Welcome to an update with Helen Earp, who not only runs craft gift and decoration company Sweetheart Designs, but has also expanded into premises, as we’ll see later. I first interviewed Helen in June 2013 and then again in March 2015 when this was her plan: “In a further year’s time, I hope to have a full website up and running and also hopefully be stocking a couple more shops. It is a very difficult decision to make and I would rather take my time to find a shop/venue that my products will really fit in with. My ultimate goal is to have a commercial premises, involving local crafters but also involving the community and the vast array of social groups there are in my local area, but that will be at least a couple of years once my twins start school.” Has she moved towards these aims? Let’s find out!
Hello again, Helen! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
I am in a completely different place to where I thought I would be, it has been an amazing whirlwind year.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
Where do I start? I now own my very own shop. A complete shock and petrifying step to take but I took the plunge and am so pleased I gave it a shot!
I had a very good rapport with one of the shops I stocked with Sweetheart Designs, and the owners mentioned to me that they were retiring and would be putting the business up for sale. They asked if I would be interested in buying and I turned them down straight away, there was no way I could buy a shop, my twins were just turning 3, I had no capital, it just wouldn’t work.
But I just couldn’t stop thinking about the shop, even when I was sleeping.
It was a ready-made, established business – how could I not give it a go?
I spent hours and hours crunching numbers, putting a business plan together, etc., etc., and applied for a start-up loan. I secured finance from a company called X-Forces who help ex-military and their families to start their own businesses once outside of the forces. Since my husband is an ex-Army Corporal, X-Forces were willing to help me.
From there I signed a 5-year lease and bought the shops stock, fixtures & fittings and also a t-shirt printing setup from the shop’s previous owners.
I opened the doors to Togademus Toys & Crafts Ltd on the 1st August 2015 and havent looked back.
We are an amazing independent shop selling traditional, educational wooden toys, books, baby gifts and most excitingly, I have continued (and grown) the handmade section of the shop, with 16 local designer-makers renting space to sell their products. I offer creative workshops and drop-in craft sessions for all ages, which have been received extremely well by children and adults alike. I am a very lucky lady.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I have learned that if you have a dream – chase it and that you can do almost anything if you put your mind to it.
I wish I had known what was coming, it has been a huge adjustment for the family, getting used to a new daily regime and not having mommy in the house all the time has taken probably up until now to adjust to, really.
Any more hints and tips for people?
If you get an opportunity, no matter how scary – go for it. Better to grab it with both hands than live with the regret of not trying down the line.
Do your research, and your sums. A solid business plan is a wonderful thing. I do one every year now to try to focus myself.
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
How do you keep the momentum going? Where do you get inspiration from to keep things fresh?
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Bigger and better, I am still in my first year so won’t be expecting to be rich anytime soon, but I would love to have built a solid online market for the shop. Posh packaging is also on my list of things to sort out, too.
I was SO EXCITED when I read Helen’s news. How lovely to go from maker stocking a few shops to shop owner, stocking other makers’ items (I should put Helen in touch with Sarah Goode, who has also recently opened a shop, shouldn’t I. There we go: done). This shop is actually quite local to me: it is absolutely lovely and a must for anyone looking for good quality, traditional and innovative toys for children. I hope to see it continue to prosper in years to come!
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.