Spotlight on Out There Interiors
Tonight's Spotlight is on Jenny Hurren and partner Mark of Out There Interiors, whose aim is to make desirable furniture more accessible to those that love it.
Like many small businesses in the creative space, Out There Interiors started, not as Jenny's first career choice; she actually wanted to be an actress, but as a way to earn some money, to survive between jobs, and on discovering her niche, her business thrived and she has grown substantially since starting in 2008, with Mark also eventually giving up his day job to join her.
Out There Interiors is found on a farm just North of Brighton, where the company warehouses its stock but you can shop online here.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I’ve never been good with authority so I’m not sure I would survive in a regular career. My first ambition was to be an actress but after struggling to make a living for several years after graduation I started to look for something to pay the rent between jobs. After answering a vague AD on Gumtree, I ended up partnering with a music label boss / wannabe investor who gave me an introduction to ecommerce. It didn’t go very far as almost immediately he lost all his money in a disastrous Spanish property project. I had given up my part time job and put a huge amount of effort into the business and was devastated.
A week or so later I got an invite to a trade show. I’d never been to one before and no longer had a business to purchase for, but my partner Mark and I had nothing to do that Sunday so we went along. Whilst there we stumbled upon a chest of drawers that we’d bought on eBay for our bedroom. The seller had made a tidy (in fact scandalous) sum. We bought 5 and put them on eBay at a slightly lower price. They all sold within a week and Out There Interiors was born.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
I was still acting at this point but on the side, I was selling these chests of drawers on eBay. Things were very different back then (we’re talking over 12 years ago) and the market was buoyant. I got a real buzz out of it and slowly auditions became a drag and acting work inconvenient. All I wanted to do at that time was sit at my computer selling these chests of drawers. As the fledging business grew space became an issue. We lived in a one bedroom flat so Mark’s Mum’s house slowly filled up with chests of drawers. One morning (as an articulated lorry began to unload its contents into her lounge) she hit the roof and we moved to a self-storage facility. Three years later the website was built, Mark left his job in IT sales and Out There Interiors became our main source of income.
3. How did you fund your business?
Organically. Mark put up £1000 to buy the first 5 chests of drawers. After that we reinvested the profits and expanded from one chest of drawers to the 5000 plus product lines we have today.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
Selling was easy, but delivering wasn’t. We spent a while doing the deliveries ourselves but quickly realised that driving from Penzance to Inverness via Holyhead every weekend wasn’t much fun. The company we now outsource our logistics to is the thirteenth transport company we have worked with. We have used them for over 5 years and they’re great, but boy, were they difficult to find. Delivery caused us a lot of pain in the early days.
5. What help was missing for you?
Initially? Everything! I don’t think I had ever sold anything on eBay before the business accidentally started. Mark and I have learned everything from scratch including web development, staff management, photoshoots and the importing of containers from across the world. Neither of us imagined we would end up running a furniture company. It’s funny how things work out.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I can’t remember that far back but a big issue we had early on was when we lost our SEO positions after an algorithm update. In the early years, we had engaged (totally accidentally of course) in some spurious link building, and when Google’s Panda and Penguin updates rolled out in 2011-2012 we lost 90% of our traffic overnight. That was a tough time.
7. What have you learnt?
Don’t do dodgy link building! But seriously, marketing is everything. There really is no point in having a fancy website if nobody can find it. We spend a lot of time, effort and money on legitimate forms of marketing these days.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Sorry to sound like a broken record but marketing really is everything. You must know who your customer is, how they are going to find you, whether there is enough of them out there to sustain your business model and why they would buy from you and not your competition.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the product the most. I always have. I love big aesthetically pleasing pieces of furniture, striking design and characterful interiors. And I get to see a lot of them.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
5/10. There’s no denying that business is tough. There is always a stack of problems sitting on your desk that need to be dealt with and you can never ever stand still. There is always a tough conversation to be had, an unexpected invoice to be paid, a shiny new competitor, a delayed container, an expensive accident, a staff fall out etc., etc. But I wouldn’t change it. Running a business shapes you. It makes you tough and resilient and I love being in charge of my own destiny.
Nicola says "like many small businesses in the creative space, owners Jenny and Mark have had to learn everything from scratch, be it delivery of their furniture; which caused a few headaches, to marketing and SEO; also, another set of headaches, but they have managed to grow a substantial business all off £1000 of investment. Organically growing the business has been less risky for them in the early days, often allowing those mistakes to be made, without too much financial cost and also before having to commit to premises and giving up jobs and hiring staff, all which somehow make it more real and more of a commitment."
The Girl with The Green Sofa