I am really excited to be able to have Molly Freshwater from The Secret Linen Store answer my questions for this post. Sisters Molly and Harriet have 35 years experience in bedroom high street retail, having worked with some of the most famous and respected brands. They’ve been making beautiful bed linen for many years and know exactly what's what when it comes to comfort and quality! I have really enjoyed watching The Secret Linen Store grow from a hungry start-up to a proper grown up business. They are a local company with roots in Chichester and deserve every success.
I hope that you find this series useful for your business and I would love to hear how you would answer some of the questions. Please do leave a comment at the end of the post.
How long have you been running your business? Harriet and I started the business in 2014, we will celebrate our 5th birthday in November this year. It's hard to believe, the time has gone so quickly.
Who runs your business? Harriet Mears, my little sister, and me, Molly Freshwater. Harriet is in charge. I make things look nice and get them here on time. We have a super team with one other full time member of staff in customer service and 4 part time staff helping us with customer service and managing our stock.
Describe your products? We make and sell beautiful bedlinen, all 100% cotton and linen, made with love in Portugal. As well as hand made and filled bedding, all made here to order in the UK. Our plan is to make bedtimes better, by making beds well and with the finest ingredients!
How are your products sold? All of our bedding, cushions and throws are sold online on our webshop. We are always open and ready to make your bed. We keep our prices low by not having any fancy stores or big warehouses.
Did you create a business plan before you started out?
Yes, very much so. We needed to raise some money to get us started, so we had to be sure that there was a market for our product, know what we needed to sell to pay our overheads, and know what our targets were. Without this, it would have been hard for us to focus on what we wanted to achieve and how we would market ourselves and afford it.
How did you fund your business at the beginning?
We didn’t have a penny! Just the idea. We took investment from 6 Angel investors to get us started, we didn’t pay ourselves for the first year, which is hard! I had another business at the time so we were keeping that going to help fund this new venture. It was and still is difficult, Harriet is good at watching the pennies, I’m generally good at spending so we make a good team!
What small thing that you do has made the biggest difference?
It’s a combination of many small things that make us different and hopefully shine out. Great customer service is key, this doesn’t really cost much, but we believe that to stand out from the crowd we must do better than our customers expect. We have lots of feedback on this, and it makes us all feel good and makes the effort worthwhile.
4. What have you learnt the hard way about your business?
That it is hard and rewarding in equal measures. There are lots and lots of highs and lows, and there will be days when you want to run away, then days when you feel proud and excited about the future and what is growing. You have to be able to deal with these and keep positive and motivated. Time management is the biggest challenge that I have faced, you need to be able to juggle lots of different tasks and roles as you start a business, it’s hard to know where to start most days. I’m not sure that I expected it to take over my life, if you are passionate about something, it's hard to put your phone down at night and have holidays. You are always on duty, and thinking of ways to improve.
5. What piece of advice or guidance were you given has been the most useful?
Ohh, so many things to say here. I’m not sure about one piece of advice, but talking to other business owners is really helpful. Often they have faced the same challenges as you, so discussing how they worked through them and listening, that’s the best way to learn. I enjoy talking and sharing experiences with other entrepreneurs, learning from them is free and rewarding. One bit of advice that I took on board many many years ago, that I have carried with me through my career is to look after your suppliers, and they will look after you. If you make a product all the people that help create it, from the warehouse to the hemming unit, each and every person that contributes to your product is as important as the next. The relationships that I have built throughout my career are precious and mutually beneficial to this day.
6. What sources do you use for business advice / learning / support?
As above! Talking to other business owners is invaluable when we have a challenge. We are fortunate to have investors who have worked for very big retailers who can help and advise. We also have another sister Rosie who runs a digital retail marketing agency and works with us to help us grow. Working with a mentor or individual who is not involved in the day to day can be really useful, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees and they can help you focus and find the right path.
7. If someone gave you a small lump sum to invest in your business right now what would you spend it on?
Can we have a big lump sum please? We are in need of a software solution, it may sound boring, but it’s really the next step so that we are well placed to grow. We would like some pennies for that please. We are also planning our second catalogue and would like some more staff so any contributions gratefully received. There is always a wish list here.