Now I think we’d all be telling porkies if we said that we hadn’t had that dream of finding overnight success. You know… the one where you’re sat around feeling sorry for yourself when all of a sudden, something up there clicks and just like that you’ve found your calling…
Well in any case (!), tonight’s post is the story of when that moment genuinely arrives.
It’s Thursday 9th November and a couple of taxis and a train ride up t’north later, I find myself in Liverpool… The birthplace of Cilla Black, Kim Cattrall (am I the only one that didn’t know that she was born here?!) and the incredible female founder – that just so happens to be my reason for visiting – Becky Murray (she’s since married!) of Becky Broome Ltd.
Becky Murray. So in a nutshell, we’re a personalised giftware business that specialises in etched glass and bar ware!
She can. She did. Just in the UK or?
BB. Literally all over! We’ve sent to islands in the Maldives before! We sell on our website and notonthehighstreet which is obviously a global marketplace! It’s only a small percentage of our business but it’s nice when something pings through; you just think ‘I wish I could hand deliver this one!’
Graduating with a degree in embroidery from Manchester Metropolitan University in the summer of 2009, Becky’s business hasn’t always specialised in etched glass…
BB. It’s a tale of two halves really. I always knew I wanted to start my own business so my final collection in third year was the starting point for that…
Leaving uni with samples and prototypes, Becky spent the immediate months after graduation researching and making contacts within the industry. In February 2010 Becky Broome was launched to the market.
BB. It was predominately a textile wholesale business – I designed cushions, tea towels, oven gloves etc… I did a few fairs, wholesale tradeshows in the summer, originally I chose to outsource all the printing and that was the start of it really. We always sold through notonthehighstreet though. You just apply to join!
SC.SD. It’s that simple?
BB. Yes but at that time they were only accepting 5% of the applications…
SC.SD. I was going to say, surely there had to be a screening or something!
BB. Yes of course!
SC.SD. So you were in that 5% that made it basically? That’s always a good sign!
BB. Yes! But they were very much geared towards personalised products at the time, it was starting to take off and even though our textile collection was personal, it wasn’t personalised so we had a big rethink. We wanted to gear more towards retail and do something that no one was really doing!
SC.SD. You said we?
BB. My husband and I! The business started as me on my own but we’ve always been together so he’d use his holiday days at work to help me at shows – he’s always been there! He joined the company officially in 2011.
SC.SD. Ah, I love that! Obviously the business has a completely different focus today though so what were those first few years like?
BB. There was gradual growth. We did different collections, we brought our printing in house, we started screen printing, we did a range with different slogans, then we got into printing rolls of fabric so that was good for the arm muscles..!
SC.SD. I bet! Were you invested in those products emotionally though?
BB. Yeh, definitely! We’d go to the tradeshows, we sold to department stores and small shops but it was in the middle of the recession and it was really tough…. people were reluctant to place big orders. We were getting by but it was difficult and I knew we had to tap into the retail side. I saw that personalisation was becoming a big thing and I wanted to be a part of that.
In May 2013, well-aware that the demand for personalised products was taking off on NOTHS, Becky made the career changing decision to start etching glass…
SC.SD. Going from textiles to glassware is quite a 180! Had you etched glass before or did you have to teach yourself?
BB. The honest answer is no! We didn’t know what we were doing but I had this idea and just thought ‘no, I’m going to go for it! What can we lose?’ I was confident that the idea was a good one.
SC.SD. Because you liked the product yourself?
BB. Yeh, I just had a feeling… I don’t know what it was! Something in my gut felt like this was the right thing at the right time. No one was doing it back then so I just thought ‘let’s go for it!’ It was just a small collection to start with, non-personalised decorations, placemats etc… but people started buying it so I knew we were onto a good thing!
I wanted to do more useable products though so we launched a small range of personalised and non-personalised items on NOTHS in late September 2013 – wine and whiskey glasses… that sort of thing – and basically it just took off! We weren’t prepared for it at all but we haven’t looked back since!
Leaving wholesale behind due to the unforeseen demand on the retail side; Becky Broome transformed in an instant.
BB. It was such a big whirlwind. That Christmas was spent sourcing staff (I’d never had to before), sourcing product in volume, everything! It was madness. It was such hard work, we were working until the early hours of the morning, seven days a week but it was amazing and no one at that time had seen growth like it on notonthehighstreet! It was….
SC.SD. Talk me through your emotions at the time because people dream of this moment, that light bulb moment that changes everything…
BB. Gosh thinking back to it, it was an amazing feeling! It’s strange thinking back to it! It was probably one of the most stressful times of my life but at the same time utterly amazing and I really look back on it fondly.
Kristian (my husband) and I really had to pull together, we had to employ all these people and it was just amazing watching the orders just keep coming in and in and in. There was just no sign of it slowing down.
SC.SD. How many orders are we talking?
BB. Up to 1000 a day…!
SC.SD. Oh my god! That’s huge!
BB. Yeh, it was insane! It was incredible!
SC.SD. And what was your average order before then?
BB. Because we weren’t selling anything personalised and at one stage on NOTHS I think there was 54 pages of tea towels (!) we hardly sold anything. It was one order every blue moon. Retail was something we weren’t even focused on. I’d list it and leave it and if an order pinged through that was that but then it just went crazy- it was such a shock. So emotional and stressful and so much hard work but amazing!
With orders coming in record breaking numbers, Becky rented space from her parents’ factory to cope better with the demand.
BB. All of their staff were working for us as well- even their project managers!
SC.SD. And they were happy to do that?!
BB. They were happy to do it because they could see how busy we were and luckily enough, in my Dad’s business, it’s their quietest time of year- he designs coldrooms (big fridges) for supermarkets like M&S and Morrisons.
SC.SD. That’s so handy! What about all the nitty gritty details like knowing where to source staff, how much to pay them etc…
BB. We just put adverts out for Christmas temps on Jobseekers’ websites and we were able to keep people on after Christmas which was good. Luckily all my family have their own businesses and so I’ve always had people around me that could give me advice-how to pay people, set up wages, things like that… I had a lot of help.
SC.SD. I trust that you put your feet up that Christmas?!
BB. We finished on the 23rd December! It was just a case of breathe… the shock of it all! We hadn’t had a day off in almost three months and it was just a case of “right, where do we go from here?” We had no idea what January would hold!
The year that followed Christmas 2013 was spent playing catch up to such an extent that Becky didn’t get the chance to rebrand until 2015…
BB. Even now I feel like we’re still playing catch up! When you start, you think that it will be step by step, that you’ll build it slowly but we were just chucked in at 200mph! We spent 2014 improving our processes and our efficiency, honing the logistics etc… because that first Christmas it was just a case of ‘GET THOSE ORDERS OUT THE DOOR!”
For instance, just the way we pick and pack the finished products now compared to how we did that first Christmas has made a massive difference in terms of time. We are much more efficient now!
SC.SD. That’s amazing. What’s your best marketing tool nowadays?
BB. Definitely social media… In the past we’d do PR and try and get into magazines but we’ve kind of left that behind; you’re just pulled in so many different directions. We sell a lot via Instagram- you can’t touch our products so that single image has to grasp people.
It’s part of the job that I really enjoy but it’s something that we’re growing and it’s still small but the key for us is to build a genuine following. I’m not interested in buying likes and engagement. The challenge is just making sure we come across genuine and on brand…
SC.SD. Absolutely. You obviously share posts about becoming a Mum, decorating the nursery etc… Was it a conscious decision to share your personal story too?
BB. It’s a tricky one because for us the business is so personal so there’s not really a difference between the two. We kind of do a bit of both. Funnily enough though, our personal posts get the most engagement; people are interested aren’t they?
SC.SD. They are indeed. What about NOTHS… would you have had so much success without it do you think?
BB. No, not at all. Obviously, we sell on our own website but notonthehighstreet is such a huge platform, it has millions of pounds invested in marketing. It’s a huge audience and you wouldn’t get that traffic on your own website.
One of my proudest moments was when they chose our personalised drinks measure wine glass for their billboards in Manchester and Liverpool. It was so surreal… we went to visit them a few times and I was stood there looking up at it and all these people are walking by and I’m like “that’s mine”.
SC.SD. I bet they were like ‘why is this girl just blocking the pathway?!’
BB. I know, ‘how strange is she, taking photos of a billboard?!’ That was two years ago!
SC.SD. That’s so special though given how many products are on that website!
BB. I know! It was featured in the catalogue the first Christmas it went crazy and then the second year it was on the front cover because even they didn’t expect it to be as big as it was… I don’t think they thought at first that we’d be able to cope…
SC.SD. Did they contact you to see if you could or to say congratulations!?
BB. Yes! Because we were so busy, we had such a long lead time. It was two weeks and then as we got busier we had to push it to three weeks and we were like ‘this is going to kill the orders’ but it just kept getting busier and busier. We actually stopped taking orders on the 2nd December – we missed a huge chunk of trade that Christmas – but we kept a whole team of 20+ people busy up until the 23rd December just processing those orders and everyone got their orders on time!
SC.SD. That’s honestly so impressive! I just can’t imagine that kind of overnight success.
BB. Luckily now our turnaround is a day but getting it down to that from three weeks wasn’t easy!
SC.SD. I bet! Have you had any moments along the way where you’ve just thought ‘I didn’t sign up for this’?
BB. I’ve never once thought ‘I want to stop’ which proves that I really do love it but yes, there are times where you just think ‘this is the worst thing that could have happened’ but it’s never been anything that’s threatened the business. Just things like when a delivery doesn’t turn up in time and you desperately need those products!
You just have to be so resilient! You need a thick skin and to expect the unexpected. If someone promises you it’s going to be there, it’s probably not (!) but you do just get on with it and get through it.
SC.SD. I’m guessing it’s easier to say that now you’ve got experience on your side..?!
BB. Yes! When it’s the first time you’re like “that’s it! Game over!” But you do get more resilient and you realise that you’ve dealt with it before so things become less of a surprise. It’s how you get through that and pick yourself back up.
SC.SD. And how do you?
BB. If I’m feeling bogged down or stressed, I like to get outside. Sometimes you can’t see the wood from the trees, you’ve got that many things on your to do list and you’re too busy worrying about it, that you get nothing achieved (!) so I just think ‘right If I go outside, I’ll feel better and I think better.’ Some of my best ideas have come from being out on a walk and that motivates me to come back and get going again.
With ideas for new designs coming in left, right and centre, Becky swears by a website called Asana for helping her to stay on top of her and her team’s to do lists.
BB. It’s amazing. I have all these boards with notes under all these different sections: photography, new ranges, marketing, social, just general to do, bigger plans and I put everything in there and work my way through it! I do also like a hand written list for things I have to do that day – even if it’s just three things – but for all of my long term plans I use Asana because things happen so quickly, I just need to get the idea down!
SC.SD. Now obviously people have since started replicating your ideas…
SC.SD. What did that feel like?
BB. It’s really hard and disappointing that people can’t come up with their own ideas! I’m very supportive of other peoples businesses, I would champion anyone who wanted to set up their own but when it’s a direct copy it’s a bit heart breaking. To be honest though, we’ve got so used to it because it happens a lot. It’s just part and parcel… look at Louis Vuitton, it’s one of the biggest fashion labels and there couldn’t be more rip-offs out there!
SC.SD. Very true! Do you keep your eye on them?
BB. Yes and we’ll send ‘Cease and Desist’ letters where we warn them to take it down but I don’t spend too much time worrying about it. We want to keep moving the business forward.
SC.SD. That’s a good mindset! When do you feel most inspired?
BB. Every Christmas! Even though I’m not doing any design work because everyone is in production and packing! It’s just the buzz of the place! We work such long hours; when it goes crazy like ‘Black Friday’ or ‘Cyber Monday’ we work from 8 till 8 and only have Sunday off but the buzz and general feel of Christmas time is amazing!
We have Christmas songs on in the factory, we’re all in our Christmas jumpers and we love reading all of the different personalisations on the orders…. You can’t beat it!
SC.SD. Do you ever get weird ones?!
BB. Tonnes! Rude ones, naughty ones, romantic ones! But it’s nice to be a part of those special moments.
With a team of ten permanent staff throughout the year (which increases to over twenty when temporary staff join at Christmas), Becky ensures that all staff undergo an intensive training period. Once completed, they’re confident to handle the eightfold process that transforms a standard glass into a personalised and etched glass that’s wrapped, boxed and ready to deliver…
SC.SD. How do you juggle the fact that you still feel like you’re playing catch up and learning as you go but also now have a whole team looking at you for direction and a team that were looking at you for direction that Christmas when it snowballed overnight…
BB. I’ve never really questioned it to be honest. It’s my business and I’m trying to lead the team as best I can. Everyone knew we were all in it together and no one thought ‘Becky’s got this completely under control’ but it was an atmosphere where everyone cared, everyone was passionate and that’s how it still is now. I think it’s just the culture we have here. We’ve never had an issue where people clock off early. They’re happy to work long hours and get the orders out; it just needs to be done.
SC.SD. Long hours are draining for anyone though, no matter how fun the job is so how do you keep them motivated through that?
BB. Erm, we have a “stand up” every morning at Christmas- a meeting where we go through any issues we’ve had the previous day and how to rectify them. If anyone’s got any issues they want to raise, it’s an open floor which gives them a voice and we really listen. When we’re working 8-8, we get pizzas in, obviously the Christmas music is on, there’s always Quality Street boxes floating around…
SC.SD. Always a good idea!
BB. Yes! And it sounds a bit sad but we do time trials where we make it into a game! We say things like “how many products can you pack in the next 20 minutes?!” Some people buzz off that, we’re not saying “you better pack this in 20 minutes!”, it’s a bit of fun and it works! It just gives the team a boost!
SC.SD. I’d get so competitive if that was me!
Christmas dominates Becky’s annual calendar to such an extent that preparations for Christmas 2018 will start in January. However, she is currently finalising her Mother’s Day designs, the Valentines range has been completed already and Father’s Day in June is already ticking away in her mind. When the manic Christmas rush is over, her days throughout the rest of the year are spent sourcing new products, finalising designs, organising professional photo-shoots for each of the ranges, listing stock and writing product descriptions.
BB. The design and development stage is continuous and that’s just the seasons! We’ve also just launched a whole range for milestone birthdays, anniversary products, christening products… We’re always doing new things!
SC.SD. What’s the best seller?
BB. Our Personalised Drinks Measure Wine Glass. It’s a really simple design; it says “small glass, large glass, Becky’s glass!” I love it because that’s where it all started and it’s so simple but so many people relate to it, it just clicked.
SC.SD. I’m not kidding, I never used to like red wine and I remember my Dad saying “one day Fi… just wait” and now it gets to a Friday night and I’m like “gimme the wine!”
BB. It’s an age thing! But luckily most people are like that!
SC.SD. Indeed! You mentioned christening products… let’s talk about being a Mum! Your daughter is obviously five months old now, how has becoming a Mummy changed the way you work here?
BB. So the biggest change is that I’m physically not in the office at the moment and I’m obviously not spending as much time working so it’s made me much more productive and efficient! I’ve now only got a set time to get the same amount of work done! If she’s down for a nap I make the most of that time.
Working a few days beyond her due date, the realities of not having a set maternity leave soon kicked in.
BB. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself. I didn’t want to say I’m taking six months off or a year off because the reality is, I’m not really off! The day after I came back from hospital I was working but that can be the reality when you have your own business! I still work but I knew that I wanted to be as present as possible for her because you can’t get that time back and she’s changed so much in five months!
Going forward though I’m just going to see how it goes, I’m not going to put pressure on myself because I love work but I also love being a Mum so I want to strike a balance between the two.
SC.SD. What about during the manic time at Christmas? Will you be tempted to pop in?!
BB. I’m not planning to be here a lot. We’ll just have to see how the team is coping. If needs must, we can always have my Mum in here with her and she can just get me when she needs a feed! But definitely not the 8-8’s!
SC.SD. I should hope not! You’ve mentioned that your Mum has been a big support, do you speak to many other women with their own businesses?
BB. Yes, I’ve met some amazing women through notonthehighstreet. I met one of my best friends (@sewbyalex) in 2010 when she emailed me to ask for advice on manufacturing- we didn’t know each other at all and we’ve become best friends!! I’ve been to her hen do and her wedding and she’s a Mum too now to twins. It’s just nice to have other influences there and talk to other women about the challenges we face. There are so many similarities; even though our businesses are different, it all boils down to the same issues.
SC.SD. I think emotionally there are definitely really similar issues… Any stand out women that inspire you?
BB. My Mum and my big sister inspire me to be a better Mum every day but Jo Malone in the business world. I just think she’s built up a global brand in such a short space of time, she sold it to Estee Lauder, was locked out the game for five years and then went back to her roots with Jo Loves! When I listen to her on podcasts her passion for what she does is so immense; she challenges the fragrance industry and is forging a new way through so yeh, I love her! I also like Karen Brady…
SC.SD. You wouldn’t want to mess with her though..!
BB. No! She’s literally a no nonsense woman which I respect.
SC.SD. Absolutely! How would you describe yourself as a business woman?
BB. Hmmm… I’d say ambitious and fair!
SC.SD. And as a boss?
BB. Friendly and fair! We don’t have a divide really; we’re very much a team and obviously there’s moments where you have to be a boss and give direction but you just get on with it.
SC.SD. Absolutely! Do you have long term goals for this or are you going to just roll with it?
BB. We’re going with it! We would like to move back into wholesale and work with bigger brands on a drop ship basis at some point though; where we can sell in store and on their websites and we’ll just dispatch it directly to their customers….
SC.SD. Why back to wholesale when this is clearly working?
BB. I’d just like to be able to offer customers a way of personalising products in store. We know that customers love the product but sometimes they want to see it…
SC.SD. A bit like the popups you see in John Lewis on Oxford Street?!
BB. Yeh! We did one of those in Selfridges last Christmas. Just having a permanent range in a store where they could just ping orders through to us would be nice.
SC.SD. Have you set yourself a target for that in terms of years?
BB. Not in terms of years, no, because it’s been so organic, we don’t pressure ourselves. We’ve never had a business plan – we probably should…! – but I like seeing how things happen throughout the year. Sometimes we get opportunities that we didn’t see coming so it’s hard to say “by this year I want this” because for all we know we could have gone off on a completely different tangent by then!
SC.SD. That makes sense! I feel like this is a good time to ask what your favourite quote is?
BB. ‘Always go the extra mile… it’s never crowded’. It’s something we swear by here. Our customer service is so important to us so if someone messages saying along the lines of “I like this design but can you do this” or where they want a particular design on a glass that we don’t stock, we try and source it and do that for that customer- even if it’s a one off.
SC.SD. Really!? Even at your busiest?
BB. Yes! I mean obviously it’s harder when we’re so busy but if we can, we try and be as helpful as possible. Also, if we ever think a customer has made a spelling mistake, we contact them and say “we think you might’ve spelt that wrong” and they’re like “oh yes so I have!” We do battle with all the different dialects around the country though… people call grandparents different things so when we read what they’ve put, we’re all like “what’s that!?” And they’re like “no, no, that’s right up here in the north east” or whatever! But yes, we try and go above and beyond so that quote sits well with us.
SC.SD. I love that! In the grand scheme of things then, what does success look like to you?
BB. I think if you can support your family that’s a success but if you can love what you do and support your family you’re a real success..
SC.SD. And I have a feeling you’re doing that aren’t you?!
There’s something so incredible about sitting down on a sofa with a complete stranger and just having a big heart to heart about the moment their life changed.
Not many people would abandon a concept they’d been working on for three years in favour of an idea they had not yet mastered that derived from nothing more than a hunch. But Becky’s courage and determination to do just that only goes to highlight just how powerful our gut instinct can be.
As her business transformed in a matter of days with unparalleled growth that caught so many off guard, she rose to the pressure (remaining humble in the process), rallied support from those around her learning herself as she leads and as a result has created a company that continues to thrive.
It’s a story that will stick with me for years to come and I couldn’t be more intrigued to see where she goes next.
Want a few gift ideas for Christmas?! Have a little peek at Becky’s website here.