Sara Davies MBE is the founder and creative director of Crafter’s Companion.
Sara established the craft retailer from her university bedroom in 2005 and today, the company creates, manufactures and sells its products to more than 40 different countries.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My name is Sara Davies and I set up my business, Crafter’s Companion, in 2005 from my university bedroom. I was doing a Business Management degree at York University and part of that course involved us doing a year’s placement. I organised mine to be at a local craft business, which was great because I got involved in all aspects of the company.
I loved the company’s customer base. They were so passionate about crafting and the things that they made, and it rubbed off on me, so I would go home each night full of new ideas. My lightbulb moment came, though, when I realised that these passionate crafters were having to put their wonderful homemade cards into really ill-fitting and plain white envelopes, which just didn’t reflect what was inside. There was nothing on the market that could help people to create their own and so, the idea for The Enveloper was born.
I worked with my dad, a retired engineer, and a local joiner to create a prototype and then I pitched the product to major TV shopping channel, Ideal World. I secured a slot on a cardmaking segment and The Enveloper was an instant hit. It sold 1500 units in the first ten minutes and 30,000 within six months of that demonstration. I ended up leaving university with a First-Class Honours degree and a business turning over half a million pounds.
Today, my company continues to create and sell products to the papercraft, art and sewing markets. We sell them through our websites, stores, independent retailers, trade partners and TV shopping channels, and we currently export to more than 40 different countries.
My current role is founder and creative director. I love playing a huge part in the product development side of the company, because that’s exactly how the company started, and innovation and new technology are what I’m passionate about. I also love to explore new business opportunities for the company.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I didn’t sit down and plan my career, but I’ve grown up with parents who are serial entrepreneurs and have always been busy with business. Until my late teens, I wanted to be a teacher, but as I grew to be more involved with my parents’ paint and decorating shop, I knew that I wanted to be in business. Becoming more involved in the operation of my parent’s shop and working with them helped me to make the decision on where I wanted to go to university and what I studied.
You’re currently starring in BBC’s Dragons’ Den – how did you get involved in this?
I’ve always loved the show. When I was at university, Dragons’ Den viewing sessions with drinks and a takeaway were a regular thing. For us, the show was like gold dust – the drama and tension made for fantastic viewing, but the Dragons were also handing out gems of advice on a regular basis.
I said to my flatmates back then how much I would love to go on the show, so you can imagine my surprise when in the early years of Crafter’s Companion, I was contacted by the producers! They asked me if I would like to pitch on the programme to which I replied an immediate yes, only for them to ask me how much money I would be asking for. The truth was, I didn’t actually need any money, so unsurprisingly I didn’t end up going on the show!
Fast forward a few years and it became less about wanting to pitch on the programme, and more that I wanted to be a Dragon. I’ve been involved in business mentoring and have made a few investments throughout my career, so having the opportunity to do a similar thing on a scale as big as Dragons’ Den seemed like an amazing opportunity, and one I could only dream of.
Then my friend came around in December last year and coincidently, we were watching Dragons’ Den. I told him how much I would love to go on the programme. He asked me why I didn’t just go for it.
It just so happened that a Dragon had stepped down from the programme. He got in touch with one of the producers and not too long after, I was contacted by a producer who was responsible for casting. She put me forward for a Skype interview with the series producer and executive producer of the show. I had a few screen tests and the rest is history!
Has the Dragons’ Den experience taught you anything?
Being part of Dragons’ Den has taught me that it’s okay to be myself and that it’s okay to have confidence in my conviction. I was conscious going into the experience that I might not be what they were looking for. Compared to other Dragons in the past, I didn’t think that I fit that persona and I was worried about how I would also come across to the audience.
Despite my initial worries and concerns, I stayed true to myself and it’s paid off because I’ve had a fantastic reception from viewers, people on social media and the media in general. It’s shown me that I should stay true to myself, no matter the situation.
What has been the most challenging period of your career?
In the past, one of my most challenging periods was in 2007 when Helix launched a rival product of mine and I had to take them to court. The thought of what I stood to lose back then – £250,000 – really took its toll on me, but we won and Helix withdrew their product.
But I would have to say if you ask me now what the most challenging period of my career has been, I would say the current pandemic. The company has had to adapt to everything that’s going on in a major way and we’ve had to completely rethink the way that we do business. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been utilising our digital network and ecommerce to drive sales where we can, and we’ve been trying to support our customers with educational and inspirational content, as well as the first-class customer service that they have been used to from us, but it hasn’t been easy. I’m so grateful to my team for the hard work and the support that they have shown throughout the past few months. I already knew that I had the best people working for me, but they have gone above and beyond my expectations.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement would have to be my MBE, which I was awarded at the age of 32. Seeing how proud my family were of me on the night that I told them all was better than any feeling I’ve had. Also, to get the MBE for services to the economy means a lot because I am a North East girl through and through, and knowing that I have tried to bring employment to the area gives me a sense of pride.
I always thought that people were given MBEs later in life, after you’ve achieved a great deal and dedicated a lifetime to your career, but I’ve realised that age doesn’t mean anything and if you put your mind to something you can achieve it. I still, to this day, don’t know who put me forward for it.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I would say that I am devoted and when I want something, I will plan out the logistics and work hard until I achieve it.
Something else that I think has contributed to my success is finding the right product at the right time, but even if you have a great product which pretty much sells itself, you still need to have a lot of drive and be dedicated to what you’re doing. It’s all about packaging something as win-win and making people an offer that they can’t refuse.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think that mentoring is great because you can get really invaluable advice from people who have been down the same path, been really successful or who have made mistakes and have come out of the other side. I was part of an all-female investors group called Gabriel Investors, which made me understand the process of investing and how it works. That involved supporting and a fair bit of mentoring, and I loved the whole experience.
I have also done some mentoring with the Entrepreneurs’ Forum. I always try to share my own experiences, in the hope that they might help someone.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own business?
I think a great business offers a product or service that solves a genuine problem, so if you have that angle already, you’re on to a winner.
If you want to set up a business, you need to do your research. You need to know who your customer is, where they shop, what they’re looking for and how much they are willing to spend. Your product might be suitable for different audiences but if you’re trying to create a product for absolutely everyone, you run the risk of no one having a connection with what you’re selling.
You have to know what your market looks like and you need to get a good idea of where your product or service will sit in the market. Therefore, it’s important to also research your competitors to get a good idea of how they’re doing something, what they sell and why consumers should buy from you instead.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
So far to date, whatever I have set out to achieve, the goals I have set myself are within my control to deliver.
Dragons’ Den has been a new chapter for me because it’s all about coaching, supporting and mentoring other people to deliver their goals and ambitions. That’s very much the next chapter for me. It’s about how I can positively influence and steer people in the right direction, and I’m trying to give people the tools that they need to go out and succeed.
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