When Jackie McLaren found an ingenious solution to stop her losing her earrings, she and her husband Simon had no idea it would be the start of a new career for both of them. The husband and wife duo, founders and directors of The Little Shop Of, tell Gift Focus how it all happened.
How did The Little Shop Of begin?
The company was started by accident in a way. Jackie, like a lot of women, used to keep her earrings in a box on the dressing table. After constantly searching for matching pairs she decided to design a better way to store them. We drew up some rough ideas and eventually she came up with the first prototype. We took this to a local company; their main line of business was bag manufacture.
After a period of trial and error we had two usable books: one pink, one blue. We didn't choose the colours, these were just offcuts of material the company had spare. The main thing is, they worked. No more searching for matching earrings. It occurred to me then that if they worked for Jackie, they'd work for other ladies with the same problem too.
There were several good products available like earring trees that kept earrings organised, but the drawback was that they have to stand on the dressing table or shelf. We were after something that would hold the earrings securely but could also be kept in a drawer for safekeeping or, when traveling, could be carried in a suitcase.
How did your business grow from there?
I took them to a local shop, The Dulwich Trader, and they were good enough to put the products in the shop to see what interest, if any, they got. Two days later they phoned to say the books had sold and could they have more. This led to trips to other shops to offer the books for sale. Before long we had a business.
The company name came about because I wanted to call it The Little Shop of something but I couldn't think what the 'something' should be. So I just left it at that; Little Shop Of. The first Little Book Of Earrings went on sale in March 2009 and proved to be very popular. We've made a number of improvements since then, largely due to suggestions from our customers. We became a limited company in 2012. For the first three years we ran the business from home but in 2015 we decided to move the company into its own office in Dulwich, South London. It's proved to be one of the best decisions we've made. We now run the business from there and we can keep work and home life separate, as much as possible anyway! Now, we also have a lot of help from our experienced sales team.
How did you develop your product?
After the initial success of the earring books we decided the next step would be to show the books at trade shows. Happily they proved to be a success, but there was one question we were asked time and time again: 'Do you have similar books for necklaces and rings?' So, following the same principles as the earring books, we introduced The Little Book Of Necklaces and The Little Book of Rings. They look nice and they work. The Little Book of Earrings is and, we think will always be, the most successful product. Having said that, the smaller version, The Little, Little Book of Earrings, is catching up fast. These little books came about due to the demand from our customers for a way to keep earrings safe when traveling. We can now offer all these books in around 18 colours and textures.
What's been the toughest hurdle to overcome?
As the company grew we made the decision to take it step by step. Any hurdles we've met we've been able to, if not jump, at least go around. One of the biggest pleasures I get from running a business is finding solutions to problems. There have, of course, been problems and I'm sure there'll be many more but, as each one is taken care of you learn something new, hopefully something that will help solve the next problem. Or jump the next hurdle.
What are you most proud of?
The fact that products designed by us have proved to be such useful and popular items and that we've been able to build a successful business doing something we really enjoy. Do you have any tips for new traders? First, do something you enjoy doing. Don't go into business just to make money. If you enjoy what you do you'll have more success. Establish a good relationship with your suppliers and customers; these are the people you'll rely on to keep the business going. If you need help with any aspect of the business ask someone who knows; the Internet is great for that. Finally, if you're selling something you've designed or invented, protect it. Protect your IP. If your product is a success you will be copied.
What's new for Little Shop Of in 2016?
99 per cent of our business comes from UK-based customers. 2016 will see us entering new markets, in Europe and further afield. Also we have new product ideas to develop - some of these have been inspired by our customers. All in all, we're looking forward to another exciting year.
For more information visit www.littleshopof.co.uk