Spotlight on Luxe 39
Today’s Spotlight is with Luxe 39. Helen, the founder, produces the most amazing, high quality velvet cushions, I know I have two!
Read on to hear why Helen got started, what inspired her to launch her own, fairly new business, and the highs and lows along the way.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
I absolutely love velvet cushions and the transformative effect they have on any room. When we renovated our house, I looked for quality velvet cushions and was really disappointed by the options on the market. Everything was either poor quality or over-priced. Most velvet cushions are backed with a cheap hessian/linen fabric which disintegrates over time. Also, a lot of velvet fabric claiming to be ‘luxury’ is in fact polyester, a fabric which is never luxurious and isn’t recyclable or degradable. The quality cotton velvet cushions I did find were retailing at £150 or more and after renovating our house I didn’t have that sort of money to spend on cushions. So, I decided to dig out my sewing machine and make my own.
I sourced upholstery grade cotton velvet, made all cushions double sided in velvet and then came up with the idea of making cushions with the front and back in different colours. Friends saw my cushions and asked if I could make some for them and the natural next step was to set up a business. We now offer the widest online choice of true luxury velvet cushions with over 60 colour combinations (and growing) and 8 cushion sizes to select from (although any size can be made on request). All cushions are hand made in the UK to order and can be finished with a choice of a matching or fun contrasting pink or turquoise “signature” zip.
Our velvet is supplied by the last remaining velvet weaving mill in the UK. The cushion pads are also made in the UK and are cotton filled with duck feather. The packaging is sourced in the UK and is predominantly cardboard, so recyclable. The plastic, used to wrap the cushions to keep them clean and safe in transit, is degradable. Being as sustainable as possible is a central ethos of the Luxe 39 brand. The upholstery grade velvet used means the cushions will last for years, gaining character and improving with age (like the best of us!!).
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
I run the business predominantly from home which works for me as I have 2 young boys. My previous job in the City wasn’t working for us as a family, especially when it came to the long school holidays. Running the business from home means I can work my hours around the children (although it does frequently involve working into the night).
3. How did you fund your business?
The start-up costs for the business weren’t huge. We make everything to order and run the business on a “just in time model”. This meant we didn’t have a large initial outlay for stock which many retail and other online companies have. Our website is built and runs on the Shopify platform, using their templates. This minimized the website build costs and gives a fully customizable and customer friendly digital platform which is constantly evolving and improving with new apps and features. Overall, as anyone who has done the same will tell you, it’s been very time consuming to establish and build the business, but hugely rewarding.
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 the business has been having no IT support especially when it came to putting together the website and linking in all domain names, email addresses, social, apps etc. Where I’ve worked previously there’s always been an expert on hand for all IT issues. In a small business, I am the IT support and that gets scary especially when you have to get technical and alter code on the site (although the inner geek in me secretly likes it!).
5. What help was missing for you?
I am very lucky to have friends who have a lot of knowledge in useful areas. Most usefully, a good friend is a PPC expert and has provided lots of direction on Google ads, analytics and shopping etc. Previously I owned another online retailer so I wasn’t entering into the total unknown. However, it would still have been useful to have a mentor with knowledge of the retail space, ecommerce and social media marketing.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
I launched in late July 2018 and (fingers crossed) nothing has gone wrong yet! Without big overheads, the business quickly reached break even, but the challenge is making a noise and getting noticed in a very competitive online space to make the business really successful. It takes time to build a digital footprint and a social presence so it’s a matter of staying focused and committed, not being deaf to new ideas and also recognizing what I’ve already achieved.
7. What have you learnt?
5 months ago, I’d never even been on Instagram, rarely on Facebook and hadn’t been particularly engaged with social media. I’ve had to learn how to build a social presence from scratch, which also involves learning when to step away from these platforms as, useful as they can be from a PR perspective, they can also be overly draining on your precious time. I have also learnt that you need as many plates spinning as possible with multiple sales channels working in conjunction, including old fashioned face to face selling which remains an important part of setting up a business.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
If you are planning on setting up an ecommerce website then there is probably an off the shelf solution which will work perfectly well for you at a fraction of the cost of employing web designers and developers. In my experience, platform solutions are evolving so quickly that the only limiting factor is you and your own knowledge. If I think of adding something to my site then I can guarantee it is an option already available; it is a matter of me catching up with what is possible which is hugely preferable to having to pay a developer every time I want to upgrade.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the mix of challenges in my working life. Some days are predominantly production days and I get to create cushions, gaining satisfaction from seeing completed products and gaining the subsequent feedback from happy customers. Other days are more focused on the digital marketing and ecommerce elements of the business, utilizing my brain and business sense.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
It’s challenging and rewarding in equal measures so I would say I have found it an 8. I am always thinking about the business, the products, tinkering with the website and looking at all things business related on my phone/laptop, but I was like that when I worked for other people. With my own business, the more I put in the more I get out and that’s satisfying.
The Girl with The Green Sofa