In between his favourite lessons - geography, history and music - young entrepreneur Henry Patterson has been for interviews on BBC's The One Show, met and signed his autograph for Richard Branson and has travelled the country attending book-signings. This is all because of his budding business Not Before Tea. "Grown-ups spend their life saying 'not before tea', whenever sweets are mentioned. I thought this was a perfect name for the business."
It all began when young Henry invented an edible jar of mud and worms - the perfect invention for a nine-year-old - that he was selling on his website. He decided he wanted to tell more people about his jarred treats. With a little help from his mother, Rebecca, he was shown how to write a press release and swiftly sent one off explaining his exciting product to the Bedford Times and Citizen who printed the story. Before he knew it, the Daily Mail had caught wind and soon TV, radio and national press were interviewing Henry. "Our website had 62,000 hits in one day and I'd only made 10 jars of mud and worms." Henry explained. "I learnt a really big lesson about stock that day! Because the media loved the story and the public seemed to find it interesting, I decided to bring the story I had in my head to life. I imagined that my sweet shop was run by a mouse (Pip) and an owl (Sherb) and they had lots of adventures."
In the following Christmas holidays Henry wrote the first book The Adventures of Sherb and Pip. "I found our amazing illustrator by luck on Etsy - Becky Down. She'd done some cards of a fox that I loved. It would never have been such a wonderful brand if it wasn't for her."
Some 12 months later and Henry's branched into the gift market with the book and more than 50 other products which are already selling on the company's website, the Not Before Tea shop which is already up and running in Buckingham, not to mention in a host of gift shops. It was important for Henry to stock his products in brick and mortar stores and not just in cyberspace. He explains, "We're a traditional brand and it's good to sell in proper shops. We choose shops who will display the products well - it's so important for the customer journey. I went on a course to learn how to display. Not Before Tea is all about having an adventure and I want customers to enjoy buying our products." The Not Before Tea shop opened in September 2014. Henry chose to open the shop to develop the products and learn all about retail first hand. Henry adds, "It was very important for me and my mother to experience it from the retailer's point of view." "We found a great fabric manufacturer in Birmingham and decided to do wash bags as our first product, followed by cards, fabric art pots, pictures and aprons. Recently we've made some oil cloth bags and Pip the Mouse is now a cuddly toy."
Henry's products are different because he invented each and every one. He explains, "Not many products are designed by a child for children. We have eight brilliant characters who people love (except Billy the Cat who is the grumpy one)."
When asked what his biggest success to date is, Henry excitedly answers, "Our Magic Doors! They're little doors that sit on your skirting board for fairies and magical friends to live. We hand paint them all and they take hours to make. At Christmas, our whole house was full of them."
Of course, school is paramount to Henry and his family, with much work on the business taking place during the school holidays and one weekend day per week. Henry adds, "We have a very good team behind us called Finest for Baby. They manage the selling for Not Before Tea and do all the orders. We could never sell to shops without them."
This is only the beginning for Henry and his team. "Next I'm launching an online TV channel where me and Bubbles the Goldfish make things, cook, read stories and do other fun things. Then, the second book is coming out, and we've also just moved in to a really cool studio which means that our house will not be covered in magic doors again this year!"
Maybe we should all have a few fairy doors in our houses - that fairy dust sure seems to be working its magic. Keep up the great work, Henry!
For more information, visit www.notbeforetea.co.uk