18 June 2021|Female Founder Spotlight, Latest Posts, Launching a business, Meet the Successful Founder
In the latest edition of our Female Founder Spotlight Series, we caught up with the inspirational Christine Chau to discover more about her entrepreneurship journey. A former City marketeer, she swapped 4” Jimmy Choo’s and corporate life for woolly socks and wellies when she became an “accidental” entrepreneur, co-founding Manchester-based luxury dog bedding company Charley Chau, with her sister in 2010.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I spent fifteen years in marketing in the City and my last role was running the Marketing, Events and Sponsorship teams for the Mayor of London’s office in the lead-up to London 2012. It was during this time that I started to design and make dog beds for my own dogs as a quirky little hobby. I had no idea that it would lead to founding, Charley Chau, a luxury dog bedding company, and leaving my career behind.
For over a decade Charley Chau has been making beautiful dog bedding that looks gorgeous in the home. We specialise in designing dog bedding that is super-comfy, stylish and practical. While we started out making beds for our own dogs on the sitting room floor, Charley Chau is now an award-winning British business with happy customers in over sixty countries around the world, and we’re proud supporters of British manufacturing.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
In 2010 my second dog, Anna, joined Charley and I needed a new dog bed. Having bought a lot of sub-standard beds that just ended up in the bin after the first wash I decided to take matters into my own hands. I sat on the sitting room floor to design and hand-stitch two Snuggle Beds. My dogs loved them and few Facebook photos later, I was inundated with enquiries about where the beds were from. That was the beginning of Charley Chau and why I consider myself an accidental entrepreneur. It had never crossed my mind to start a business but after such amazing reaction that’s exactly what happened. I set up Charley Chau with my sister, Jenny, later that year.
Charley Chau was meant to be a hobby. There was no shiny business plan, not even any clear goals other than ‘let’s design some fabulous dog beds’. We just thought it might be something fun to do in our spare time and never imagined that it would turn into a viable business.
How did you achieve awareness?
Very simple: happy customers and word of mouth. Our customers have been talking about Charley Chau and our products from day one – they recommend us to their dog friends in person or on social media – and this has been the single most important driver of growth.
When we founded Charley Chau there were cheap and ugly, badly made dog beds that went lumpy in the wash or were an eyesore in the home, and expensive beds that looked pretty but were made in exactly the same way as the cheap beds. In terms of style, quality and value for money it was not a great consumer proposition.
We set out to design beautiful dog beds that are genuinely comfy, stylish and practical, and made to perform over time. It was these points of difference that got dog lovers excited so they started to talk about Charley Chau.. Our customers were delighted with both our dog beds and the service that we provided, and were very vocal in recommending us. Our average net promoter score is +95 on a scale of -100 to +100. This is almost unheard of and we feel extremely lucky that we’ve managed to create such amazing goodwill with our customers.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Charley Chau is a bootstrap business. Jenny and I funded the company’s growth with our own savings in the first two years, having no idea if we’d ever make it back. Fortunately, we turned a profit in year three. We continue to re-invest our profits to fund our growth and have actively chosen to grow organically and turned down some very flattering offers of investment.
What are the key successes?
There have been so many highs on completely different scales. From our very first customer order, to now having customers in over sixty countries around the world; winning an award for the best small trade stand at Badminton Horse Trials to being named Family Business Entrepreneurs of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
The reality of running a business though is that success is almost always measured in financial terms. This awful pandemic has really highlighted to me just how lucky we are to have founded and grown a business that has proven itself not just able to survive extreme financial and societal uncertainty, but to thrive under extremely challenging circumstances. In this current financial year, our eleventh year of trading, our revenue is up by over 57%.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
There are many challenges for any start-up but with a small business like Charley Chau, self-funding means even more limited resources and trade-offs to make about spend. My biggest single challenge is creating enough time and space to work “on the business” as opposed to “in the business”, creating the space to work on business growth, as opposed to running the day to day operations.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We’re focused on continuing to design luxe dog bedding that our canine customers love, that looks fabulous in our customers’ home, and to maintain our exceptional quality standards. One day Jenny and I will look for someone else to take the helm but there’s a good few more years in us yet!
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Starting and running a business is not for everyone. You need to be resourceful, an ace problem solver, and be prepared to work longer hours than any employer would ever expect, sometimes without pay. You also need to able to pick yourself back up every time you run into a brick wall. You will find yourself working under circumstances more challenging than you can even begin to imagine and you will need to love it. If you think you’ve got these traits and resilience in spades, then it could be the most rewarding work decision you ever make in your life.
Can you share your top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
Be passionate – if you don’t genuinely think what you’re doing is amazing why would anyone else?
Never take your customers for granted.
Use your network for advice and input, and if you don’t have one, get out there and build one – there are some brilliant start-up accelerators in the UK.
Don’t be precious – always back yourself 100% but stay open minded because at some point you’ll get feedback or good advice that you don’t want to hear.
Be resilient, it’s OK to feel sorry for yourself when disaster strikes but your business is more likely to be successful if your mind is focused on fixing it rather than wallowing in self-pity.
Make sure you turn the creative switch on when it comes to being resourceful and problem solving. There are always different ways to achieve your goals.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Less of an inspirational quote but a quote nonetheless and one that has stuck with me for over thirty years:
“Behaviour is things that people say or don’t say, and things that people do or don’t do. Loud or silent, passive or active – it’s all communication.”
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Facebook @CharleyChau https://www.facebook.com/charleychau