We love to celebrate success here at The Business Village and what better success story than that of Wool Couture? You will likely have heard about Wool Couture’s success on the BBC’s ‘Dragons’ Den’ but we wanted to dig a little deeper and find out more about the practical issues and challenges that were faced when starting the business.
With this in mind, we sat down with Claire Gelder, founder of the business and asked her to spin us a yarn! (Sorry, it was too good a pun to pass up!)
BV: What was your background before starting your own business?
CG: I had spent my career in the NHS – my last job was as Director of Transformation across Yorkshire and the Humber.
BV: That was quite a leap to make! So, why wool?
CG: I picked up my first crochet hook and ball of wool when I was 8 and have crafted all of my life. I love all forms of fibre and making unique pieces of what I class as art!
BV: Turning a hobby into a successful business is a fantastic achievement and no mean feat. What support did you feel that you needed when starting your own business?
CG: Setting up an online business, as someone that has historically relied very heavily on IT departments to sort out all of my e-needs was a real challenge.
We originally started selling on ETSY as this was a platform that was already set up and required minimal IT knowledge from me – plus it already had a massive worldwide audience reach and customer base. We only decided to launch our own website once we were turning over £180k on ETSY and we felt we had started to gain a following of customers.
What I basically needed in addition to this was a sign-posting service, simple things like a bank, a website company, printing services, an insurance service, photographers, etc. What was really valuable to start with was the experience and support from the team at The Business Village and our Bank Manager at Santander — I needed reputable services that could be trusted and I felt that between my bank and the team at The Business Village, they had the network that I needed.
BV: Were you able to access all of the support you needed?
CG: Yes – I can’t remember anything that was missing.
BV: That’s good to hear! Why did you choose The Business Village in particular?
CG: I needed space as I was still working out of our garage and had taken on a contract with John Lewis and Urban Outfitters. After viewing lots of places, The Business Village was just the easiest and most risk free.
Who wants a massive contract looming over their heads when they are just starting out? The benefit of the Business Village is that it’s easy in and easy out. We saw the unit we wanted and were literally moving in within a matter of days or maybe a week or so.
BV: What stage of starting your business were you at when you took a unit at the BV?
CG: Within the first 6 months.
BV: What do you think were the key benefits of being part of a managed workspace/business growth office hub?
CG: Contacts, networks, of course, but also the basics like heating, lighting, telephones, rubbish collections, internet, cleaners — do not underestimate any of this! Sorting it out on your own can be somewhat of a distraction from your business and who wants this when you need to be driving your sales?
BV: When it came to developing your business, did you find you were able to grow more easily because of the support that being within a managed workspace/hub brings?
CG: Yes, we moved from a small unit, to a bigger one and then took on another unit. It was easy peasy!
BV: Okay, so we have to ask at least one Dragons’ Den question! What made you decide to try pitching to the Dragons?
CG: Actually, it was my bank manager! Haha! I was unsure, but then was reminded that I had run NHS services all of my career and maybe I needed the experience of an entrepreneur that had been through what I was trying to achieve.
BV: How has your business changed from the one you sketched out in your start up plans, to what you are running now?
CG: My business came about by chance. I have anxiety and depression and had crafted all of my life — I find it very therapeutic. My other half insisted I start getting rid of some of the things that I’d made. I put one scarf on ETSY and it sold within a few hours, that led to another scarf, that led onto people asking for patterns and knitting needles, within 6 months we had turned over 80k and that was the start of Wool Couture!
BV: Wow! That’s a brilliant start for a business! Now, what’s next for you and Wool Couture?
CG: TV channels, a new book, international wholesale. I want to build it to be the best craft brand in the UK and beyond!
BV: It certainly seems that the world’s your oyster! We’re very happy to have played a part in the Wool Couture Story. We’re all now wondering who would play Kevin in the film!Haha! All the best for the future, we will definitely be watching your continued growth and success with more than a little pride in what you’ve achieved!
Find out more about Claire and her fantastic business Wool Couture by visiting their website