Mark and Angela Stevens have really cornered the market with their gorgeous fabric animal doorstops and draught excluders, and have been established for 25 years. Mark tells us all about their success
How did Dora Designs start?
The company was established 25 years ago when Angela fulfilled her ambition of starting her own business using her unique skills. Whilst completing an exchange year at an American University, she was inspired by American handicrafts and started to develop her own products. Friends at the university were continually impressed by what she produced and encouraged her to take her ideas forward. On completing her BA Hons degree in Fine Art the desire to start her own business was conceived with a very English slant, her memories of certain childhood books, in particular, Alice in Wonderland and Wind in the Willows were her inspiration and this can be seen especially in the Country Folk range.
Tell us more about your products
Our main products are fabric animal doorstops and draught excluders, based on many different types of animals, but as there are a large number of dog and cat lovers throughout the world there is a strong emphasis on different breeds of dogs and cats. We also have an extremely successful range that we call the Country Folk, which are very collectable dressed doorstops based on British wildlife animals - each one is individually named and there is a short story on the hang tag of each doorstop. Characters include Marcus Fielding, Dora Mouse (of course), Percy Brocklehurst and Mr Ringneck the pheasant. Products that have become popular in recent times include paperweights, key rings and trophy heads.
How has the business grown over the years?
The business has grown very organically. A lot of customers have found us rather than us trying to find them. New customers often start the conversation with, 'I brought one of your products and had to stock them in our shop.' Our products are stocked in various outlets from large department stores like John Lewis to garden centres and independent gift shops, as well as furniture stores, farm shops and online. We also have distributors in Australia, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Canada and many other countries. But although international growth has increased over the last few years, the current exchange rates are making this difficult at present.
What do you think has made Dora Designs such a success?
We were the first company to produce fabric doorstops and having such a one-of-a-kind product has contributed greatly to the success. Other factors include the fact that we are constantly innovating new products and ranges. The longevity of some of the products is amazing too though and we still have some of the original designs in our collection today. The product quality is excellent and we maintain very high standards and our customer service is very good. Our orders are always sent out in a timely manor. The Dora brand is very strong.
What is your favourite product and why?
Both Angela and I came up with the same answer: Bertie Bristles Hedgehog Doorstop. When Angela was pregnant with our daughter only two designs were added to the collection that year and one was Bertie - the response was fantastic and 13 years on Bertie always features in the top ten products for the year. In recent times, however, Sugar Bear Schnauzer has also been one of our favourites as he is based on our family pet.
What's the hardest thing about running your own company?
The hardest thing is juggling so many things and being able to switch from one task to another, which could be completely unrelated. We do enjoy the challenge though and it's great to go into work not knowing what might happen that day.
And the best bit?
The business has given us the opportunity to travel to countries we would never have dreamed of going to and we have met such lovely people, which has been really rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges faced by wholesale traders in 2016?
Currently the money markets are not working in our favour and this makes trading difficult but there are always ups and downs in the markets. Beyond this, retailers are requiring greater non-product assistance and keeping pace with these demands could prove a challenge.
What are you looking forward to in 2016?
Being our 25th year we have introduced a lot of new and some very different designs so we are really looking forward to seeing how they are received.
For further information, visit www.doradesigns.co.uk