Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m Paige Gillard, the Founder and Director of Poppy + Ted. I started Poppy + Ted in 2018 as a side hustle, literally on my dining room table. Three years on, I now have a team of 5. I oversee the manufacturing process and lead on marketing and social media. My background at university was in Art and Design, I’ve always been creative and that’s where I find most joy in my work, so I still design every piece at Poppy + Ted, which I love.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
I always wanted to get back to some kind of creative outlet but never quite knew what angle I wanted to take. So it took after getting my pup, Ted, to realise one day that actually it might be quite fun to make him a collar. And it’s from there that the idea sparked. I spent hours way into the night searching for fabrics, finishing touches, drawing out my ideas and then once the fabric arrived, I dusted off my sewing machine (treasured and passed down from my late Nanny Jean) and made my first sample, a collar for Ted.
The company has seen over 230% increase in total orders YOY to date and is still growing. Dog ownership has risen massively throughout the pandemic too – so sales have definitely reflected this.
What is your main inspiration and driver for your business?
As a dog owner there are so many essential items that you need. They need to be practical and affordable but I also wanted my dog accessories to reflect my personal style, and look young and cool. I wanted to create dog products that elevated the everyday and cheered someone up when they saw them; even though they are essential, they can still be stylish.
What was the moment that everything changed for you?
We really hit a turning point in 2020 – we really excelled in growth which was incredible considering we were in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. We did have a quiet period during the first 3 weeks of the initial lockdown in the UK and I did worry how we were going to pull through it. I’d just taken a leap in November 2019 and rented our first premises and here we are in March 2020 and we’d hit something nobody ever imagined.
There were many operational difficulties, but the team pulled together and then across the board e-commerce began to flourish and we saw this impact quite rapidly. It was a crazy time but we haven’t looked back, and the level we are at now is the new normal. We continue to grow and have broadened our audience massively, through community building across social media too.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I think has been managing demand as we have grown. As we transitioned from being hand-made to outsourcing it was a big leap for us and a totally new world. I was used to making to order, rather than predicting demand so trying to get the numbers right was definitely a big challenge, and also a really big investment for me personally. It was in a way of course a wonderful problem to have, we were selling out at every launch, but it was causing a lot of frustration and upset for customers and potential customers who really wanted to get their “paws” on some Pop + Ted and with 6 week+ lead times for restocks there were periods where we were left with little to no stock.
It’s still 100% something that I am continuing to learn as we grow, and we do still sell out of select designs at launch which is absolutely mind-blowing as we’ve doubled and doubled and doubled the numbers again. But we have a much better understanding now of our customers wants and needs!
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
As soon as I’d tried, tested and was happy with my first finished products, I selected 4 fabrics and with extremely little knowledge of websites, I set up an extremely basic but fully functional website with Shopify and posted a link. Within 9 minutes I made my first sale all the way in the USA! I couldn’t believe my eyes..This was when I knew that if someone had purchased a product this fast. There was huge potential in the idea.
I was so excited and couldn’t wait to make the order. Before I’d even managed to let that sink in I’d had another order, and another, and they just kept rolling in! My phone kept pinging and before I knew it this little idea of a side hobby, where I could enjoy a creative outlet after work (with perhaps a few collars here and there) turned into a 2 week waiting list as demand was so huge!
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We are self funded and I have always invested profit back into the business. This was the natural route for me while we worked out the potential and rhythm of the brand. Investment may be something we look into later down the line.
What has been your best investment?
Hiring a team. Solopreneurship isn’t really possible as you grow and you have to give up some control and trust that a support network is the best long-term decision.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Mistakes are all part of the process.. It’s how you learn! I haven’t made any errors I haven’t been able to recover quickly from *yet* but I have invested time, energy, money (and worry) in some areas that didn’t take off as well as I’d hoped. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know and I’m so glad I didn’t sit on ‘what if’!
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I have always had a lot of inner belief that I can create something for myself. I think in the digital world we live in, there is so much possibility if you are brave enough to grab it. I have created a team which is all women and most of my community are millennial women, or identify as that. Therefore, I think creating a world that works for you and finding a company culture that is reflective of your values and encourages you to be your best is so crucial. I think there are many companies out there that offer this. Many could do a lot better, I want talented women to know they deserve the best. Telling my business story is crucial to inspiring young women that you can carve your own path.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
That you must understand when to accept help – and embrace that change! I’m a stickler for detail, some might call me a perfectionist – but I always want to give 110% in everything I do. From end product to customer service – it’s truly important to me that every step of the way is an enjoyable experience for our customer and that I am meeting their expectations. I wanted to control every aspect myself to ensure everything was of my standard and exactly how I wanted to be put “out there” but it was absolutely leading to burn out. It was a big deal to “hand over the reins” to someone else and to acknowledge that I needed the help, but it’s the best thing I ever did.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
My Role Model has always been my late Nanny Jean – from watching her in pure amazement knit, sew, make, do, mend from a super young age I always wanted to be just like her. She taught me all the basics and I truly believe this is what set me up for success. Without her as my biggest inspiration, I’m not sure I would have ever found this path. I’m also likewise continuously uplifted and in complete awe from all of the small businesses I follow and find particularly on Instagram – there are some serious girl bosses out there and I love seeing them succeed. It makes me want to succeed too!
What was your biggest learning of 2020?
That the wellness of our team is the most important part of this business. A pandemic really highlighted this, but looking after each individual’s needs and lifestyle – so that work, works for them (including myself) is something we will continue to strive to achieve.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
We have just launched our first ever grooming range at Poppy + Ted, which is really exciting and we hope to continue investing into the business to develop new products like this. My aim is to continue to expand, so that whether you are out on a country walk, or in a city, you see Poppy + Ted making dog owners’ lives easier and more fun.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
I absolutely love The BossBabe Podcast – it’s full of so many ambitious, empowering women, who are honest and inspiring. It’s hard sometimes to really relate my journey with friends or family when I’m stuck in a funk or just feel like I’m alone in a business problem – listening to so many journeys I can really relate to makes me feel like I’m not alone and to continue trusting the journey!
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Just start – go for it! It’s yours for the taking. Teach yourself what you don’t know initially, lean into what you do know and what you enjoy the most. Remember you can always start an idea as a side hustle at first. Then take the full leap when you’re ready, and have a clear vision for what kind of company you want to create.
Finally, where can we find you/how can we support you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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