Shopping channel audiences all over the world have fallen in love with products made by Crafter’s Companion, a growing business based in a little village in County Durham. John Hill meets founder Sara Davies, and finds out why is she is being lauded as one of the region's best young entrepreneurs.
NOT long after County Durham native Sara Davies turned up on shopping TV in Florida, the phone lines started begging for attention. Of course, that didn’t mean the millions at the other end of the line necessarily had a clue what she was saying.
The founder and figurehead of Crafter’s Companion had taken her products over to the USA and swept away the buyers at the Home Shopping Network with her enthusiastic pitch. They insisted Davies showcase her products to the nation herself, but could an American audience cope with a North East accent?
She says: “Someone advised me to take elocution lessons. I told the elocution person I wanted to speak more slowly but didn’t want to change my accent. I only went to one lesson and never went back.
“I started off with the best intentions of speaking slowly, but imagine you’re in a studio with seven robotic cameras and TVs around the sides, and you’ve got to process all the information while you’re making your pitch in 10 minutes.
“As the phone lines went into meltdown and the dollar signs started going up, I got more excited and just got faster and faster.
“I looked at one of the forums afterwards and someone had asked who that new English person they’d brought in was. They said they couldn’t understand a word I’d said, but that I’d sounded so excited about the product, they’d bought one anyway.”
Davies’ enthusiasm has made her a familiar face on shopping channels across the world.
She says she clocks up 150 live hours a year on Florida-based HSN, the UK’s Ideal World and Create & Craft, Home Shopping Europe in Germany and The Shopping Channel in Canada.
Her globe-trotting appearances have introduced viewers to a range of products from her Coundon-based company, which was born in the bedroom of a student flat she shared at the University of York Management School.
She says: “I have an over-the-top passion because I’ve developed a lot of these products myself, and I really believe people will like them.“
The success of Crafter’s Companion has seen Davies win a string of awards, most recently two national accolades – the UK Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Awards last year, followed by the Santander Small to Medium Sized Business of the Year award at the National Business Awards.
The company boasts an office in Orlando in Florida, and sells a range of more than 300 products both online and to more than 400 shops across the UK.
Crafter’s Companion is a big innovator in a quiet but huge crafts market that was worth $28bn in the US alone last year.
Davies says: “For the last 10 years, crafting has been the second biggest luxury-spend market in the UK. As the recession hit, we found that people were cutting back on new kitchens and cars but not the £20 they spent on their hobby.
“More than ever now, mothers and daughters are crafting together, younger people are getting involved and the next generation is coming through. There’s even been research which indicates that crafting is beneficial to your health in terms of dexterity and stress relief.”
Crafter’s Companion spearheaded the rise of producing CDs which contain data which customers’ computers can turn into templates for crafts projects. The firm has also handled licensed products for characters such as Beatrix Potter’s childhood favourites.
But you might have to slow down as you pass through Coundon to spot Davies’ base of operations, tucked away in a red-trimmed brick building just above her mother’s longstanding wallpaper and paint store.
Davies grew up as the daughter of two entrepreneurial parents. Her father, who ran firms including a logistics business, retired five years ago to help Davies as her start-up gathered pace.
She says: “I grew up helping my dad with his business and helping my mum at weekends. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a painter and decorator to knock on our door in the morning as he had a job at late notice and needed some paint mixing, and we’d open up the shop especially for him. They brought me up with the mentality that if you’re going to work hard you might as well do it for yourself.
“If you’d have asked me at 19 what I wanted to do, I would have said I was going to run my own business, but I wouldn’t have known what that business would be.”
With that in mind, she attended the management school of the University of York, eventually graduating with first class honours.
She says: “I was very much the underdog. It was an elite course that only took about 30 people a year, and many had private school educations and had just been rejected by Oxbridge.
“By the end of the first year I was one of the highest achieving students on the course and by the end of the fourth I was one of the highest in the whole school.
“I enjoyed what I was learning so much as it felt like common sense because I’d been brought up around business. I’m also a bit of a geeky swot who spent a lot of time revising.”