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Meet the founder of SkinnyMalinkyQuilts

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Meet the founder of SkinnyMalinkyQuilts

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Hi Lucy, it goes without saying, that you are the Queen of quilting. I love the bold colours and modern shapes you’ve been creating, but before we get into that, please tell me a little bit about yourself.

Thank you so much! I shall happily take that title.

So a little bit about my background. I am a thirty something mum of two who lives in Edinburgh. I studied Fine Art Printmaking at university and had grand plans to go on to be a full time artist. Financially this was difficult to support myself and I made less and less art as time went on. For a few years I worked a series of jobs from waitressing to working in a gallery. Eventually I got fed up having so little income and reassessed my career path and went back to university to study Social Work. I had been volunteering at an art group for vulnerable adults in the evening and enjoyed this immensely.

I recognised transferable skills from my art education such as questioning, non judgmental attitude and thinking outside of the box that could be useful in a social work setting. I completed my Masters in Social Work and had planned to work part time to allow myself to have the finances and time to make art again. However I got caught up in the career path becoming a Practice Teacher and working almost full time. It was an all consuming career choice that tested emotions and was mentally draining. A house move back to Edinburgh prompted a massive change in my life. I remembered that art and making had been my goal. An idea that had got lost along the way.

 

I’ve have been stalking you on Instagram for some time now, and I’ve always wanted to ask; who taught you quilting and when did you decide to turn it into a business?

I began quilting in 2013 after deciding to make my nephew a quilt. I was still working at the time and it became a fun creative outlet to combat a stressful job. I am pretty much self taught. Picking up tip and tricks from youtube videos, trying out patterns in magazines and chatting to people on Instagram. The quilting community is one of the most generous I have come across. Always willing to lend a hand and give advice.

I quickly realised I was able to design and create my own quilts and was quite confident trying out new techniques. Friends and family started asking me to make quilts and I received amazing feedback from them. In the couple of years that followed I had the idea of a business in the back of my head. Even opening my Etsy shop in 2014. But I had neither the time or the energy to pursue it properly. I’m an all or nothing person. If I'm going to do something I will commit and do it properly. It really wasn't until the end of 2015 when I knew I was leaving my job that I considered starting my business in earnest.

 

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How do you think you have separated yourself from your competitors?

This always a difficult question for me to answer. I try just to be me! Over the past year more of me is coming across in my work I think. I am drawing on my printmaking background to create one off textile pieces, use hand drawn designs in my work rather than digital and work in short run limited editions. I feel the whole point of buying from an individual maker is that you are getting something unique. By creating products that are one offs or there are only five in each colour way ensures my customers are getting something special. With my fabric I only print each collection for a limited time. If I reprint the design it will be in a different colour way. That means people who buy my fabric and make their own quilts or gifts know they are giving something unique too.

 

What question do you think every entrepreneur should be asking themselves?

It would have to be, do you love what you do? If you don't, how can you expect to other people to be invested and love it? Life is too short to be spending a large majority of you day working on something that brings you no joy. Yes there are off days, everyone has those. But if you are waking up dreading or having no motivation for your business its time for change.

 

In terms of time and the changes we’ve experienced over the last 10 years, how do you think you’ve managed to make quilting so fresh and modern?

I suppose because I don't come from a traditional quilting background I have been able to create work that has a modern aesthetic. There is a large modern quilting and possibly post modern quilting community creating pieces that blur the lines between functional and purely aesthetic. I have never had someone tell me that quilting was supposed to be done in a certain way or that quilts have to be a certain size or use a certain material. This freedom to experiment and create without imposed restrictions has meant I'm not limited in my approach.

 

What are your thoughts on networking to build your business?

Networking is always important. Although I am never keen on that term. I like to think of it as just getting to know people who are in your industry, who have the same interests as you, who get what you are trying to do. Support through these networks you build professionally, particularly when you work on your own, can be invaluable. Making these connections can also lead to interesting collaborations or recommendations being made to others of your service.

 

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How do you fend off or deal with those moments of doubt, that every entrepreneur struggles with?

You just have to get over it. After years working in social work you realise what matters and what doesn’t. If things are not going the way you planned stop and take some time to think or do something different. Things can change and surprise you over time.

An example I could give is with, what is now, my best selling fabric, The Bees. It was the first fabric I designed and released at the beginning of 2016. I think I sold maybe six panels. I thought, thats it, no one likes them, I’m never printing them again! Dramatic, I know! However six months passed and I had an idea for them in a different colour way and thought I would give them another chance. I couldn't print them fast enough! And again this year when I released the organic range.

 

How did you build such an amazing consumer culture around Skinny MalinkyQuilts?

On a basic level I think by having limited edition items means that if people want them they need to get them now or they risk missing out. It does mean I am continually creating new designs and considering different colour combinations which is not for everyone. But I enjoy it. Also running my projects, of which there are many, on Instagram has allowed me to connect with my customers in a different way. They experience the making and development process along with me. Such as my textile art Quilt Print series. I received messages from people that recognise where the photo has been taken and it has reminded them of when they lived in Edinburgh. Others message to say I have inspired a new colour combination for their latest quilt. So I suppose I have built a community around my brand in some way.

 

Of course, I must ask this, what inspired the name SkinnyMalinkyQuilts?

As I mentioned before I was a social worker and as such I had to remain hidden on social media. So I needed a name to hide behind. I am originally from Glasgow and there is a Glasgow poem ‘Skinny malinky long legs’. The name popped into my head when I was trying to think of a name for my Instagram account before I started my business purely to share photographs of my quilts. I added Quilts on the end so people would know what I did. It then became my shop name and my blog, which I am terrible at keeping up to date.

 

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What would be your top marketing tip, to grow a business that is so niche, yet incredibly timeless?

Be yourself! People buy from independent makers because they have got to know them, want to support them and enjoy what they do. It can be that they like your sense of humour, enjoy the stories you tell, share the values you hold as well as liking your product. I know I am very loyal to several small businesses that I have connected with whom I like as well as their business ethos. Don't be scared to put yourself into your business. Not in an overshare way but enough so your customers feel they know you and what you are about and more importantly trust you! That means showing up, being consistent and talking like a real person.

 

The way you have utilised Instagram to grow your brand is amazing. What would be your top 3 tips for any small business owner, on how to build an engaged audience on Instagram?

This would be a very similar answer to the last one. Be you! I love Instagram and I think you can tell those that are there just to sell and those that want to be part of a community. I have found my people on Instagram who are in some way my virtual work mates. As I said before the quilting community is tight knit and supportive, full of wonderful and talented creators and artists. With me I have to find a balance between posting just about the work I am making and remembering to tell people, oh by the way, you can buy this! I do need to pay the bills after all.

So my top three tips would be:

  1. Post good content. By this I mean good photographs that are interesting with

    captions that give value in some way.

  2. Use hashtags to get discovered. This involves a bit of research to find out what

    people who might buy your products would be looking for.

  3. And lastly get involved. Have conversations with people, comment on other

    peoples posts. Are there any Instagram challenges you can take part in to reach a wider audience? Be a real person.

 

What plans do you have for SkinnyMalinkyQuilts over the next 12 months?

I always have grand plans of what I could do with my business and have to reign myself in every now and then. Over the next twelve months however I will be continuing to produce limited edition fabric designs, quilts, home accessories and textile art. I would like to expand to offering patterns. Which is something I have been meaning to do all year but not got round to yet. And I would also like to start producing fine art screen prints again. But maybe thats a whole other business? 

 

 

 

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Meet the co-founders of Mighty Fine Honeycomb

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Meet the co-founders of Mighty Fine Honeycomb

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Hi Kit and Ross, as a honey lover myself, I am intrigued to find out more about Mighty Fine, but before we get into that, please tell me a little bit about yourselves and the inspiration behind Mighty Fine Honeycomb.

KIT: Ross and I met in our early twenties at our first real jobs out of university – working as dogsbodies on the Richard & Judy television show. We constantly traded business ideas but went off to have separate careers in marketing for me and further television production focusing on food for Ross.

We met up again 10 years later after I had been working in the US and decided to ditch our careers to push one of our ideas forward. The idea was to create a wonderful retail experience that focussed on chocolate – a chocolate shop with chocolatiers constantly making products live in the shop that you taste and ask questions about.

We pulled together a small investment pot each and opened the shop in the middle of Camden market and started to bring the idea to life. We sold wonderful creations like tequila truffles, bacon dipped in dark chocolate and beer flavoured fudge however above all our bags of honeycomb dipped into chocolate sold like hot cakes. We could not keep them on the shelves.

We managed to secure an opportunity with Harvey Nichols and after watching the honeycomb sell in an independent retail setting and listening to the feedback we got day in day out in the shop, we decided to shut the shop and focus our efforts on becoming the world’s number one honeycomb brand.  

 

How do you both handle competition in your industry and sustain growth?

ROSS: We keep a keen eye on what everyone is doing but we are focused on strengthening our own brand and doing everything the very best we can.  We challenge ourselves to up the ante on every part of the business and spend some time each month, just the two of us, making sure that we are hitting these goals that are not specifically measured in financial terms.

 

What do you both look for in a business partner?

KIT: Working with someone to create something from scratch is an incredibly intense relationship so, without sounding like a match.com advert, you need to be compatible. Yes you need to get on, but having two volatile personalities can be counter productive especially when your backs are against the wall. So personality traits that are complimentary is useful to deal with the diverse range of problems that you come up against every day.

 

What is the best advice that you’ve received that you still put into practice today?

KIT: Listen to feedback very carefully.

When you you put a product into the market you are effectively asking everyone, in the process to purchase, to have to an opinion on it.  So we both think that it is incredibly important to take on board every bit of feedback and work out how it can make your business better.

When we opened the shop we would watch and listen first hand how people responded to our products, the packaging and brand. The information we got back was so valuable. We like to run our stands ourselves at as many consumer events as possible to talk people about our products and listen to their ideas. 

 

 

Has your initial business mission changed since launch? If yes, how did it evolve?

ROSS: Our business mission in general terms has stayed pretty constant – to become a trusted, household confectionery brand – but how we get there evolves pretty rapidly. One of the parts of running the business I enjoy most is adapting and fine tuning our strategy when the opportunity arises.

 

What is the number one question every entrepreneur should be asking themselves?

KIT: Does this support the mission (about everything they do?)

ROSS: How can we do this better?

 

How can I get my hands on your products?

KIT: We are very proud to stocked in loads of amazing independent stores up and down the country – these stores have supported us from day 1 and have helped us introduce our products to market.

It is also an honour to be stocked nationwide in Waitrose, COOK, BP, Picture House Cinemas, Whole Foods and are launching into Sainsburys at the end of October.

 

Tell me a little bit about your Friend of the Honey and the support you’ve given to their campaign.

ROSS: We are Friends of the Honey Bee and are proud to support the efforts to build a better future British honey bee. This includes establishing better environments and funding research into honey bee health. With an ageing beekeeper population, the efforts to get young people into beekeeping is really importantly – most recently we kept the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers happy with lots of honeycomb bars!

 

What plans do you have for Mighty Fine Honeycomb over the coming 12 months?

ROSS: The next 12 months is really exciting. We have a new product range that will launch in the first half next year that will open the Mighty Fine brand into the wider confectionery market. We can’t wait to release it.

KIT: We are also getting out, about and around the country to introduce the brand to as many people as possible, which we both love doing. The future is all Mighty Fine.

 

 

 

 

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Meet the founder of Kiddies Kingdom

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Meet the founder of Kiddies Kingdom

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Kiddies Kingdom has been around for over 25 years! Please tell us all about your amazing team. 

Thank you, I'm  Mohammed Patel the founder of Kiddies Kingdom. Over the years, we have managed to build a really strong and loyal team. There’s a real family style culture and that’s something I’m very proud of. Our staff are very committed and as we grow, it’s amazing to see everyone working together and growing with us. Most Fridays the team get together and have a little party, enjoying some food and conversation that doesn’t revolve around work.

What inspired you to start Kiddies Kingdom?

It goes back from when I was at high school. In year 9, everyone had to take part in some work experience, and as my Dad had his own shop – Nappy Factory, I thought this would work to my advantage, so I completed my work experience there. During my work experience, I would watch everyone work and think to myself how I would run the business if it was mine. From then I started inputting my ideas into the business and help with visual merchandising.

Not long after that, my Dad took me to see the company’s IT consultant, and that’s how I started working on the digital side of the business – I helped design and create the website and have been working to improve our digital marketing ever since.

 

Over the last couple of decades, what have been some of your biggest achievements?

Seeing how we’ve gone from a small independent business in Dewsbury, to now being one of the UK’s leading independent children retailers is a real achievement.

We’re now working with Bounty – the pack that midwives give to new parents. This was always a goal of ours and to be one of their few partners is a real achievement for us.

How have you incorporated social media into your business?

Our social media activity is minimal at the moment and is definitely an area of growth. Social media is a key focus for us this year and we look forward to growing our channels.

What's been the best piece of business advice you've ever been given?

There are three things that have always stuck with me: work to live, don’t live for work/don’t work for the business, make the business work for you/if you listen a lot more, you learn a lot more.



 

Having been around for so many years, what are your top tips for managing your business’ finances?

My Dad has a lot of business experience and has taught me a lot when it comes to the business’s finances – two pieces of advice he gave me a long time ago was not to go into partnerships and to keep internal and external fixed costs at a minimum.

 

How do you remain competitive in such a saturated market?

We’re extremely strategic with our buying and have built the very best relationships with our suppliers. We have determined a great way to work with suppliers and that’s why we’ve won so many accounts. We currently have 170 brands on our website which is more than any other children’s retailer in the country. We’ve also recently opened Yorkshire’s biggest showroom which stocks over 150 brands.

 

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs wanting to get into the online retail sector?

It’s not as easy as you think it is. It’s important to have the right systems and processes in place from the very start to increase efficiency and allow your business to scale up. Don’t hesitate spending money on marketing and ensure you have the metrics to check the performance of every department in the business.

What's the secret to longevity in business?

Controlling costs and having a USP to allow you to continue taking market share. Never stop creating and developing ideas – move with the times.

Plans for the next 25 years?

We strive to be the number one independent retailer in the UK with a super strong online presence and one strong ‘destination showroom’.

We have great relationships in China and hope this will help us with our plans to start selling internationally.

 

How do you relax and enjoy the success of your business?

Family is very important to me and home is only two minutes away, so I always make sure to have lunch with my family – I feel lucky to be able to do this every day. I have built up a loyal and efficient team, so if I want to go on holiday, I am lucky enough to put complete trust in my team and know everything will run smoothly in my absence. I also don’t have to work on the weekends which is a great bonus!