13 May 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Sara Davies MBE is the founder and creative director of Crafter’s Companion, a company which she established at the young age of 21. In 2019, Sara joined BBC Two’s Dragons’ Den as the youngest entrepreneur to join the panel.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
Crafter’s Companion is a global craft business that I founded just over 15 years ago, aged 21. We create and sell products and tools for the papercraft, sewing and art markets and export these items to more than 40 countries.
We have a UK head office in the North East of England, a US head office in Corona, California and we currently have a team of more than 200 staff.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
As I mentioned, I set up Crafter’s Companion back in 2005 while I was studying for a business management degree at York University. As part of the four-year course, we had to do a year in industry and instead of going to a big London firm, like quite a few of my course mates did, I went to a small craft business that was local to my home in County Durham.
I’m really glad that I did this because I got to experience working across all areas of the company, rather than just sticking to one department.
While working here, I got chatting to lots of customers who often asked if there was a product which could create bespoke envelopes. They had an issue with creating lovely handmade cards and then putting them into ill-fitting, boring white envelopes and I couldn’t blame them!
With so many products out there in the market, I was very surprised that a product like this didn’t already exist, so I set about doing some research but found that there was a gap in the market.
I roped in my ex-engineer dad for some help and together, we created the Enveloper. I knew that I had the type of product that I would need to demonstrate to people before they made a purchase, and that a TV shopping channel would be the perfect platform to do this. I approached Ideal World and they let me present my product during a cardmaking show. It was an instant hit with viewers and sold 1,500 in the first ten minutes and 30,000 units within six months of that demonstration. After that, Crafter’s Companion was born and we’ve continued to make innovative, best-selling products ever since.
How did you achieve awareness?
Our customers are very loyal and have been that way since the beginning. We’ve worked hard to maintain these relationships and it’s the main reason that we have been a household name in the craft industry for the last decade or so.
In 2007, not long after we opened our US arm of the business, we established a relationship with the global shopping channel, HSN. Since then, our US presence has continued to grow. As you would expect, the craft market over there is enormous so while we are also a common craft name stateside, there is still huge potential for growth.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
In the early years of Crafter’s Companion, I always tried to reinvest our profits back into the business to support our growth plans, that way we were in control.
What are the key successes?
On a personal level, receiving an MBE for services to the economy in 2016 was definitely a huge achievement. I always thought that MBEs were exclusively for lifetime achievements so to receive one at a young age was a shock. I still don’t know who put me up for it to this day!
For the company, key successes have included buying new head offices in County Durham and Corona, California in 2016 and 2018, launching our digital platform, Crafter’s TV in 2019, and winning a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade in 2020.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Like most, we had our fair share of challenges last year. Pretty much 50 per cent of our company was out of action, with our retail and trade arms of the business coming to a halt and having to close when the pandemic hit.
We knew that in order to secure the future of our business, we had to pivot, so we focused our attention on ecommerce with Crafter’s TV and our website, Amazon marketplace and our TV shopping channel partners such as HSN. Thanks to our fantastic employees and our multi-channel business model, we’ve been able to come out of the other side.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We have grown significantly throughout the past few years and we have some equally big plans for the future. A key area for us lies in recruiting people to our industry, largely those who’ve thought about trying crafts, or encouraging people who have tried drawing or creating to have another go and keep at it.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Being your own boss is by no means an easy ride but nothing is as rewarding. Knowing that you’re working to create something for yourself and potentially other people as an employer means a great deal. If you’re passionate and dedicated, anything is possible.
If you have a product that solves a problem that’s great but ultimately, it’s a fantastic person that makes a fantastic entrepreneur. If you are determined, resourceful and passionate about what you do that’s half the battle.
To make a great start in an entrepreneurial journey, take advantage of your network and build up a following on social media. It’s a powerful tool that will enable you to create a community, conduct research and build awareness among your targeted audience.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
1. Recognise your strengths and limitations
When I started my business and didn’t have any staff, I had to do it all and that included product development, customer service, marketing – you name it I did it. As the company became more successful, I realised that while I loved the business development and creative side of things and knew I was great at doing these things, accounts and finances weren’t my strong suit, nor were they something I really enjoyed.
As a business owner, it’s difficult to hand over responsibility for certain things, especially when you see your company as your baby. However, in order to free up your time and effort, you need to delegate and trust your team to be able to deliver, and accept that you can’t excel at everything.
2. Ask for help and advice
At some point in their career, even the most successful entrepreneurs face problems but overcoming challenges and learning from them is an important part of being in business. Entrepreneurs enjoy talking about their experiences so don’t be shy when it comes to asking other business owners for advice, after all it could prevent you from making a mistake later down the line.
3. Accept that it’s more than your regular 9 to 5
Being an entrepreneur definitely has its perks but it’s much more than a regular 9 to 5 job, it’s a way of life. If you’re looking for an easy ride or the opportunity to have a lie-in on a morning, trust me this isn’t it!
My parents were both entrepreneurs and they worked incredibly hard throughout my childhood so although I knew that owning a business was the path that I wanted for myself, I knew that I would have to live, sleep and breathe it for it to be a success.
4. Believe in what you’re selling and don’t take no for an answer
Something that helped me to secure my first big break for Crafter’s Companion was our deal with Ideal World. They already had a cardmaking slot on one of their shows and I knew that my first product, The Enveloper, would be the perfect upsell. I spoke with the producers for the show and presented them with an offer they couldn’t refuse. They let me have my slot and I sold 1500 units within the first ten minutes.
5. Don’t undersell your products
Offering clients and customers a taste of your products for free is fine but don’t undervalue your products by giving huge discounts from the start. Let your product or service do the talking.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?
@StephLunch. I love the way that Steph continues to fly the flag for the North East of England but I really admire the way that she has chased her aspirations while having a family.
My friend and fellow entrepreneur, Fiona Cruickshank, has given me so much advice throughout the years. One thing that I will always remember her saying is that when you have a small company, it’s easy to centre the business around the staff but this is more difficult to do as you grow. It’s not fair to rely on people in this way and when this happens, you need to adopt more of a leadership role.
Mark Hill is another inspirational figure. He’s an expat living in the US and was a founding member of the Craft and Hobby Association (now known as the Association for Creative Industries). As a young British entrepreneur, trying to make it in the American craft world, Mark really took me under his wing. He introduced me to some key contacts while I was over there, reinforced that the company and I had what it takes to be a success, and because he has been through the same sort of thing himself, his advice was invaluable.
Raman Sehgal is the founder of marketing agency Ramarketing and a good friend for a long time. To me, Raman is inspirational because he has established a successful marketing agency for biotech and pharma sectors in the North East of England but not one to rest on his laurels, he saw that there was opportunity in the US and took his wife and young kids over there to set up a US arm of the business. I thought it was incredibly brave and it’s been a great success for the company, which is amazing.
Raman was also the person who pushed me to try for Dragons’ Den. I mentioned to him that I would love to be on the show but didn’t think it could be possible. He told me I should go for it and said he’d ring the show, which he did, and I got the call to do a screen test!
My gran has been another great inspiration in my life. She has been the matriarch of our family and has always pushed our family to do things that enable us to better ourselves. Her motivation and drive are characteristics that I think I have adopted.
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Facebook: Sara Davies