Small business chat update – Simon Middleton

30 Jan
Small business chat update – Simon Middleton

Welcome to an update with Simon Middleton from Shackleton Design and Manufacturing, who sell knitwear, outerwear and banjos (as you do). Oh, and do watch out for the extra bonus question, and please answer it in the comments if you can! We first met Simon back in September 2013, when I joined my first ever KickStarter campaign for producing a new British banjo. The company expanded into building a traditional British brand in clothing, as well as the banjos, and things were going well when I re-interviewed Simon in December 2014. At that point, these were his plans for the next year: A year from now we will be a fully fledged men’s leisure brand, exporting to several countries. We will have electric guitars as well as banjos being made here. We’ll have added food products and outdoor gear to our Shackleton range. I’ll be (I promise) better supported, more relaxed, exploring new ideas. And I will be close to finishing my book about the journey! And hopefully will have published my long-standing children’s novel.” Well, that was a lot of plans for one short year – let’s find out how he did!

Hello again, Simon, and it’s lovely to meet you again. So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Well we’ve actually moved the brand and company even further forward than I had hoped when I spoke to you a year ago. Not all the plans we had ended up being pursued, but other more exciting ones took their place.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

We set out a year ago to raise £500,000 in equity funding, and we’ve just achieved that, plus a second highly successful KickStarter crowdfunding campaign. We now have a much broader range of handmade banjos being made in our factory in Norwich. I’ve been joined by four more staff in the past twelve months, a Commercial Director who is running the business alongside me, an Operations Manager who handles day-to-day operations, a Digital Marketing apprentice who handles our social media, and a very experienced fashion designer who has developed all of our clothing designs.

Those developments have allowed us to create our first complete clothing collection, which is all made in Britain and includes outerwear, knitwear, shirts, boots and accessories. The range is growing all the time. We are now stocked in four London stores, including The Natural History Museum and The Dandy Lab, and we have our own Norwich shop and our online store.

We have taken part in a range of fashion trade shows and have been featured in fashion press, and I was recently named one of the UK’s Top 100 Manufacturers for 2015 by The Manufacturer magazine.

We’ve combined our banjos and our fashion and lifestyle products into one website and we have a new visual identity, and new product photographs.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I wish I had known that the process of raising funding wouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult as I’d anticipated: I needn’t have worried so much!

And I’ve learned that the founder alone can only take a business so far. The most significant moment of the year was meeting and then hiring my Commercial Director.

Any more hints and tips for people?

I would just restate what I’ve always believed, that a strong brand story told with absolute conviction is your strongest asset by far. Get the story straight and make sure that it’s distinctive, authentic, and emotionally compelling, and everything else follows.

*** Extra question: What question would you most like to ask your fellow small business owners?

It’s true that I run a small business, but I don’t see my job as running a small business. My job is to create an internationally recognised brand, so I don’t tend to focus on the small business sector. The people I’d rather ask questions of and learn from are those who have created breakthrough brands. I’d ask those people how they made the critical decisions about what “not” to do. There are so many possibilities at every stage that it seems to me that the most important thing to decide is which things to not pursue! But making that decision is far from easy.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

A year from now we intend that our profile will be much higher. We will close to opening our first London store, we’ll have a new website, and we will most likely have engaged a professional PR company, communications agency, and the beginnings of a trade sales team. We will also be about to launch our second collection, this time moving from premium to luxury clothing.

Simon’s really been going from strength to strength with Shackleton in the last year – from banjos to boots and more. It’s interesting that he’s answered Yvonne Donald’s Extra Question from last week’s interview as he’s answered my questions (that is totally coincidental, as they sent their replies at the same time!). The order in which they are hiring people and growing and developing is very interesting, and surely a template for other similar companies.

You can find Simon and everything to do with Shackleton Design and Manufacturing at

Update Jan 2017: Simon has now passed the company on into a pair of safe hands.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat


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