! With no background in interiors retail, it’s had its advantages and disadvantages. I’m glad we came to it with fresh eyes and a boldness we might not have had if we’d known the industry.
I’ve had to learn to think about seasons because you have to plan ahead as much as possible but I also think it’s good to stay agile with product offerings and with small batch it’s easier to make quick turns.
I’ve also learned that marketing is NOT the same as selling and nowadays it takes a more subtle and varied approach to building a brand message. I wasn’t even on social media at all before we started (not even personally) and I suddenly had to learn about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which is of course my favourite – but it’s been a learning curve as it changes all the time and you have to try to keep up – I’m still learning!
8 What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Ooh I have several!
Don’t hold offmaking your idea /product perfect – just go for it and you can hone things as you go - it’s impossible to predict or even think of every scenario and there’s no such thing as perfect!
Be aware but don’t compare - run your own race– it’s easy to be thrown off course looking around at what others are doing and comparing yourself. Although it’s good to be aware of other businesses, you don’t know what their goals are and what lies underneath – it’s not important. Keep your eyes on what you’re doing and move towards your goals, focussed and steady and you’ll get there.
Don’t forget to plan/budget for marketing– there’s an assumption that when you set up online your overheads will be much less than a bricks and mortar. This can be true but it’s easy to underestimate the investment in time and money you’ll need to put in to build attention online.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that building a huge social media following will translate into orders -you have to widen your customer base through other channels such as newsletters, blogs, trade fairs and on the ground pop up activities and events - you have to get out there and be creative!
Photography– don’t under estimate the need for good photography and have a plan to develop it.
9 And what do you enjoy the most?
Oh, that’s easy. I Love visiting artists or makers in their studios to collaborate on new work or products and also chatting to customers online and at pop up events – it’s an absolute thrill!
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
Sometimes 10 sometimes 1! - even though I’ve always been part self-employed and worked hard, I had no idea how much was involved in retail. It can be hard because family and friends won’t understand either and it’s impossible to explain -like being an artist and everyone thinks you’re just colouring in all day! Never switching off can be exhausting and you can’t have a lazy day and still get the pay cheque at the end of the month!
On the flip side, it’s more than worth it, we’ve never worked so hard yet we’ve never been so content. There’s something about being in charge of your own destiny, building something together and seeing your efforts having an immediate effect towards a greater goal that’s so exhilarating!
Nicola Says "Lorraine brings out so many important points in her answers. The first is how much longer everything takes, when you are starting out. I always advise my businesses to plan a contingency, a 6-month delay. What does this do to your figures and how much more money will you need to borrow or find to account for this? It is so rare for things to go smoothly, no matter how experienced you are.
The second point is converting interest into sales, the vast array of different and subtle approaches you need to think about, not just selling through your website, but social media, trade shows, newsletters and if you can afford it, advertising.
The third is a point that Feathr also made, don't hold off waiting to get everything perfectly right. Launch and refine as you go along. You will find out what people really want this way, rather than spending money on things they don't.
And naturally, the fact that you are never "off" when you run your own business, should never be underestimated!"
Thanks so much for sharing Lorraine!
The Girl with The Green Sofa