Like many of the best business ideas, Pattern and Print Upholstery came about by accident. It provides furniture and soft furnishings in printed fabrics created by Becka Spence, a talented young designer from Windermere.
She said: “When I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
“But I’d always had a passion for print and colour and that led me to do a BTEC art and design foundation at Edinburgh College, followed by an HND in textiles, then a degree in design for textiles at Heriot Watt University.”
While at university, and immediately afterwards, Becka did internships at Hemingway Design and top fashion brands Joules, Liberty and Toast.
But the search for a job in print design that satisfied her creative instincts proved fruitless.
After much soul-searching, she decided to launch her own business.
Becka said: “I hit on the idea of combining print design with upholstery to offer clients a one-stop service. There aren’t many print designers doing that.
“I’d always had an interest in upholstery and did bits myself.”
Once she’d completed an upholstery course with the Ministry of Upholstery in Manchester, she was ready to launch.
First, she enrolled on the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme delivered by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
The package of free support includes a three-day course covering the basics of starting a business, one-to-one meetings with a business adviser, training, help with a business plan and membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
Becka said: “I was talking to Scratch Creative in Kendal about a website and it was Jonny Moss there who told me about the Growth Hub.
“The best thing about BSUS is the one-to-one support from an adviser.
“My adviser, Adrian Luckham, has been brilliant. Just having someone to talk to who has different ideas makes a difference.
“He helped to boost my confidence. I know that 26 is quite young to start a business. There’s always that little voice in your head saying ‘Am I doing this the right way?’ or ‘I like this design but will anyone else?’.
“Adrian provided reassurance that I was on the right track.”
Becka also secured a £1,000 grant through the BSUS Subsidy Scheme towards the costs of designing a website. The scheme contributes 40% of the cost, up to a maximum of £1,000, to help start-ups buy-in consultancy services.
And she has signed-up for a book-keeping workshop in January.
“That’s the side of business I struggle with,” she said. “I’m expecting the workshop to be very useful.”
Becka’s designs are printed on upholstery fabrics by a specialist textile printer in Blackburn.
Furniture is made by Ministry of Upholstery who can copy any design from a photograph then deliver the frame to Becka to be upholstered at her studio.
Clients choose an item of furniture, then the print design and fabric, and detailed finishing touches. The whole process from inception to delivery takes a maximum of six weeks.
All products comply with fire safety regulations for furniture and furnishings and Becka also offers a re-upholstery service.
Anyone who has started a business will empathise with her greatest challenge, finding clients.
She said: “Most of my customers are in London and the south of England and I’ve had a few enquiries from America but, because of the expense of shipping items to the US, that hasn’t come to anything yet.
“I’d really love to have more clients locally. The hard part is getting known.
“I use social media a lot, especially Instagram and Facebook, but you have to build-up trust before people become clients.
“Because I don’t have a showroom, they can only look online.
“I launched in March and it was a slow start because people don’t think about furnishings over the summer. Now it’s autumn, the orders are starting to come in and I expect it to be busy between now and Christmas.”
Lesley Robinson, Start-Up and Enterprise Manager at Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “Hundreds of people, like Becka, throughout Cumbria take advantage of our start-up support every year.
“There is similar support available in your early years of trading too, which are often particularly challenging – not least, as Becka says, finding enough customers to sustain and grow your business.
“We have a great team of advisers, workshops and a useful grant scheme, so it makes sense to take advantage of the help that’s available.”
The funding that supports the Growth Hub this comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce