How I Started a Successful
Boutique Home Accessories Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Hazel Carruthers and I started Avalana Design in the Summer of 2018. We are a boutique home accessories brand, with collections direct from designers.
Avalana was founded upon the idea of getting back to creating hand-painted artwork for the home accessories market, and feeling love for what I was designing. I currently run every aspect of the business on my own. This can be tough, but very rewarding. I have learned so many new skills along the way!
A unique aspect of the Avalana brand is that it is completely reactive. We make each product to order, so any of my customers can make bespoke changes to their product. As the business has developed, I have found clients who discover they can tweak a layout or colour to fit perfectly within their own space.
This way, they have a much better experience than buying off the shelf. The client ends up with a completely bespoke service and a product that is unique to them. This has allowed Avalana to become a very versatile and design-led brand.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I have just turned 33, and I’m originally from Fife in Scotland. I moved to Manchester in 2010 after graduating with a degree in printed textiles. Since then, I have worked my way through various creative industries such as wallpaper, bedding and soft furnishings.
In 2018, I had a ‘now or never’ moment to start my own brand of home accessories. It had always been a dream of mine.
I have always been an energetic person as well as being creative. The two go hand in hand for me. If I find myself in a creative block, you will find me out jogging with my dogs every lunchtime! I find exercise helps get my ideas flowing again. It wasn’t that I found a gap in the market. It was more a life goal to have creative freedom over what I was designing and start painting again.
As I progressed through my career, I was finding my work less about designing and more about spreadsheets, meetings and computer-based designs. At the same time, being rushed to completion for large companies who had deadlines to hit. Having creative freedom and getting back to the painting table was the biggest push to leap into starting my own business.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Luckily, my partner agreed to support us for the first three months while I started my own business. We looked at our finances and agreed I had three months to start making money or I would have to find a job. I did not have any savings to put into the business. so what you see has all been done slowly. Any profit I have made is reinvested back into the business.
I still take on private clients and design for other companies. This has helped my cash flow while I build the Avalana brand. It can be tough balancing time between these two, but I have learned through my years in the industry to co-opt different creative styles. This has been important to allow me to separate the two.
Competition is fierce in the home accessories market. I conducted my own analysis at the start to see what my competition looked like and what they were doing. Many boutique brands are starting up as more creatives choose to pursue their own brands and collections. The key is making sure your designs stand out and speak for themselves.
Make sure your product is quality and customer service is above and beyond. But most of all, enjoy what you do – that really shines through to your customers.
Instagram has been a wonderful platform for my business. It has such a fantastic network of like-minded people. Especially the interiors community I am part of. I have felt truly welcomed and supported by them and many other small businesses on there. It is also a great tool to advertise your products and raise brand awareness.
Product sourcing was a challenge for me in the beginning. I had never dealt with that side of the business before. I also didn’t have the funds in place to buy stock, or anywhere to store it. Eventually, I managed to find the right suppliers. I needed cost-effectiveness and low minimum order quantities, which proved tricky. I am forever fine-tuning this aspect of the business, as it’s important to keep my products made in the UK. This will allow me to offer made-to-order products.
Who is your target market?
The target market for the Avalana brand is those who have perhaps just bought their ‘forever’ home and want to really make their mark on it. A luxury shopper who looks for items that make a statement and who craves that unique look within their home.
My ideal customer could be a lady who’s kids have all grown up and flown the nest and she’s revamping their bedrooms into luxurious guest rooms. Or a couple who have bought their ‘forever’ home and have extra funds to create an interior of their dreams. Avalana products are aimed at the higher end of the market.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
The way I have marketed my business has varied from when I first started out. I had no experience of marketing before Avalana and it is something I am still learning and developing on a daily basis.
In January this year, I acquired the help of some lovely freelance PR ladies who came on board to help me launch new products and designs from my latest collection. Right as things were taking off on the PR front, the Coronavirus struck so it was an expense I had to sadly let go.
Marketing tools I use myself are mostly Instagram and Facebook Ads. I have just taken part in a free seminar on how to use Pinterest for business and as a marketing tool. Pinterest is not social media but can be used as a great marketing platform to drive traffic to your website if the knowledge on how to do so is there.
I also have a big giveaway planned which I am hoping will boost the reach and audience of my brand too. I have been put off doing these but in these uncertain times, it is pushing me to try new things with my marketing strategy.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The main thing to remember is good service, I always strive to give the best customer experience possible. It’s all down to communication and letting the customer know they are in safe hands.
Building relationships through your business social media platforms and communities is also another good way to stay in touch with customers and to show followers there’s a real person behind the brand too. A little personality goes a long way.
Letting people see what you are working on that day or week is interesting to people. Again using your Instagram Stories to show a behind the scenes look at what you really do, and can also help convey your unique selling point to your potential customers.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
I don’t have a team, I work on the business on my own. Working and creating out of my home studio and office space, I thought I would find it lonely but I don’t, there’s always so much to do!
It’s also very relaxing as I don’t have anyone else to worry about and I can listen to my own music, take a break when I want, and decorate and organise my workspace just how I like it.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
The tools I use for my business are set out in two different zones. In my office, I have my desktop Mac with a Wacom tablet & pen where I complete all of my digital design workings and emails. I have a printer and scanner to transfer my artwork into the computer and I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator software to amend and create the final designs and edit photography.
Downstairs is my art studio where I paint my watercolours, cut up and send out samples, do colour checks and take photography.
I have been using Quickbooks for my accounts as it keeps all that information one place.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
If I started my business today with what I know now it would have saved a lot of time and error. But I don’t like to think like that. I am proud of making my way through it all and figuring it out on my own. Knowing that I have got here through learning from my mistakes, hard work and perseverance.
Confidence is something I feel I have grown a lot in from starting my own business, but confidence comes with knowledge. From starting your own business you gain new knowledge every day. It may feel like some days you are going backwards, but believe me, you are always going forwards! Keep going – learn from the bad, and focus on the good!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Freedom comes with being an entrepreneur. The freedom to make decisions, to be your own boss and to see the fruits of your labour blossom. Being a creative it has been a real unclipping of the wings for me to be able to design what I truly enjoy, and being able to get back to painting has just been a dream come true.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Money worries have been probably the most daunting part. It took a while to get used to organising bills with no steady salary. Worrying if you will be able to pay rent and bills every month is always going to be a massive challenge for any new business. It’s hard work, which is why you have to have a passion for what you are doing.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I haven’t listened to many books or podcasts. Instead, seeing others doing it and wondering what if? It has helped that my partner has his own business and I got a lot of encouragement and support from him to start my own.
My personality has helped in the fact that I have a very ‘now or never’ and ‘go for it’ attitude. Getting out of a job I hated was also a big push for me. I was working in an environment that was tense, frustrating and mentally draining which is not the most ideal for a creative role. One of the best decisions I ever made was handing in my notice there, and to this day it gives me the best feeling! I did it!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
The goal for my business in a few years is to see more traffic to the website, exploring new products – perhaps joining with another brand to create a collection together. Having Avalana products in some big retailers would also be fantastic to see.
I would love for it to grow so I could take on a couple of people to help out with some aspects so I can focus more on the areas I am good at. It’s all in the workings. For now, every day is a school day and I am just so happy I started this journey.