Spotlight on Lomas and Lomas
Welcome to tonight’s spotlight, Garry & Sharon, Mr & Mrs. Together, Lomas and Lomas.
Garry loves photography and I love interiors. We always wanted to escape to the country and start our own creative business, so leaving the rat race behind in 2015 we moved from Manchester to Derbyshire, turned our passions into our business and never looked back.
We take our inspiration from the natural world, creating surface patterns & designs which begin life as images captured by Garry. Together we develop a concept, patterns & colours. I then turn the designs into fabrics, roller blinds, handmade cushions & lampshades, kitchen & home ware accessories.
Our business is based in the beautiful village of Hayfield, at the foot of Kinder Scout, right on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Our work is heavily influenced by the beauty of the local landscape & its wildlife residents. All products are printed in the UK and most are handmade in the studio or as local as possible.
In August 2015, we opened the doors to our gallery & interiors store at The Old Butchers Shop in Hayfield. The gallery showcases Garry's photography and stocks our handmade interiors & home wares. In July 2016, we were shortlisted for the Country Homes & Interiors "My Country Business Awards" for best Fabric & wallpaper Designers. In October 2017 Sharon Lomas was "Highly Commended" by the judges in the Forward Ladies "Women in Business Awards" in the best Start Up category. In November 2017, we were finalists in the Northern Design Awards, in the category of "Best Designer Maker" In June 2018 we were named as finalists in The Rural Business Awards for Best Rural Retail Business (Midlands region). These National awards recognise and celebrate the achievements of businesses who helps shape the rural economy & way of life.
1. What was the reason for starting your business?
The basic reason I started a business was to finally fulfil my need to be creative. The sensation to find a creative outlet was an underlying ache I’d had for years. I’ve always been arty and creative but some bad advice from school careers advisors saw me taking at more academic course at University rather than following my heart. So instead of studying fine art I was persuaded that studying Politics & English would give me a better education and a more fruitful career.
After University and some time spent travelling was over, I really struggled to find what I was qualified to do and had an expectation that my degree should lead me somewhere. But I just sort of fell into Advertising. This was an exciting job to begin with, I worked as a media buyer for several of the world’s biggest Ad agencies for years before moving into Ad Sales for a magazine publisher. I worked on magazines such as Real Homes, Ideal Home & Living etc. to name a few and this really reignited my creative urges, especially for interiors.
After we married in 2004 we decided to open a gallery in Manchester’s Northern Quarter selling work of local artists & photographers, handmade home wares and second-hand vinyl. I was still working full time so Garry ran the gallery and I worked there at weekends. I began making lampshades, cushions & cards and Garry started to get the bug for photography. The gallery was open for 3 years and at the end of our lease the rent was about to skyrocket so we were forced to call it a day. In hindsight, this was a blessing as 6 months later the UK was plunged in a deep recession.
This was no time to start another business so the day jobs had to continue for many years. But our creative drive was only increasing for both of us. Garry spent these years developing his craft as a photographer and I tried my hand at lots of arts courses to bring some creative balance to a job I now hated.
On holiday in South Africa Garry captured a stunning image of the Bird of Paradise flowers at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and on our return home we used the flower head to create a design for some wallpaper to have in our own home. And that’s where it all started.
2. How did you start up? Kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
Our dining room table was the heart of our business for the first year of our business. We created a series of designs from Garry’s photos, had them printed onto fabric and produced a range of cushions & lampshades. We began small by attending makers markets and craft fairs in Manchester, Cheshire and Derbyshire with a selection of our home wares and Garry’s photographic prints & canvases.
The feedback was fantastic, sales were strong and our customers loved the stories behind our designs. BUT markets were sporadic and being Manchester, so dependent on the weather!
After our stall at the Christmas Markets in Manchester was rained on, snowed on and blown over by gale force winds we knew we had to rethink how we brought our products to our customers.
We had always dreamed of living in the countryside and being surrounded by the landscapes that inspired Garry’s photography and our designs. When an opportunity came up to lease a building in Hayfield on the edge of the Peak District we didn’t really think twice.
3. How did you fund your business?
To begin with we used a small sum of savings and any spare money from our wages to buy the raw materials & fabrics then after each market we reinvested into buying fabric stocks.
But I had come to the end of my tether working a day job that I no longer enjoyed and having had a small taste of what my life could become, I just quit my job and we sold our house.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting your business? Access to money, finding people to buy, marketing etc.?
For us the most difficult part of starting a business was marketing & advertising ourselves on a very limited budget. How to stand out from the crowd is certainly a challenge every new business will face. I know from my background that advertising works but it also takes a large investment and needs to be consistent to make any real impact.
So, we opted for trying to make the most of social media platforms, which are free so really a no brainer. It is however very time consuming and almost scientific to get it right as the goal posts get moved regularly so you really need to stay on top of the constant changes. But it’s the quickest way to get feedback on what you do.
5. What help was missing for you?
Initially what was really lacking for us was enough local business support. We are in a small tourist village in the Peak District and as we work 6 or 7 days a week most weeks it was difficult to be able to step out of the business to attend events & courses in Stockport, Manchester or Sheffield.
However, at the end of 2016 we discovered the Visit Peak District marketing initiative called “Inspired by the Peak District”. This introduced us to a forum of local businesses all very passionate about our region, with a programme of business learning workshops and networking events. We became a case study for the initiative and are now part of a community of businesses owners which is a great support network. I would highly recommend seeking out any similar initiatives, your local council or tourist board should be able to help.
6. What went wrong in your first year?
Starting out in any new business is always going to be a challenge in the first year as everything is new with no sales trends to review or guide you. For us it was estimating stock levels and trying to judge which designs would sell, as it’s often not consistent. We certainly didn’t always get it right in year 1 and for us it’s taken about 3 years to get a real understanding of our sales trends and stock volumes.
7. What have you learnt?
In our first year, way before we took the plunge to open a bricks & mortar shop we tried as many different markets, craft fairs, interiors pop ups and larger scale events as we could in order to reach as many different types of customers possible.
This was ultimately the best research we could have ever done, it’s amazing what you can gleam from such events. Potential customers almost don’t see you standing behind your stall and will happily chat away to each other about your products. Sometimes what you hear may seem like a negative but in fact it’s always a positive – it’s just as important to understand why that person isn’t your customer as much as it to understand who is. Before our first few events I had an idea of who our ideal customer would be and whilst we got the general gist of them right they turned out to be older than anticipated. These events taught us so much about who we should be talking too, who was actually buying our products and why.
8. What is the most important advice that you could give others thinking of starting a business?
Really get to know your customer – sounds basic but if you don’t get this right it can be devastating. Even if you are going to be an online business only I would recommend trying out a few events where you can sell your products direct to the public. It’s a great way to understand more about who your customers will be.
Big brands spend millions on researching customers, a luxury most of us cannot afford when we are starting out. Friends & family are of course a great source of feedback but a stranger owes you nothing and often won’t spare your feelings. Having an opportunity to engage with potential customers as early as possible before you fully launch your business is a valuable experience.
It’s amazing what you can learn once you get people talking and this may be a spark that leads to a revelation about what you do and how you do it.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
For Garry, this would be getting out with his camera and seeing a 4am start resulting in a perfect sunrise or capturing wildlife when no one else is around. For me I love to see the development of a design from start to finish. Our Sparrow pattern is perhaps out most popular design and we often ponder over the fact that that humble little Sparrow has become the core of our collection.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
It’s tough, there are no two ways about it. Some days I would say it’s a 10, the buck stops with you and the weight of responsibility can be very daunting indeed. Nobody wants to make mistakes but they are inevitable and possibly the best way to learn and grow your business.
But then there are plenty of days which I would rank as a 1 or 2, the days when you create something you are really proud of or a customer tells you how much they love your work. These are the days that remind you why you do what you do.
For us having only ourselves to answer to, not being constrained by office politics and knowing that all our hard work is for us and not a huge corporation keeps us going through any tough days. Oh, and having no commute has to be one of the biggest bonuses ever.
The Girl with The Green Sofa