Sophie Cartledge of Bourjoisbiscuit
Today's Spotlight is Sophie Cartledge of Bourjoisbiscuit, up cycler of vintage and retro furniture. Like many small businesses, Sophie, held a day job in HR while starting this creative work, and to some extent still does. If you want to read about her journey and hear her advice read on and if you would like to shop any of her "one-off" items you can head to her etsy shop here.
I'm Sophie Cartledge, 38, with three children. I work in HR for a homeless housing organisation. I started Bourjois Biscuit in 2010 but on a more full-time basis in 2014.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I was on maternity leave and wanted to do something so I could contribute to the family income whilst being at home with my youngest and delay going back to work and having to put him into childcare. I have always loved vintage things, shopped in charity shops and love the idea of saving and adapting a piece of furniture that would otherwise be thrown out. A lot of the older furniture is so well made and structurally built to last. The pieces I find are often a bit worn with cup marks or missing handles, a few scratches but nothing that can’t be fixed and brought back to life again.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
I started and am still working from home, in the garden, in the house, our house gets quite overrun with it at times. Sometimes I just see pieces that are too good to miss and can’t resist snapping them up. I would ideally one day soon, like to have something built down the bottom of the garden, a kind of summer house, where I can store and work on pieces.
3. How did you fund your business?
I didn’t really have any funds to start it off, it was just a case of sourcing affordable furniture and buying the products like paint, brushes, stencils, varnish etc. all of which I have purchased as I’ve gone along, so no major costs have ever been incurred.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
It was probably finding people to buy and building up my market. It was all a bit trial and error and make it up as you go along. I started a Facebook page and over time have found different places to sell my work, such as Etsy, Gumtree, Preloved and have now grown my Instagram account. When I started out, I could sometimes have pieces that were on the market for weeks but now there’s a much quicker turn around with some items that are purchased the same day I have listed them.
5. What help was missing for you?
It would have been great to have other people that run similar business to chat to, I think that would have been great to bounce ideas off of. I didn’t know really where to start marketing my business. In fact, that’s why I started my account on Instagram. It has been a great way to gauge how popular a look or style is and has been brilliant for making people aware and directing traffic to my etsy shop. Sometimes when you are working on your own, you get a bit of a creative block, you go through phases of things not selling quickly enough and you start wondering if you are doing something wrong. Instagram has been a great way to connect with other small business owners and find out that everyone has these moments but they pass and you get your mojo back again.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
When I first started out, I used to do more generic shabby chic upcycling because it was popular, I sold it all on eBay, started with relatively low listing prices and let people bid. This was a huge mistake as would hardly break even on some pieces. I also lost my passion for it, painting everything off white with a distressed look became very uninteresting after a while.
7. What have you learnt?
To find what I am passionate about and stick to it. Now I only source pieces that I really love and would have in my own home which are usually mid-century / 1940’s / art deco rather than just any old piece of furniture. I try to get a balance with colour and pattern so that some pieces would fit in easily to other people’s homes and others are more individual stand out pieces and every now and then I get really carried away…
By doing what I love and creating more individual designs, whilst it may narrow my market of buyers it means that those that follow my shop / Instagram account are the ones that like that style.
I no longer sell on eBay so that people can bid, I assign a set price to it and have found other platforms to sell on.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Value your work. I have found this really difficult to put the right price on items. If I was buying something from someone else I wouldn’t hesitate to pay those prices but when you are the one that’s done it, it can be difficult to put enough of a value on your work. Do your research, see what other businesses are charging. Also find what makes your style unique and run with that.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
I really love seeing my pieces in people’s homes. Getting to see what their décor is like and how the piece they have chosen fits in with their home and style. I love receiving positive feedback and people being happy with their purchases. One lady bought a sideboard from me and a few months later her mum bought one because she loved the one her daughter had and then her daughter had a wardrobe from me that went well with the sideboard. It’s a great feeling to have repeat business from happy customers.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
This is a bit tricky as how can you say something is hard when you really enjoy doing it?! Having said that it has meant putting in lots of hard work and time and there’s never really a moment when you are switched off from it. If I’m not physically working on the next piece of furniture, I’m wrapping up the last one, getting courier quotes, hunting for new pieces to work on. So maybe I’d say a 7!
Nicola says "it's great to see the evolution of Sophie's ideas, from starting out with shabby chic furniture and letting people bid on eBay, barely breaking even, to learning what her style and niche is, and creating unique and different pieces which she now values properly and sells via Etsy.
Learning your value is very tricky with any small business and I see a lot of people under valuing what they do. Look to see what others are charging and be willing to value yourself and price your products properly."
The Girl with The Green Sofa