Inspirational Woman: Gail Ball | Founder, Crackpots

Gail Ball I’m the founder and joint owner of Crackpots, which I run with my business partner Alison.

My role in the company is as the creative, so I make all of the products by hand and come up with new design ideas. My career has been an exciting and varied one but my creative flair has stayed with me throughout.

After leaving school at 16, I trained as a chef which took me to Switzerland for a year where I worked as chef whilst learning Swiss-German and gaining a passion for the cuisine. Another highlight of those early years in my career was serving the Queen during her trip to Leicester, my home city. I then went on to start my own catering business where I specialised in gourmet desserts – which I sold to large restaurants – and luxury wedding cakes in the 1980’s.

Having my children changed it all, as I realised I could no longer work the unsociable and demanding hours the catering business entailed, so I turned my hand to crafts and began making salt dough (which was very fashionable in the 90’s!) After several years touring the country selling at fairs and a change in craft to crackle pots too, I decided to train to become a driving instructor, where I had my own driving school business for six years. I loved being a driving instructor, but unfortunately, I sustained a severe back injury which meant I could no longer spend so many hours behind the wheel. It was during my recovery from a back operation, in 2011, that I came up with the idea of our tissue box covers and my business partner, Alison, and I started Crackpots.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In my experience life has planned my career for me. Luckily, I’ve been able to adapt and change my skills and business direction when I needed to, which is why my career path has had so many twists and turns.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, definitely! Most prominently, when my children were eight and six years old, I went through a divorce which meant I became a full-time working single parent. Juggling my own business and childcare was certainly a challenge. During this time, I trained to become a driving instructor so that I was able to be at home with my children and work my business hours around their needs.

There’s also been plenty of challenges for Crackpots…we initially had difficulty sourcing the wooden tissue boxes from UK suppliers as they struggled to keep up with our growing demand. Three years ago we decided we needed to start building the tissue boxes in-house to continue on the path we were on and that choice has seen the business grow significantly.

More recently it’s been a challenge during Covid as many of our major craft shows were cancelled, but like many businesses we’ve adapted and grown our online business in order to reach our customers this way too.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

As the business grew over the years, we quickly outgrew our workshop space in Leicestershire, so our biggest achievement was being able to purchase enough land on the Lincolnshire coast on which to build our dream workshop, which we now call Crackpots’ home.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

A combination of our determination, hard work and perseverance.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Knowing how tough it is to be a working single mother, I would like to see more opportunities and support for women who want to start their own businesses in order to have control of their working hours to fit around their family. I think there needs to be more grants, networking and mentorship for women running their own businesses, and likewise more flexibility for women at work to help strike a balance.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I’d tell myself to worry less, chill-out more and not to work so hard!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We’re hoping to introduce personalisation into our products which has been highly requested by our customers, so this is a focus of ours for 2021. Like most new things in business, I’m sure it’ll be a challenge but will also bring lots of growth and learning.

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