How I Started a Rope Based Home Decor And Accessories Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Janette Watson. I founded The Lazarette in late 2014 as a shop on Etsy selling decor and accessories made from nautical rope. My items are designed to furnish homes with a new finish. One that adds texture, but also blends in with the modern clean look currently in vogue.
Having lived and sailed on classic boats for over three decades, my husband Paul and I have tied many knots! My first professional knot was back in the 80s. I was paid £1 and a glass of sherry for completion of a Turks head knot! ‘The Lazarette’ is named after the boat locker where we use to store our ropes. From April this year, there will be two of us, as Paul will be joining me in the business again.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
My husband and I have spent all of our married life living and sailing on boats. We have sailed the Bay of Biscay twice, coast hopped in the Mediterranean and cruised through French canals. Being by the coast meant that work was usually influenced by yachts. We have worked for charters, sail schools, yacht brokers and chandlers. The idea of nautical home decor and accessories started with rope mats and keyrings as we had regularly been making these as family gifts. Then we started to think of other ways we could use knots, curtain ties, dog leads. One day, I was playing about with some old rope and ended up creating baskets!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
It takes just a coil of rope to create our items, meaning we don’t need to have much stock. Carrying a lot of stock is financially challenging for a lot of new businesses. Finding the correct type of rope was the most difficult aspect. I had previously worked in a yacht chandlery, and I knew the good synthetic types. Sourcing natural rope of consistent quality however, was extremely difficult. The first choice for many sailors was Manila rope. However, it has a very oily smell, which can be too strong for homes, so I ruled that out. I eventually decided upon Jute rope since it is both readily available and sustainable.
After searching high and low for quality supply, I eventually found a great UK based supplier, who also make their own cotton rope. I have some people copy my ideas, but I simply try to stay ahead by creating new ones. Interestingly, I find museum collections useful for new product ideas as rope knots and baskets have been around for tens of thousands of years. I have developed my knots into flower girl baskets, which has given me a new range to sell to the wedding market.
Who is your target market?
I have two target markets that overlap a little in terms of age. Both are mostly female.
The first are 30 to 40 year old professionals with an established home that they usually own. They are either buying a new house or second holiday home by the coast or river. They buy nautical or rustic items for Scandi, beach or country styled homes.
The second are in their 30s and (often) about to be married or buying a new house with their partners. For their weddings, they like to choose my flower girl baskets to give them the perfect coastal wedding image.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Pinterest and Instagram are my primary approaches of marketing my business, using groups and pods to help us to grow organically. To date, these have brought forth the most traffic and sales and I have found quite a few loyal customers who follow me and promote my business either via their own page or word of mouth. I am also about to start having flyers delivered, as a means of gaining more local custom.
I had previously tried using Twitter and Facebook, but for the products that I make, I prefer the social platforms specifically created for a visual experience. Pinterest is particularly excellent since it acts as something of a image based search engine, meaning my decor and accessories are still able to be viewed in searches months after I’ve posted. This is really important for a business like mine.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I think my knotted rope items are very unique, so that is what attracts customers in the first place. When I receive an order, I try to gain their trust, by maintaining contact with them throughout the process. At the end of the day, they have sent money in the hope that they will receive their order promptly, so I endeavour to provide that.
Most of our decor and accessories are made to order, and usually within three days. I am very meticulous about the care and attention I have towards each customer, from the delivery experience to the packing and of course with the product itself.
Each customer is given a tracking number, so they know where their item is located and when to expect it. All of my products are double-checked before I wrap them in recycled kraft paper and cardboard. I put care instructions and a handwritten note inside, often with a little gift of something like a ‘true lovers’ knot. As is the zeitgeist, I aim for full sustainability, so there is little to no plastic use involved in the process. My customers appreciate the experience they have with us, and it certainly encourages them to come back again and again.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Since there is only my husband and I, we have an extremely harmonious working environment!
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
I am old fashioned, I do most of my work on paper! Accounts, ideas, planning, you name it – all on paper. I use my phone and tablet for everyday website and Etsy work, and of course social media. I use them more than my laptop as they are more energy friendly electric and I can power them up using our small solar panel as and when necessary.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
The most important thing I have learnt is that I can still learn new things all of the time! I have done so many new things that I had never done before, and didn’t think that I would even be able to do. I have managed my own accounts, I designed my own website, I built an e-commerce shop, I took my own product photographs, I wrote the marketing content for my website too! Running your own small business means that you effectively have to become a jack of many trades! I have made mistakes, but I don’t think I would do anything differently.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I like the freedom from the alarm clock, I wake early naturally, but I hate the tyranny of the alarm! I like the freedom to be flexible, if the morning is clear and sunny, I like to ride along the beach road before starting work. If I had a regular job, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to do these small, but important things.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The worst part of being a small business owner is that there is no going home and leaving it to someone else! I always seem to get an enquiry or email just as I am sitting down to eat and it is hard to ignore it for even a few minutes! Working from home can be bad for your social life, and it can be lonely sometimes. It’s important to set aside time to meet friends and family or just do things that take you away from your workspace.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
A book called The Daily Stoic was a gift from a friend and it really helped me to put life into perspective. Reading about the thoughts of Ancient Roman philosophers made me realise that everything we worry about has already happened before (many times over!) and it just serves to make you more resilient.
I also listen to BBC Radio 4 a lot, since it features lots of business advice from different industries, such as banking, farming and food. Often, the industry is irrelevant, the issues that business owners face and deal with on a daily basis are usually the same! The podcasts I listen to the most are not usually business focused, but The Moth Radio Hour and the New Yorker are great to listen to whilst working!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2-3 years time, I hope that we will have higher revenue from our decor and accessories. In addition, I expect to have extended our services to include linocut prints. We are also planning on developing mat making workshops to provide another income stream.