Spotlight on Julian Joseph Chairs
Top Image Credit @comedowntothewoods
Today's Spotlight is on Julian Josep Chairs, a business run by two couples, who are friends as well as business partners. The company started by producing statement chairs at a reasonable price, a concept the couples came up with while living in China. They have now expanded their range to include soft furnishings and side tables.
Now living in the UK and US, they each manage their own side of the business from their own countries and have or have learn an impressive set of skills, even moving to South China to learn manufacturing.
If you want to shop their products you can do sohereand read on to hear a great business story, filled with so much inspiration and determination to make a business work.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I guess essentially it boils down to a fabulous friendship, a love for interior design and entrepreneurship.
Julian Joseph is owned by two couples; Luke and Hannah and Mike and myself (Louise).
Hannah and I have always shared an interest in travel, we’re big foodies and of course love interiors.
Mike and Luke were both keen to start their own company. I think a big part of their drive is down to the fact that we met whilst living in Shanghai. It’s a bit of a mecca for entrepreneurs, with new businesses and concepts constantly popping up, it was a really inspiring place to be. We went there for an experience and starting up your own business certainly was that!
After daydreaming for a while we took our first few bold steps into becoming business owners. We had a clear idea of the brand we wanted to create and the products we wanted to offer customers. We agreed that beautiful design accompanied by top-notch quality should be accessible to all. We started working on swoon worthy statement chairs with modest price tags.
This is where our experience really came into play. Between the four of us we cover manufacturing and quality control, finance and logistics, interior design and marketing and et voila that’s us. It sounds like it was so simple when put like that!
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
We came up with the concept in Shanghai while Mike was working full-time and myself, Luke and Hannah were learning Mandarin. That’s actually how we met, as classmates! We then decided that all of us needed to learn the manufacturing ropes (this was Luke’s bag) so moved to the South of China to be close to the factories.
We lived together in an apartment above a shopping complex, sat around the kitchen table with the air conditioning on full (trust me when I say it was like living in a sauna) and started making business decisions. The first being to name the company. We bandied around many names before we settled on Julian Joseph (after Luke Julian Silver and Michael Joseph Cronin). We made great progress and being within such close proximity 24/7 meant that we could make decisions quite quickly and plough on…plus it was a lot of fun!
After six intense months of sourcing beautiful fabrics, finalising designs and implementing the production side of things, we decided to say teary goodbyes and return home (America for Luke and Hannah and the U.K. for Mike and me). In our teams of two we manage sales and retailer relationships in our respective countries.
3. How did you fund your business?
After being self-funded for a while, we pitched our business idea to some industry investors and they were intrigued. They were impressed with our branding, website and products and agreed to offer Julian Joseph a business loan.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
The most difficult part for us was the language and cultural differences. We moved from Shanghai, a very cosmopolitan city where many people speak English, to Dongguan which is a heck of a lot smaller and it was harder to communicate.
Although three of us studied Mandarin for several months and could just about get a basic (albeit bad!) conversation going, we were nowhere near qualified enough to handle business talk. It was not only a completely different style of talk, but we also quickly realised that we had to conduct ourselves in a different manner to how we would back home.
In business things are done very differently in China. Everything is negotiable so haggling became the norm, when offered green tea always accept despite the fact it was sweltering outside (a hot drink never, ever cooled me down out there!) and as with many Chinese people I met, they love to be hospitable. Lunch was always a big part of a business meeting and the factory owners were always impressed if you tried every bizarre dish on the menu. Although Hannah and I are big foodies, we weren’t as adventurous so left that up to Mike and Luke!
We’ve come quite far since our China days. We now trade direct to customers and to some major retailers. We’ve also recently expanded and launched a homeware range too so it’s exciting times for us!
5. What help was missing for you?
For us it was sales relationships that were missing. We had to research contacts and pitch our business to retailers which we hadn’t ever done before so that was a learning curve.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
Luckily there wasn't any major clangers but it was very tough at first trading in different countries. We had lived together so we had gotten used to decisions being made quicker so making the transition from that, to living an ocean apart was pretty tricky.
7. What have you learnt?
We’ve all learnt to be very flexible with when we’re online (due to the time difference) and to make sure we stay in constant communication so we can drive the business forward.
It’s also an eye opener that one approach can work amazingly in the U.K. but not so well in the U.S. We’ve learnt to tailor our products more and our marketing approach.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Patience really is a virtue. Admittedly when Mike would say that to me my response was “Patience isn’t a virtue it’s a waste of time” (yes, this does make me cringe now!) but I now appreciate that expression a lot more! Everything always takes longer than you imagine but in the end, you get to where you want to be…or well on your way.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
I really value “being my own boss” as the flexibility it offers is amazing. It’s also a lot easier to see if what you’re doing is making an impact. Although being a business owner makes you a bit of a “jack of all trades” my specialism is marketing.
Once Hannah has worked her magic and designed a stunning chair, it’s then up to me to make sure people know about it. I set about planning how we’re going to do that and once we receive the first sale, the sense of achievement and pride (for all of us) is immense. Our chair is sat in someone’s home!
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
Some days, like the other day when the printer just wouldn't work for love nor money, it feels like a frustrating 10! But thankfully for the most part it’s not too hard. When you love what you do it’s easier to accept that running your own business will take a lot of time, effort and dedication and you’re happy to do it.
Nicola says "This team has an impressive set of business skills behind them; manufacturing and quality control, finance and logistics, interior design and marketing but I'm impressed by the fact that they were willing to get out and learn some of them, even moving to a new country to learn manufacturing and entrepreneurial skills. Starting any small business is time consuming but to do some on a transatlantic basis takes a different level of commitment and communication to keep things going"
The Girl with The Green Sofa