Northumberland entrepreneur is sitting pretty
A NORTHUMBERLAND entrepreneur, who found herself out of work as a result of the economic downturn, has proved there are still opportunities to set up a successful business after recognising a gap in the market to supply quality chair covers and table linen to the UK events market.
Sarah Pittendrigh launched Simply Bows & Chair Covers earlier this year with support from Business Link and the North East England Investment Centre (NEEIC), and has now launched a franchise operation to manage increasing customer demand.
Sarah, a former brand manager for Jaguar and Land Rover, who runs the business from near Hexham, said: "Prior to 2008 I was working in a national event company responsible for high profile events throughout the UK. However when the recession hit and budgets were cut we lost a number of major contracts.
"Unfortunately we had to make the tough decision to cut our losses and the company went into liquidation, leaving me unemployed.
"It had been suggested, while I was in my previous company, that we bring the supply of chair covers and table linen in-house as an inconsistency in service and quality among our suppliers was apparent. At the time I thought it was something that to do well, it had to be a specialist project for which we did not have the time.
"However, after losing my job and realising I wanted to keep the autonomy associated with self-employment, I saw there was a big opportunity in the North East to deliver chair covers and table linen aimed at the top end of the market."
After approaching Business Link with the business idea, Sarah was provided with a range of advice and guidance to form the business. Business Link also assessed Sarah’s finance options and identified that support may be available from the North East England Investment Centre (NEEIC). Financial support from NEEIC was secured to launch Simply Bows & Chair Covers. This helped Sarah to develop a brand for the business, implement a marketing plan and create a range of samples to showcase to potential clients.
Sarah said: "The advice I received from Business Link was crucial in getting the business off the ground and seeing results as quickly as I’ve been able to. Even though I already had a number of contacts from my previous role, having samples to take to market was vital in getting the buy-in of some of the region’s leading venues so they could see the quality and creativity of the product range for themselves.
"Accessing funds through NEEIC was very straightforward and I received the go-ahead on my applications very quickly. My Business Link adviser was on-hand to make sure things went smoothly throughout the whole process."
Simply Bows & Chair Covers has established itself as the preferred supplier for many of the region’s most prestigious venues including Close House Hotel, Doxford Hall, Seaham Hall, Wynyard Hall and Rockliffe Hall to name but a few. In less than a year, the business has supplied chair covers and accessories for over 180 weddings and already has a growing order book for 2010 and 2011.
Sarah has been conscious of retaining revenue from the business within the region and after coming up with the creative concept, she sub-contracts the manufacturing and laundering side of the business to a number of local companies.
With the business growing at such a pace and Sarah keen to retain a work-life balance, she decided that franchising the business would be the best way to manage growing demand.
She said: "I had started to get enquiries from the likes of Grosvenor House in London, however having travelled a lot in my previous role, I was keen that my new venture allowed me the flexibility to be able to spend more time with my family.
"Franchising Simply Bows & Chair Covers has enabled me to grow the business while at the same time allowing me to concentrate my efforts on the Northumberland and Durham areas which I have retained for myself."
Business Link was also able to help the business to access financial support towards launching the franchise operation in particularly to assist in producing the Legal Agreement for franchisees.
The business already has two franchisees on board, one for the Sunderland and Tees Valley area and one for Tyneside and there has also been interest from as far afield as Spain and Canada.
Despite her early success, Sarah is not complacent: "The business is well ahead of targets for the year and interest in the franchise operation has way surpassed my expectations. However, having experienced how a successful business can be affected by economic conditions, I have carefully planned every investment to help secure the long-term future of the business."
Stan Tatko, the Business Link adviser who has worked with the firm, said: "When I first met Sarah I knew the business would be a great success. The idea is simple, but then most great ideas are.
"It took a lot of guts and determination to take advantage of an opportunity in the market and set up a new business after her previous venture was adversely affected by the recession. To have achieved such early success is testament to her hard work and she is a great role model to others thinking about launching their own business. I am pleased to have been able to provide support and access to finance to help the business move forward more quickly than would have otherwise been possible."