I’ve always felt lucky that I can call my Mum my best friend, but would I launch a business with her? I’m not so sure!
When an email from twenty-four-year-old Annie Rennison appeared in my inbox therefore, its context left me instantly intrigued.
As one half of the mother-daughter duo behind Renné, a timeless jewellery brand that is all handmade on their family farm in North Yorkshire, Annie went on to explain how the business was born out of a period of frustration, when she left school at sixteen and didn’t know where to go next. After playing around with jewellery designs with her Mum, Helen, four years ago, the pair joined forces and haven’t looked back.
Think Yorkshire’s answer to Lorelai and Rory, (Google that reference if you weren’t a Gilmore Girls fan back in the day!), I sat down with Annie a few weeks back, so I could delve into the impact their relationship has on the business and find out how their story has evolved accordingly so far…
AR. I’m so nervous!
SC.SD. Oh my gosh, don’t be! We’ll just have a natter! Are you under strict instructions from your Mum not to say anything dodgy then?!
AR. We’ve done things like this together before and ended up talking over each other so she was happy for me to do this on my own!
SC.SD. Haha! I think Mum and I would be the same! Shall we start with what your business is all about in your own words then?
AR. Yes! So I thought about this earlier and basically, Mum and I wanted to create pieces that you would want to collect and treasure forever. There’s so much fast fashion nowadays and so, because Mum’s older and I’m younger, we wanted to create pieces that are a bit more special but at a price point that’s still achievable.
Given that the business is four years old and Annie is now twenty-four, I was interested to see what inspired her to want to launch a business at such a young age.
AR. To be honest, we never really planned out that it’d become what it is today! It’s all happened very naturally.
I left school at sixteen and had no clue what I wanted to do, ended up going to College for a few weeks but it just wasn’t for me and at the same time, I knew I had this massive, creative passion that I needed to fulfil. It was quite a frustrating time because I just didn’t know where I was going but eventually I explored different things, floristry included and jewellery was something I kept coming back to.
Mum had previously run a semi-precious jewellery business but when she had the twins who are now twelve, she stopped because she felt like she couldn’t do it all. Anyway, she got all the jewellery she had out one day and we sat there making things together! I was always really drawn to the silver as opposed to the stones so I found a course and we went from there really…
Growing up, one of my favourite things to do on holiday was going to the markets and finding rings… I’d always bring things like that home because I could never find ones I liked here so then it became a case of, ‘let’s make them ourselves and let other people find those little treasures you can only get one-offs of!’
Venturing to the jewellery quarter in Hatton Garden, London, for a short course in Silversmithing, Annie returned to Yorkshire and together with her Mum, attended a weekly course with two local jewellers.
SC.SD. How long was it before you realised you were ready to launch then?
AR. Hmm, it’s hard because for a while we were just going to the course once a week and experimenting with designs in the workshop on the family farm as and when we pleased! We didn’t take it seriously as a business at the beginning and I was young enough to be able to experiment like that! Around Christmas time we made things for the people who work for my brother on the farm, then friends of friends but it was very casual! When we reached a point of needing boxes and bags, we started to consider branding and a name and it was only then that it felt like we were starting a business!
SC.SD. I love that! What was motivating you to carry on at the beginning then if you never envisioned it growing into what it’s become today?
AR. I think I realised quite early on that I wanted to do something myself and because I’d explored other careers like floristry, I’d always imagined having my own space and working for myself but the more we got into selling our jewellery, the more I realised how much I loved things like branding…
SC.SD. Which you’ve nailed by the way!
AR. Ah thank you! We built the website on Shopify ourselves and I loved doing that so that then propelled us a bit more! I think it’s because it quickly went from just making things to then working out how we were going to market it and get it online and then actually sell it because people liked it!
SC.SD. It’s obvious that you two are extremely close but were there ever any reservations about working together? The idea of launching a business with a Co-Founder worries a lot of people in general, let alone when it’s a member of your family..!
AR. To be honest, we love it! I’ve been lucky enough that Mum was always around when I was growing up so we’ve always been very close. When we first started, we had a few interviews with local papers and magazines and they always used to say, “how could you work with your Mum? I’d hate that!” and I’d sit there thinking, ‘err, it’s actually really cool!’
SC.SD. I’m envious! I’d love to work with my Mum! Did you ever sit down and establish your individual roles within the business?
AR. We don’t really have specific roles! We’re very much on the same wave length so all the decisions we’ve had to make, we agree on!
AR. Yeh! When we’re working out the final design of something, we always pick the same one! Whilst we both still make all the jewellery by hand together though, I suppose on a day to day basis I look after our invoices, accounts, website, social media, newsletters etc… whereas Mum’s in the shop, she does the window displays, she does the stock taking etc… We’re equally hands on though although if it’s the school holidays, Mum doesn’t come into work as much because she’s with the twins. My older brother and I were so lucky to have her in the holidays so I’d hate the twins not to have that.
SC.SD. And what about the branding? Renné has a very distinct identity in my opinion so talk me through the thought process that went into the name, the look etc..
AR. The name was so tricky! We probably spent six weeks going over it every day, writing ideas down, saying them out loud, deciding they were rubbish… just tormenting ourselves! I think Renné came up at the very beginning, but we dismissed it straight away, then when it came up weeks later we suddenly loved it! We’ve always had a love for France and we go on holiday there every year so it’s taken from our surname but with a French accent… is it a grave?!
SC.SD. Grave or acute… it’s one of them!
AR. Haha! Anyway, one of our family friends designed the logo for us which is supposed to be the two of us facing each other with the infinity sign at the bottom, but again that took a lot of back and forth to get right…
SC.SD. I always find logo chat so interesting because you get so used to them once it’s all been finalised but at the beginning, when all the options are lying in front of you, you question and over-analyse so much don’t you!?
AR. Definitely! I love everything that’s symbolic. All of our jewellery has meaning behind it so I really wanted the logo to have that hidden meaning. We love it.
SC.SD. Let’s talk marketing… again because it was such natural progress, did you ever establish a set marketing plan? What was your approach to marketing in the early days and how has it evolved since?
AR. It’s definitely very reliant on social media and just plugging away really! We were just telling people about it when we first started! We got lots of postcards printed and put them everywhere we could think of, in local businesses and shops, just trying to get as much material out there. Then we signed up to do the Country Living Christmas Fair in 2014 which was really big; we didn’t realise quite how big it was and what we were getting ourselves into (!) but that was great because it gave us that first outlet to show people who we were, that weren’t from the local community! We got them on our database and those people now are still some of our loyal customers.
SC.SD. I don’t know what it was like four years ago but a stand at Country Living comes with quite a hefty price tag doesn’t it?
AR. Absolutely! We had a 2×1 metre stand so it was miniscule, we got a cabinet off of eBay that used to belong in a Pandora shop and we could just about squeeze behind the stand! It was so awkward because we were using the counter top to wrap, to show people the display, to write invoices; the whole thing was a bit crazy! It was fab though because we had rows and rows of people queuing up to get to us and whatever we were wearing, they’d say, “I just want that one that you’ve got on!” We were just so proud of ourselves because even though it was manic, we managed and coped!
SC.SD. That’s amazing because I’ve heard a few horror stories now about the first-time people exhibit at shows like that and they’ve felt so underprepared or just haven’t got the footfall they wanted…
AR. Oh don’t get me wrong, things did go wrong! We were told the walls of the stand would be white but I can’t describe it, we got there and it was this horrible creamy colour that went so badly with our white signage. We had to run to B&Q and buy some grey wallpaper and a staple gun and staple it up the night before! Then the next morning when we arrived, one of the signs had fallen down…. Drama drama! There’s been lots of things like that but you learn to deal with them!
SC.SD. It’s good that you didn’t settle though because I’m sure a lot of people would have just settled for what they were offered…
AR. We had to! I have such a strong image in my head of what I want our brand to be like and sometimes I struggle to make it a reality but when we got there and it just wasn’t what it looked like in my head, it was so hard! I was like, “we’ve got to go and change this Mum!”
SC.SD. Haha! I love that though, it’s why I think you have such a strong brand identity. How important are shows like that to your business?
AR. It’s hard because to be honest, I don’t want Renné to be a brand that does fairs. The Country Living one was great because it started us off but we’ve done a few more fairs, quite last minute, since and they’ve been really disappointing. I feel like the standard of the other stalls can be so low sometimes and that really annoys me!
SC.SD. Let’s talk about low points and challenges along the way… what have you struggled most with since launching this business?
AR. I have days even now where I struggle to stay motivated and work out what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m always busy but that structure and long term planning is hard when you’re the boss and no one is telling you what you need to do.
Also, when we first started, I was on Instagram a lot trying to find my feet and work out how I wanted the brand to be perceived and I’d come across two or three British jewellers that were starting up every day and it was just so overwhelming. I remember just questioning constantly, ‘how are we ever going to have a moment to shine when there is just so much out there?’ I guess you just get over it and just keep going though but that that was really difficult at the beginning. You’re still figuring out who you are as a brand and it takes quite a while before you feel really comfortable and confident in where you’re going…
SC.SD. What about the days that make all your hard work worth it?
AR. I think last Christmas we were so proud just because we managed to cope with the influx of orders that were coming through…
SC.SD. What’s that time of year like for you?
AR. Madness really! It’s definitely the busiest time of year! Last year was a real moment for us where we were like “whoah!” Emails were coming in constantly, people were ringing up, customers were coming in the shop, online orders were coming in and it was just such an, ‘oh my god shit’ moment because it’s just the two of us! We managed though and we love it! It’s just so amazing to be in demand and to be helping people like that!
SC.SD. And the money coming in during that time must keep you going too?!
AR. It’s definitely nice! It’s such a massive chunk of our income so we really want to make the most of it! Everything just amplifies!
SC.SD. And you don’t take anyone on to help?!
AR. No! I think this Christmas we might have to but because the workshop isn’t in the same place as our office and studio, it’s hard. If we were all in one place, we could be making as well as serving so we’re currently trying to figure that out!
Whilst the workshop is situated on the family farm, Annie and Helen opened a Renné store at Sedbury Hall – an old country estate in North Yorkshire.
AR. We’re very lucky because it’s such a beautiful location. It’s not a high street so the footfall isn’t great but it’s become a real base for us and a big part of Renné and who we are. Our customers associate us with being down here at Sedbury now…
SC.SD. If there’s not that footfall though…
AR. How do we get business?!
AR. Most people find us on Instagram and then find us here! We host two events a year in summer and at Christmas and invite all of our customers too; they come down for drinks, there’s goody bags, it’s such a lovely event to catch up with everyone and that then brings a lot of people in and helps to spread the word that we’re here!
SC.SD. I can imagine there’s a really strong community spirit up there…
AR. Mum said this earlier actually! We’ve got such an amazing community here. Everyone knows everyone and groups of friends come in all the time or mothers and daughters and we’re meeting more and more people daily!
AR. I think the little successes that we have regularly make it all worth it too though! We did a photo shoot the other day for our summer look book and the photos were exactly how I’d imagined them to be in my head which never happens (!) and I was so happy!
SC.SD. I love the little wins! And I noticed on Instagram that you get your friends to model for some of the images?
AR. Sometimes yeh! I have such gorgeous friends! I have a friend that’s a make-up artist so she helped too, she took some of the photos; we all just played around!
SC.SD. Do you find your life differs to your friends at all given that you’ve been running a business since you were twenty and have you seen any relationships change for the better or worse?
AR. I have a couple of friends with their own businesses actually! One has an online store so she’s great to talk to because she gets it. Some went to university though, one has done a degree within a job… there’s a good variation really. I’ve never been 100% focused on business so I’ve always made sure I’ve made an effort with my friends since the beginning.
Jealousy has never played a part but I definitely think people in general didn’t think I was capable of this or bright enough so I think people’s opinions of me might have changed. When you launch a business and do everything on your own and build something for yourself, I think people take you more seriously. They ask my opinion more now whereas before I don’t think they thought I was capable.
SC.SD. What makes you think that?
AR. I think because I was young, I hadn’t had a big career, I think a part of me didn’t have that self-belief to say confidently, “I’m starting a business.” I think that then comes across to other people so they then don’t take you as seriously if that makes sense? Because you don’t know what you’re doing really, you’re just going along with it…
SC.SD. I can definitely relate to that! The whole ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ thing? I’m useless!
AR. I know! When you first start, people say, “just say you’re really busy” but I can’t! The more you do it though, the more you know your business so when you talk about it, the less you feel like you’re being unnatural. Initially though it was hard…
SC.SD. Before you found that confidence in both yourself and the brand, to what extent did having your Mum by your side help for moral support?
AR. She’s been amazing at letting me just go for it and having that confidence in me. Like I said earlier, I have a very strong idea of what I want Renné to look like and what I don’t want it to look like so she’s been great at letting me decide. I hate answering the phone though so Mum always used to answer the phone or I’d be like, “no you call them Mum!” That’s been amazing when I get shy!
SC.SD. Have you really never disagreed on anything to do with the business?!
AR. Not really! When we decided to move here as opposed to staying on the farm, Mum had her reservations. There was a bit of, “do we need to do that?” but I was very much, “yes we do!” I’ve had my eye on this place for so long, I love it, so the minute it was available I was like, “we need this, we can do it!” We’ve never disagreed completely though!
SC.SD. Has anything taken you by surprise throughout all of this either for the better or worse?
AR. Hmmm… it’s a hard one! I think it’s more when things have gone well. Like our events when people have showed up and 95% of them bought something and loved it and getting feedback in the shop or seeing people in the street wearing our jewellery and we spot them. It always takes me by surprise!
Because we’ve never taken on investment, everything we’ve ever earned has gone straight back into the business and we’ve built slowly and just done things better the next year so when we have moments like that, it’s always lovely!
SC.SD. Let’s talk about relationships outside of work… I’ve spied a few photos or your little sister on your Instagram feed! How has the rest of your family reacted to the two of you going into business together?
AR. Bea is completely different in the most amazing way! She’s very outgoing, she’s confident but she’s way more interested in the chocolate shop we have next door!
SC.SD. Side note, that’s so dangerous having that on your doorstep!
AR. It really is! My older brother has his own company though, my Dad has his own company, my step Dad is self-employed, it’s just the norm for us all really. I’d love Bea to work here though! I think she’d be great!
SC.SD. Where do you turn to for business support?
AR. There’s a few 7am breakfast clubs nearby but it doesn’t really feel like our thing! We have met so many creative business owners around here though, they’re fab and we always support each other when we can. There’s not necessarily a hub where people connect though. I mean there’s some but they’re full of electricians and plumbers so it’s not really our vibe!
SC.SD. Haha! Do you find support from your followers on social media?
AR. As we’re growing, there’s definitely more people tagging friends in our images saying things like, “I want this” and I love that but I’m very much a short, snappy caption! I always feel like I don’t put myself out there enough on social media, I find it hard to sound chatty. It’s suddenly your personality on the line!
SC.SD. See I feel like you’ve nailed making the brand personable!
AR. Thank you! I do try and do little bits here and there, like when we’re on holiday because when I find a brand, I love getting to know them and finding out their story. I just worry that sometimes you don’t want it to be too much about yourself because at the end of the day, it’s jewellery and that’s why people are following you! It’s a bit of a catch twenty-two; you want to put yourself out there but you just feel a bit silly!
SC.SD. What’ve you learnt about yourself and your Mum since launching Renné?
AR. I think it’s made me realise that I have a very strong vision but also that we’re actually really capable! I failed my maths exams in school but now I do all our accounts. I’ve proved myself wrong and that when you put your mind to something, you can achieve so much.
SC.SD. My partner says that. He left school at sixteen and maths was his worst subject but he has his own business now and has to do maths every day! It’s so funny what’s possible when you take a subject out of the classroom environment…
AR. Definitely! Even adding up customers’ purchases in the shop, I’m like, ‘oh god, where’s my calculator?!’ but I’m working out percentages daily now.
In terms of my Mum, I’ve learnt how positive she is. Sometimes, I have down days and she’s so upbeat and just doesn’t let things get to her! She’s an amazing multitasker too. She has this job but she still runs the home and is a Mum to us all! I’m looking to move out soon but because I live at home, we still spend so much time together outside of work too and I just never get bored of her company.
SC.SD. You two remind me of the Gilmore Girls, I love it! Right, to round off then… Where do you see this business going and can you see yourself doing this forever?
AR. Yeh definitely! I worry because family is the most important part of my life and all I’ve ever wanted was my own family so I worry about how it works when you have babies and a business but I know I’ll make it work.
Sedbury is such a magical place and you’ve got to go on a little journey to find us so I’d love to keep our main shop here and then open another shop somewhere down South too. I also want to do pop up shops around the country!
There’s two ways we can look at it though because we could also push more online and build a bigger workshop and get a team in there helping us make more… I think that will happen quite naturally anyway but pop up shops are definitely something I’d love to do.
SC.SD. Final question then, if you were to summarise the experience, what does being your own boss mean to you?
AR. One thing that stands out is that I used to feel so anxious about work the next day in whatever job I was doing and now, not to have that anxiety is worth it in itself. Now we’re our own boss, we’re in control of what happens. Yes there’s still anxiety and pressures that come with the job but it’s in a different way now. You know at the end of the day, it’s all for you and that makes a huge difference!
I’m always in two minds when people tell me they have launched a business with family because it’s hard to ignore the toll it can take on relationships if the endeavour were to fail, but Annie and Helen’s story is the perfect example of what happens when it goes right because business aside, they’re still very much best friends.
From Helen’s confidence in Annie’s distinct vision for the business and her willingness to let her daughter take the reins with decisions; their mutual understanding for how their roles evolve throughout the year, as family obligations and seasonal demands alter their workload; to Annie’s reliance on Helen to do the more public-facing roles, like answering calls in the early days before she found her feet; their unique bond and respect for one another is clear to see and has weaved its way firmly into the foundations of Renné.
And it goes without saying that the brand itself is exquisite.
From the symbolic hidden meaning behind the branding itself, their decision to price each item so that it appeals to all generations, to the fact that they’re both naturally stunning and model their jewellery too, whilst Annie might not think she’s doing a good job at sharing their story with each creation on social media, I’d beg to differ as in my opinion, the two are intrinsically linked.
Proving her inner critic and those who doubted her ability to launch a business in the early days to be wrong, Annie together with her Mum have created such a timeless brand; a testament to their close bond and shared talent, I’m sure.