Inspirational Woman: Pamela Gruhn | Founder, Frenchic

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Pamela Gruhn

My name is Pam and I am the Founder of Frenchic.

I’ve always had a passion for giving old furniture a new lease of life rather than see it relegated to landfill. In 2014 when I started the company, there was an upcycling revolution happening in the UK. A DIY trend was soaring and there was a lot of consumer interest and moral obligation to live more sustainably. I knew there was a gap in the market and wanted to create a paint that was not only eco-friendly, but was easy to use for beginners, as well as being the choice of professionals, and that’s when I had the idea to start Frenchic. The rest is history!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No! I was traditionally a marketeer, from having my own recruitment agency off Fenchurch St. – to years in the motor-racing industry in fact! Later in life, I discovered the joy of upcycling furniture and simply realised there wasn’t a chalk paint that really ticked all the boxes. A paint that was eco-friendly, that was creamy with no toxins nor VOC’s added to it, one that was certified safe to paint even children’s toys, that you could paint indoors and outdoors with no nasty ‘paint’ odour and that had a beautiful palette of colours… Cue Frenchic!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

There have been many challenges and risks throughout the Frenchic journey. To set-up the business, I used the £15,000 I had in a pension nest-egg, so I had to make it work! I would say the biggest (and ongoing) hurdle has been to keep totally focused on spreading the Frenchic word and recruiting new stockists. I work basically every waking hour so my social life has been pretty much out the window since 2014! But it’s ok because I love what I do – and I’m so grateful for that. Our biggest challenge for the business to date though, without a doubt was ensuring our stockists and high street retailers survived the pressures of the pandemic – which meant us working around the clock for 12-months straight to ensure they had the paint supplies they needed. Ensuring my wonderful stockists survived the COVID-19 impact has been my proudest moment!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In 2020 we received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise – which was the ultimate highlight, especially as it was in the Innovation category. Everything we produce has the customer and environment in mind, combining exceptional quality with ease of use and eco-friendly ingredients. But it has been a true labour of love – a start-up with humble beginnings, no exterior funding, but simply a pure passion for paint and to have the royal seal of approval is a dream come true – truly a special moment for Team Frenchic.

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

I think it’s two-fold. Firstly, the paint itself. The emphasis has always been on the ingredients and scientific technology behind them. All of our paints are natural and odourless, with ingredients listed clearly on the tins. The products have no added VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) and zero toxins – they are all EN:71-3 certified so they’re very safe. And secondly – it’s the people. We’re so much more than just paint. We’re a global community for upcycling creativity and inspiration, and that’s reflected in our almost 1 million social following, and over 500 stockists we work with across four continents. I built our business model around championing independent retailers, which continues to be at the heart of the brand.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business? 

Be original and work hard, very hard. It’s the people, alongside the product which makes a business.

DIY is often portrayed as “manly” – do you think this perception is changing?

Absolutely! And I think this past year and a half has really proved that. During lockdown, we saw the biggest surge of people sharing the upcycling projects through our social media pages, and it was great to see the whole family getting involved. DIY is not just about building flat pack or changing light bulbs – it’s upcycling tired pieces of furniture, revamping your front door or giving your bike a new lease of life. DIY is for everyone, and we love seeing it.

Do you have any advice for people thinking about upcycling?

Always prep! Lack of preparation can often lead to disappointing results. It’s usually a good idea to sand down surfaces prior to painting them, to ensure an even finish. Using Sugarsoap is a great way to make life easier too – just mix with warm water, ‘wash’ the surface and rinse off with clean water, allowing to dry fully before you paint, for better coverage and a long-lasting finish. We have some brilliant ‘how to’ videos on our YouTube channel which take you through projects, and give all of the ‘dos and don’ts’ advice, check them out! The biggest mistake though is people not getting started. Painting and upcycling is an amazing hobby and profession, for so many reasons, so pick up the paint brush and get going!

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

It’s not the destination but the journey that counts – so enjoy every moment of it!

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

Continue to create more award-winning innovative lines and expand organically as we have. We’re always ready to take on more stockists, it’s the heart of this country, and I’ll always support them. Looking to the future, we have so much more to come – watch this space.

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

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