John and Chris founded their personalised gifts business on the back of a dream and a series of events falling together. John had just closed his suffering ski travel business and Chris was looking for a new challenge. Over a pint one night in the pub they decided that woodworking and business skills could come together and provide a new handmade gifts business. They made their plans, moved into an industrial unit and for the last eighteen months haven’t looked back. Clocks, toy boxes, planters and planting kits are all part of the product range. They are provided fully personalised and in a full range of bright colours. In a recent interview with WowThankYou John told us how the business was working out and what the future holds.
What was the drive behind you starting Presently Thinking?
I had recently moved in with my girlfriend, after shutting down a previous business that was suffering in the recession (ski holidays – not a priority for people when they are struggling financially!) Chris and his wife had just had their second child, and he was spending his entire salary on childcare! So he decided to join me in the venture, give up work, spend nothing on childcare, and any income would be a bonus.
Tell us the story of how you started? How long has the business being running?
As most great ideas do – it started one night in the pub. The concept of individualised, or personalised gifts was one that appealed to both of us. We have been going for around 18 months now.
Have you always enjoyed working with wood?
I have never worked with wood before – and am so incompetent in the workshop that Chris bans me from going in there. He does all the clever stuff – and I write all the web content, customer letters, do the accounts, the VAT returns, have fights with the bank manager etc. It is in fact quite a good working relationship – we both have very different qualities and abilities, and they complement each other.
“As most great ideas do – it started one night in the pub… We have been going for around 18 months now.”
How do decide on new product lines? Where do you get your ideas from?
All over. We try to have new products in development all the time, and I tend to scan newspapers, magazines, specialist journals, hobby websites and blogs to try and understand the way people are thinking. New products are expensive to bring to market however, and it takes time.
From your own range, what is your favourite piece, so far?
The beach hut toybox. It is so big, bright, different and attractive. We have never had a negative comment about it.
Do you use recycled materials?
We don’t use recycled materials – but our products are almost all recyclable to a minimum of 98%, if not 100%. We use new wood because we need our products to look great, and when the raw material has already been around the houses a few times, it always looks that way. We are aware that “shabby chic” is a very popular look, and recycled materials lend themselves very well to that style. Perhaps we ought to run a competition where WowThankYou visitors offer ideas for new shabby chic products, and we can produce them to order?!
Do you promote your work purely online, or do you attend shows, stock stores/galleries etc? What have you found to be the best way to sell your items?
At the moment, we are purely online – our own website, WowThankYou and Amazon. We tried eBay, but it just didn’t work for us.
Where do you carry out the work? Have you a workshop?
We rent a commercial unit from Leicestershire County Council. We are in Measham, in the heart of the new National Forest, and commuting to work takes around ten minutes on country lanes. The setting is glorious, and we both really like the situation.
Do you enjoy what you do – what do you get out of it personally?
We both enjoy it tremendously. Self employed people say they like having the independence, and no-one telling them what to do. This is true for us – but the truth is that our customers tell us what to do, and when and how to do it! So perhaps the myth is a little bit flawed, but it is good to have the degree of control that we do have.
Where would you like to see the business in five years time?
In a bigger unit, with more sophisticated products, and around five employees. We have no pretensions to go global, or dominate the world. Quality of life is very important, as is a good work-life balance.
We’re in a global recession – how did you find business during 2011?
Very tough – you really have to fight for customers. But it sharpens your act, makes you think harder and perform better – and your products are better quality, and offer better value for money.
“Self employed people say they like having the independence, and no-one telling them what to do. This is true for us – but the truth is that our customers tell us what to do, and when and how to do it!”
Can you envisage expansion where you have employees (of course following the same handmade ethic)?
Yes – see above. Product quality does not have to suffer just because the company is bigger, and making more of them. If anything, quality can improve, with more specialisation of employees.
What do you think of Chinese imports? Is there any quality there at all?
The overriding consideration for me is that it cannot be possible for Chinese imports to be the price that they are without the use of what amounts to slave labour, however you dress it up. And no, I don’t think there is any quality there.
Do you think it is possible to get people to choose quality over cheap and cheerful?
Yes – we do it all the time. There is – and always will be – a market for well made products. We have never sold on price – quality and individuality are our cornerstones.
What has been your business highlight so far?
Just surviving in this recession has been an achievement. We look forward to the inevitable upturn, when we are convinced we will do really well, as people will have more money to spend on self indulgence.
What advice would you give to a designer-maker who wants to take their hobby and launch it as a business? Is there anything you wish someone would have told you about before you started?
Make sure you know exactly what your product is, and how much it costs to make. Start small, from your back bedroom if you can, and develop gradually, but surely. Do anything possible to avoid taking out a bank loan (which we have avoided) – once they get their claws into you, life can become very difficult.
And believe in yourself. I saw a quote once, effectively saying that often people lose the race because they get off the horse half way round the circuit. Business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Just for fun …
If you had the leading role in a hit movie, what film would you be in, and why?
Al Pacino in “Frankie and Johnnie” – because he gets together with Michelle Pfeiffer! And it is a great film.
You are planning a dinner party to impress – what would you serve as the main course and dessert?
Beef Wellington, with an estate bottled Chateauneuf du Pape. And my girlfriend’s home made plum torte and cream.
Who would you invite to this meal (famous, non-famous, alive or dead)?
Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Laurens van der Post, Ernest Hemingway.
You’ve won the lottery (congratulations!) What would be your first purchase?
A magnum of Pol Roger.
What is your dream holiday/holiday destination?
Heli skiing in Canada.
Sum up your personality in five words …
Determined, considerate, obstinate, humorous, confrontational.
John and Chris have a fantastic business with endless possibilities – they already have a great range of quality products. John has the drive and determination to make their business grow with Chris providing the skills to make them happen. So often businesses succeed because two complimentary individuals come together and share their skills and knowledge. WowThankYou once mentioned a product concept to John, and we’ve just heard it will soon be appearing in their range! Very proactive indeed! We wish them all the best and hope that the quality of their products will shine through.
Visit the Presently Thinking store on WowThankYou, and treat yourself, a friend, or relative to a superbly practical, personal gift that will last a lifetime.