Today I’m here to share a Behind The Biz interview with you. For those of you who’re new around here, Behind The Biz is an interview series where I discover small businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today’s interview is with Katie Owen, the founder and owner of Sargasso & Grey.
Please tell us about your business.
We are a British luxury shoe company whose focus is on making wider fit shoes as we believe that, at least in the luxury space, this market is not catered for and as our survey suggests, the majority of women in the UK believe they have wide feet.
Where did the inspiration for Sargasso & Grey come from?
I have never had narrow feet but after the birth of my first child in 2011 I found that my feet got wider (a common side effect of pregnancy – and a permanent one!). I actually had to throw away about half of my shoe wardrobe which was very depressing. When I started looking for stylish wide fit shoes for work and for occasion wear I was really disappointed and what was available. It seemed very frumpy.
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
I was thinking of words associated with “wide” without being too blatant (no one wants to buy shoes from a company called Fat Feet!) and had read a book called The Wide Sargasso Sea. The name Sargasso appealed to me. Originally it was just Sargasso and our focus was UK made shoes but then we extended the range to include lovely Spanish shoes so to differentiate the collections we added Grey to the brand. Eventually I decided to make the parent brand Sargasso & Grey.
What did you do before starting Sargasso & Grey?
I was, and still am, a Wealth Manager, but the internet and booming ecommerce industry makes it very possible to have a day job and run a small business. I started trading during my second maternity leave so when I returned to work I spoke to my employer and told them what I was doing and they (and my clients) were very supportive, allowing me to reduce my hours to give a certain focus to my business idea.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Never! I actually really enjoy my wealth management role but I felt there was a gap in the market for stylish wide fit shoes so I decided to do something about it. I am not a designer nor do I have a fashion background so I put myself on a shoe design evening course at London College of Fashion so I could better understand the industry. I was very naive when I started the business and did not comprehend the amount of money, time and hard work that goes into it. It’s not just about the shoes, it’s about marketing, PR, cash flow, supply chains, tax, accounts…Whilst having a passion for the product may help keep you focused, if you don’t have a grasp of the other factors, it can be overwhelming. That said, I have learnt so much about running a business and the power of PR and marketing. These are all very valuable skills and I feel such skills help me better understand my wealth management clients, many of whom run their own businesses.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
I think the biggest challenge was getting the product to market. This took nearly 3 years! First I had to find a shoe factory to make the shoes (there are less than a handful in the UK who are willing to make shoes for start-up companies). When I finally found a shoe maker they told me I would need to get my own Lasts (the moulds for the shoes) made as they didn’t have any wide fit ones (this was the case for all of the factories I spoke to), then the shoes had to be designed, patterns made, samples made etc etc. It took so much longer than I expect and it has been tough but definitely interesting!
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
Seeing Lorraine Kelly wear our shoes on her show. She wrote and told me that she wore them and how lovely and comfortable they were. Such a lovely lady!
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
I think it plays an important role in brand awareness, although I question the trade-off between time spent on it vs actual return. Most people buy our shoes as a result of Google searching of if they have seen us in the papers. That said, Pinterest drives quite a bit of traffic to our site, which is understandable as it is a visual medium. As for my favourite platform, I have to say it is Instagram. I love taking pictures and seeing other people’s lovely pictures.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would say 3 things:
- Give it a go – if you don’t you will always have the “what if”
- Don’t think that success comes overnight – it doesn’t so you have to be prepared, mentally and financially for the long haul. Start small, take your time and see how it goes.
- Tell people about your idea – unless it needs patenting, the more people that know about it the more the word gets spread! It’s all about brand awareness! Even before you launch the product/service, start talking about it on social media and get a website up and running with a holding page. Start a newsletter and get subscribers so that when you do finally launch you have a market of potential purchasers.
Where do you hope to take your business in 2016?
I like to keep my goals manageable and realistic. With a day job and a young family I only have so many hours in the day but I am keen to keep growing the brand and getting more people to hear about us, selling more shoes and getting more repeat business. Customer satisfaction and loyalty is very much at the heart of my business model and I am pleased that I now have a growing customer base and a number of repeat customers who tell me that they love the brand and the shoes!
Thank you so much to Katie for taking the time to be involved with Behind The Biz. I hope you all enjoyed the interview as much as I did. As Katie says, it’s important to remember that success doesn’t come overnight. You have to be patient.
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