With a lucrative background in software engineering to her name, Danielle Kendall’s decision to launch a business selling classy hen do accessories sans the tat, was an idea that I can safely say, she didn’t see coming.
In the four years since launching Team Hen from her family home however, with over 60,000 orders shipped to thirty-six countries worldwide, accidental or not, it’s an idea that works.
On a table opposite to that which I’m sitting at as I type this today, the two of us sat down in a local Starbucks in Milton Keynes, so that I could uncover more details about the journey Danielle has been on so far…
DK. So Team Hen is basically modern hen party gifts and accessories for modern brides and bridesmaids; where you can get everything you need for a hen party in one place without having to shop around. We try to appeal to the whole hen party group, as opposed to simply going after the bride. Originally all our products were handmade by us but now that other companies have upped their game and started to provide non-tacky hen party stuff, we’re able to offer our customers 3rd party products, which is working really well! Not only do they buy those products but they buy our products at the same time!
SC.SD. And by “non-tacky” hen party stuff, you’re referring to…?!
DK. We don’t sell willy straws, or anything willy shaped for that matter! If you want that, that’s fine, but you can get it on eBay; you don’t need me to sell that to you!
SC.SD. Hen dos are changing though aren’t they? One of my best friends got married a few weeks ago, one of my other friends was maid of honour and she was livid that there was a strict ‘no willy straw’ rule at the hen do because her hen party a few years back was willy galore! I mean she did it anyway…
DK. Everyone always does! If anyone saw the photos from my hen party, they’d be like, “fraud, fraud, FRAUD!” because I’m sat there with a willy tiara on my head, but that’s what you did on your hen party in 2010!
SC.SD. And now you go off to the countryside and make wreathes for the weekend!?
DK. You can do anything! You can do butchery masterclasses, you can do battle axe throwing…. you can become a blacksmith for the day! People are starting to cotton on to the fact that any skill out there can be catered to for hens. It’s a great business…
SC.SD. Let’s talk about that more because from an external perspective, it’s such a lucrative market to tap into. People are always going to get married, brides are always going to want a hen do… you’re sorted!
DK. I am! Not only that but my customer refreshes itself every year, so we don’t have to bring out new products or update them all the time; and whilst the products are good quality, they don’t have to last forever because it’s just a weekend. We do get repeat customers but I’d like to assume they’ve just been chosen to be a bridesmaid a few years in a row as opposed to someone getting married twice in two years..!
The market really is fantastic but don’t get me wrong; I had no grand plan to find this incredible refreshing market!
SC.SD. Where did this idea come from then? Especially if you were sat at your hen do with a willy crown on?!
With a successful background in software engineering, managing the domains and networks for a big insurance company in the City, it’s safe to say launching Team Hen wasn’t the obvious career path for Danielle…
DK. I was happy as larry there! I loved it! I was the only girl on the team, I was very competitive, I was very ambitious; it was so much fun. We lived in Essex at the time though and then I got pregnant with my daughter. The cost of childcare and commuting into London combined meant it wasn’t worth even showing up and working flexibly wasn’t an option, so the decision was made that I’d stay at home and raise the baby. I thought that sounded brilliant at the time, like I’d won the lottery; I’d be going for lunches and playdates…
SC.SD. Prosecco at lunch?!
DK. Exactly – but the reality wasn’t like that at all! I got really bored. There were only so many playdates I could handle and I had nothing that mentally stimulated me.
It was at this time that one of Danielle’s friends got engaged.
DK. She asked me to plan the hen party and because I wasn’t doing anything else, I threw myself into the task! We were a bit older, a lot of us had kids, so it was never going to be a crazy willy fest! I remember just looking around for things – like classy favours for hens – and there was absolutely nothing. It was all bright pink tacky badges or willy everything!
I was quite proficient on a computer though so I designed some badges and gift bags, had them made and they went down really well. Because there are zero barriers to entry to sell on Etsy, I ended up investing about £100 that I spent that on making gift bags and badges and that’s how it all began…
There’s so many places you can get things like stickers and badges made for a fair price here in the UK, so the more I sold, the more I designed and I just reinvested all the profits into coming up with different designs and products! I’ve never thought I was creative in anyway, I mean I worked in IT (!) and I couldn’t draw you a picture if you asked me to but I’m good with a computer and it worked…
SC.SD. On what, Photoshop?
DK. Yes! Illustrator, InDesign… I’ve had to teach myself a bit but I knew enough to get by and just really, really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a chore, it was so much fun and it definitely started as a hobby.
I always say the business started in early 2014 but it was more of a slow trickle. There was never a “BHAM! We’ve launched” moment but that changed in February 2015…
When Danielle was six months pregnant with her second child, Edward (3), Team Hen got accepted on notonthehighstreet.com
DK. Etsy is a great place to start but when I got accepted to NOTHS, that’s when it really kicked off. I knew my timing with my son wasn’t great because he was due in June and that’s peak hen party season but I was so excited when I got accepted, I jumped for joy… which is quite a feat when your six months pregnant!
SC.SD. Waddled for joy!?
DK. Exactly! NOTHS to me was everything and it changed the business no end. I took more in one week on NOTHS than I had in six weeks on Etsy! I couldn’t believe the traffic and the competition was non-existent. Tea towels, cards, cushions etc… get lost in the fodder but it was our wish bracelets that got us started on there. I’d seen a picture on Google of a similar style bracelet and just figured that I could make those for hen dos as a token gift. They’re not expensive to make and they’re not expensive to buy.
I remember NOTHS wanted me to go down the jewellery route for that reason but I’m not a jeweller. Most businesses on there fall into a category, be it jewellery or homeware – whereas I made things for an occasion and a few years ago, they didn’t really understand that. I won’t bite the hands that feed me though. There wouldn’t be a business without NOTHS and I’d say our first-year sales were 99% from NOTHS. It’s only been in the past year, now my kids have got slightly older and I’ve been able to focus more, that our website, together with Etsy have outperformed sales from NOTHS.
SC.SD. So you’re still on Etsy then?
DK. Absolutely! We get a lot of trade from America on there and anything that sells on Etsy or our website is always a win because of the lack of commission.
We have a question at checkout asking how customers find out about us and I always think it would be through our social media or through NOTHS or Etsy but it’s actually Google. We’re on the first page of Google for the majority of hen party terms but we’re up against NOTHS, John Lewis, Ginger Ray – all the big boys – so I’m really proud of that!
SC.SD. Going back to the beginning, if you started this business as a hobby, what kept you motivated in the early days before you were accepted on NOTHS?
DK. For me, I’ve always been self-motivated. At uni for instance, I had a data entry job on the side…
SC.SD. Sounds riveting..!
DK. It was the dullest job in the world (!) but every day I’d try and beat my score of data entered just to keep myself sane!
SC.SD. As you do..!
DK. I know! I’m sad aren’t I?! I was in competition with myself! I knew that’s how I worked though when I started Team Hen and so it just felt normal to keep working on it.
Having been diagnosed with post-natal depression quickly after her first child, Harriet , was born, Team Hen became a creative outlet for Danielle too.
DK. I’d left a job that I loved which I wouldn’t have chosen to leave had I not got pregnant; we’d just moved to a new area; I was a first time Mum… it all compounded and I was really unhappy. It wasn’t until I started working for myself that I started feeling better. I had a creative outlet and my mind was working again. I’ve always been quite ambitious in my career so suddenly to not have that – I’d lie in bed and think, ‘why am I getting up today?’
I think my situation happens to a lot of new mums. I did a talk at my local Natwest Accelerator Hub about my story and every woman in the audience came up to me at the end and said, “I felt exactly the same.” To be a Mum and a young woman in business in what is predominately a man’s world is tough anyway, so you need a reason to do it. Then I suppose, I also started it to become financially independent. I’d had a job since I was sixteen so to rely on my husband for money didn’t sit well with me at all. I’m not a planner and I don’t have targets but being financially independent motivates me on a daily basis.
SC.SD. You mentioned that your SEO is good so what’s been your approach to marketing Team Hen since day one?
DK. See I know a lot about SEO now and how to optimise the shit out of your website and that’s helped a lot but to anyone, I’d say that you can get yourself to page one of Google, just with good SEO practice.
In the early days though when the kids were babies, I was making everything, dispatching everything, doing it all myself. When my son was born, I had three weeks off before I was driving to The Post Office because I had to get orders out. Looking back I’m like, ‘what the hell were you doing?!’ because now the post office collects all our parcels every day, everything is on the system, but of course I didn’t know that back then!
So to answer your point (!) I didn’t have time to market it really. I relied on Etsy and then NOTHS and they did it all for me. I suppose that’s why I felt it was so important to get onto NOTHS because I figured that’s part of the deal. I know it’s not the same for every business but if you have something unique to offer it’s amazing. The customer was there, the demand was there and no one else did it. Even now, we don’t have direct competitors. There’s not another website out there that solely sells modern hen party stuff in the UK.
When we move on to discuss companies that personalise their gifts for all occasions, Danielle’s response provided a refreshing perspective.
DK. See for me it doesn’t make business sense. I have two young kids, I can’t be in the office personalising every item every time an order comes in. That’s why I’ve tweaked the products so they’re personal-ish! They say things like, ‘will you be my maid of honour? Will you be my bridesmaid?’ which is still sentimental but a lot more efficient than personalising with names. I was going for the volume..!
SC.SD. See I love that. It’s all too easy getting caught up in providing the extra touches that cut into profits…
DK. Exactly! My husband works in finance in the City and it’s so annoying having a conversation with him because he just wants to know the money side. I’m forever saying, “ssh! I’m trying to tell you about a new design!” and he’s like, “well how much money are you making?” I guess some of that has rubbed off on me now. I’m more ‘eyes open’ now because if you’re not making any money, you’re wasting your time. Especially in a product. If you’re investing time and money in that product and aren’t making profit or are just breaking even, what’s the point?
SC.SD. Who looks after your social media?
SC.SD. You’ve nailed that!
DK. Thank you! I love it! The Team Hen Instagram feed summarises us to a T!
SC.SD. I am very much appreciating the Love Island references going on…
DK. I feel like it’s my job to watch it now! With Instagram though, I’ve learnt that if I find something funny enough to repost it, the likelihood is that my target audience will find it funny too. It’s very ad hoc though, nothing is scheduled.
I’m really looking forward to working on that side of the marketing though because I’ve just got a new photographer on board to help us. She’s the photographer behind Spectrum‘s Collections and I love everything she does! I’ve always styled our own shoots and our images are catered more for NOTHS which is very wholesome. But you can see from our Instagram feed that we’re not always so PC (!) so now we send our products to her and she’s turned them around.
SC.SD. Do you get a lot of sales through Instagram?
DK. See I always thought that Instagram would be our highest grossing social media platform but actually, I looked at our stats the other day and it’s Pinterest!
SC.SD. See that surprises me but then I suppose when I think about it, the minute my best friend asked me to be maid of honour I was on Pinterest straight away!
DK. Exactly! I went on a Pinterest course a few years ago and it’s a very powerful platform for products but I never really appreciated that until I built it up a bit. I’m talking massively so though. Eighty odd sales a week come through Pinterest alone compared with about five from Instagram and one from Facebook! I was so surprised by it though because I don’t spend a great deal of time on there but the good thing about Pinterest is that once the image is on there, so long as the link is still correct, you’re set. They say that you should never delete a pin, never do housekeeping on it really, just add, add, add!
SC.SD. You said earlier that you used to do everything by yourself… what’s changed since then?
DK. When my son was about five months old, I remember my husband saying, “you have to get help!” Picture me at Soft Play with the kids; while they’re playing I’m sat there making hundreds of bracelets. What was I doing!? Basically, I ended up asking a couple of local Mums on the Mum2Mum Facebook Group to help me and that was life changing because suddenly, that pressure went away. They’d pick up the box of materials, ship them back a few days later and would have made about five hundred bracelets a week between them! I don’t know why I hadn’t done it sooner.
SC.SD. Cash in hand?
DK. I paid them per bracelet so I’d give them 250-300 to make each week. It worked for them because they were at home with their kids and had time to kill because they weren’t working, it worked for me because it freed up my time, it was a good hourly rate for them and even with NOTHS overheads, I could still make a good margin. Win win for everyone!
Anyway, that then helped me to realise that I needed more people in the office too. I worked out very quickly that I can’t work with the kids around because I can’t concentrate on either one very well (!) and even though both of the kids were at nursery by this point, they weren’t full-time yet so I’d have about two and half days to work. Now they’re older and they’ve discovered iPads (!) I can tinker a bit more but back in the day it was hard.
Whilst hiring staff helped free up time for Danielle to focus on other areas of her business, it also came with its fair share of challenges…
DK. I’d only ever managed IT systems, not people, so it was real eye opener for me taking on staff. Having people make bracelets for me is one thing – that felt more like outsourcing. It was different when I had people in the office… I didn’t know how to have a conversation about pay or when any form of conflict cropped up! I was more about harmony and peace because I didn’t want to upset anyone. It’s not like that now because I’ve grown up a lot in the past few years and know what I’m doing more but staffing issues have definitely felt like the biggest challenge.
SC.SD. Any stand out lessons from those experiences?
DK. Hmmm I had a lady that wanted to come on board and work together but it didn’t work out. Team Hen is my baby and don’t get me wrong, I realise I’m not the best at everything but I know my customer really, really well and she’d come up with ideas that I knew weren’t right. She left her professional career to join and so fairly thought, ‘I should be paid a similar wage to my old job because that’s what I’m worth’ but from my perspective, she wasn’t worth that to my business.
It was only when she left (by her own accord) that I realised that I was intimidated by her. Now though, I have an amazing team to help with packing and admin! We get each other coffee in the morning, and if I’ve singlehandedly bought down my own website (which has been known to happen!) they even bring me croissants; they’re the perfect employees!
SC.SD. Given that you are the only business in the UK to solely cater for modern hen parties, what does your average week look like?
DK. Hmmm, we get a hell of a lot of daily orders which are generally time sensitive because they’re ordered last minute but I’m not very organised and I don’t plan so I can’t grow this business into what it could become because there’s so much day-to-day admin! Monday is always manic because of the orders that come in over the weekend so I have both girls in and that’s taken up entirely by packing…
SC.SD. How many orders are we talking?
DK. We get on average 180 orders over the weekend which have to go out on Monday and then somewhere between 50 to 120 daily…
Given that sales grow steadily from January onwards with hen do season falling between May and July, Danielle relies on additional gifts sold on NOTHS, to get Team Hen through the winter season.
DK. We don’t do any Christmas themed hen do stuff. A hen do is a hen do in my opinion, but we do make a lot of wish bracelets and games that sell really well over Christmas!
SC.SD. You’ve mentioned staffing issues but what else do you struggle with on a day to day basis?
DK. Kids! I’ve only ever employed Mums because they’re an untapped workforce and they’re great because they’re flexible, they can come in once they’ve dropped the kids off at nursery and they leave at 2pm to get them which is fine. Invariably though, because all of our kids are the same age (between two and five) one of them will invariably be ill.
It’s just ad hoc stuff like that but you learn to react quickly. Also, I’ll think we’ll have loads of stock of something in but then it sells out in one day, I’ll go to get it back in and the supplier has sold out too. You have to find a solution quickly because your customer wants it tomorrow.
For example, if we’ve had a run on ‘Bride Tribe’ sashes, and have run out of stock, and our supplier can’t get new stock to us for a few days, we’ve been known to pop down to Hobby Craft to buy a few to be able to fulfil our orders – we obviously don’t make any money when we do this but most importantly the customer gets their order on time.
SC.SD. Do you have a warehouse?
DK. No, no! My house has a separate double garage which we’ve converted into an office. The good thing about all of our stock is that it’s small. We started with three desks in there, a few shelves and some packing space but now it’s storage, storage, storage! You can’t see the walls!
When the kids are young though, I don’t want to be offsite and even when they’re not, I don’t really want to pay for a warehouse!
SC.SD. Can you foresee a time where you will need a bigger space to keep up with demand though?
DK. See it’s hard! Like I’ve said, I struggle to plan and it’s grown organically so right now I can’t picture us in a warehouse but it could very easily happen.
This is a lifestyle business for me and when I did the Natwest Accelerator Hub, it was all about scaling up and securing investment but I said, “that’s not valid for everyone.” I’m doing this so I can be financially independent, I can employ other Mums, I’m not sitting around watching This Morning every day and that’s good enough for me!”
SC.SD. Absolutely and that doesn’t make you any less of a worthy business owner because of that..
DK. Exactly! Apparently, you’re not a serious business owner unless you seek massive investment and sell your business. For me personally, I couldn’t get up every day, spend all my time on my business with the goal to sell it. It doesn’t compute in my head. I would not have the motivation to do all this stuff for just the money. For a lot of Mums, there aren’t many choices but to start a business, especially when your job requires you to commute because the commute is so expensive…
I do feel lucky though because some of my friends that are launching a business now ask how I did it but for me, I didn’t do this intentionally. There was no pressure on me when I first launched. I’m still very lucky that if it all went tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter. Obviously it matters that I wouldn’t be able to support my staff and I wouldn’t be financially independent but it’s not make or break. It might be why we are where we are because I’ve never felt that burning pressure. As I remind my husband though, “I could be sat on my arse watching Jeremy Kyle but I’m not; so no the laundry isn’t done and no you haven’t got dinner BUT I paid myself today so..!”
SC.SD. “Be thankful!”
SC.SD. You’ve mentioned that it’s very much a lifestyle business for you but do you have any stand out ‘pat on the back’ moments that you’re proud of?
DK. I don’t feel like I have time to reflect to be honest! I’m not sure if we’ve really achieved anything…
SC.SD. You 100% have Danielle!
DK. It’s not rocket science though is it!?
SC.SD. I think some of the best businesses out there work so well because they’re not rocket science. It was an untapped market and you were the one to tap it!
DK. I feel like because it wasn’t planned though, I can’t take credit for that! I take my friends to the odd award ceremonies which always feels nice. We went to The British Wedding Awards in February and we got highly commended in our category which felt amazing because we were up against giant companies. I mean, we could have been at a football match because my best friends went mental when my name was announced and that made me feel really proud. It’s nice that I know they’re proud of me.
SC.SD. That sounds like such a fun awards! It must be a nice industry to work in?
DK. So nice! We don’t get many returns because they’re obviously buying it for a specific reason and it says what it does on the tin so people don’t complain.
SC.SD. You’ve said your best friends are proud of you, you’ve mentioned your husband is on standby for money talk… Let’s talk relationships. Have any evolved for the better or worse since launching Team Hen?
DK. So a lot of my NCT friends are like, “damn it, I wish I’d thought of that” but they’re so supportive, as are my uni friends in London. My old colleagues are hilarious because when I quit they were all a bit like, “ah ok…” but then when I launched this they just nodded and said, “it makes sense now. There’s no way the girl who fought her colleagues to the death for a promotion would just give up her career completely!” I think they all think I’m a millionaire though which is hilarious – they can think that!
I think my family were worried initially that I’d choose to work over spending time with the kids and of course they’re allowed to worry – they’re grandparents – but for me it wasn’t healthy not to work. Thankfully I didn’t have post-natal depression with my second child, even though all the consultants said I would and I think it could be down to the fact that I was fulfilled and happy.
SC.SD. What about when you need business advice? Who do you turn to?
DK. The Southwood Social Hub is an excellent resource for that. No question is too stupid. Someone will have invariably been in that situation and be willing to share advice.
Natwest Accelerator Hub was invaluable too. I had free mentoring every two weeks for eighteen months and now my original mentor from that is now my private business coach! It’s not that he knows a lot about hen parties (!) but he’s a great sounding board. Often, I’ll answer my own question by literally saying the problem out loud to him.
SC.SD. A bit like therapy!
DK. Exactly! I can’t talk to my husband about everything business related because he’s all about the bottom line so one on ones with my coach just talking through problems tends to get me back on track. Like I said, I don’t plan (!) so when I see him and go off on a tangent, he’ll say, “why are you doing that?” and he steers me back. I definitely think it’s helpful to have a mentor or coach when you work on your own.
SC.SD. Going forward then, given that you’ve said that you’re not a planner on a number of occasions throughout this chat (!) what’s your advice to someone that’s sat there reading this thinking, ‘I want to start a business but I have no idea where to start’?
DK. We’ve never had a plan and I can’t see us ever having a plan. We’ve reinvested our profits and it’s literally grown organically like that. We had a bit of a scare at the end of last year as NOTHS had a bit of a downturn and I thought, ‘oh my god, what’s wrong with our products?’ but it turned out NOTHS had cut back on advertising and that was scary, yes, but it made us work harder on our SEO and promoting our website and you just deal with it as things crop up.
It depends how you work though. If you’re a planner then just start that plan. I’m not a planner so even if I made a plan, I wouldn’t stick to it. You don’t need everything in place before you start as well.
I’d also say that you learn to forgive yourself as you go on. If you’ve missed your tax return, you’ve ordered stock that’s not selling etc… move on. People think we’re a lot bigger than we are and they’d laugh if they saw how I work on a day to day basis. I don’t even have a diary so life is a constant surprise! BUT (!) I keep two children alive, I feed my husband, I’m running a business and I’m employing people.
SC.SD. You’re doing something right! What about advice for any Mum’s or Mums-to-be wanting to start a business but are worried about the practicalities of juggling a business with babies?
DK. Firstly, I’d say that everyone is different and it works differently for everyone. Everyone has different opinions on how much time you spend with your children and what’s acceptable. Sleep is important too. If your kid isn’t sleeping, don’t try and start a business because it just won’t work!
If the idea is in you though, you have to try it at some point. If it doesn’t work, in the grand scheme of things, what have you lost really? Nothing. Oh, and start lean and don’t get carried away! A great margin on a stock of 1000 is bullshit if no one buys the product and to this day I have to remind myself of that! Trial it first, always and start lean every time. Fail fast and fail hard and you’ll be fine.
SC.SD. Favourite quote?
DK. “Fake it ‘till you make it!” 100% It’s like the law of attraction; if you act like you’re running a successful business, you will run a successful business! Simple!
SC.SD. Indeed! Rounding up then, avoiding the ‘p’ word (!) do you have any idea where you want to take this going forward?!
DK. I’ve started the Team Hen directory because I thought it’s a valuable resource that will help bridesmaids plan the hen dos. It will also back up Team Hen’s authority in the market because it will increase the eyes on Team Hen in terms of brand awareness but it also makes sense for the customer.
In terms of Team Hen though, we’ve either got to smash that VAT barrier or avoid it completely, otherwise it’s a massive blow. We’ve been growing year on year so it will happen soon but I can’t even mentally put myself in that position yet!
SC.SD. Just figure it out when it happens?!
SC.SD. Very last question then, what has launching and running Team Hen taught you about yourself?
DK. I went in thinking that I don’t know what I’m doing and to this day, I constantly think I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m learning slowly but surely that I must know what I’m doing because this business is working and we’re moving forward. I’m learning that it’s ok to forgive myself, to be kind to myself and to say, “ok so I didn’t do the laundry tonight and ok, I didn’t update that thing on the website tonight but I can do it tomorrow!” I’m just trying to be the best I can be basically!
As far as unusual career changes go, moving from a job in IT surrounded by an all-male team in the City to launching a business from your garage that is catered towards hen parties in their entirety (and thus a market that continuously refreshes itself each year) is up there with the very best, if you ask my opinion.
Yet it’s a savvy career move that could not have been less planned!
From starting Team Hen with £100 as a creative outlet in the early days of motherhood and growing the company by reinvesting any profits back into the business; not letting the fact that timing didn’t always work in her favour from stopping her, when she launched on notonthehighstreet.com in peak season with a baby due any day; employing other Mums who found themselves in a similar position with their careers after giving birth and learning on the job when it came to everything from tax returns to managing staff; to refusing to cave to pressure to scale and seek investment, opting instead to grow at a pace that works for her and her family; the journey Danielle has been on over the past four years is astounding, and dispels the myth that you have to know every. single. detail. in full to successfully launch and run a business.
A business that turns over six figures comfortably each year I should add.
Living proof that becoming a Mum doesn’t have to spell the end of your career if you don’t want it to, her story is one that I will be returning to for advice for a long time to come, I’m sure.