19th November 2017

Ella D’Amato: Ella is chief commercial and partner officer at notonthehighstreet.com

Do you work with lots of ambitious home businesses at notonthehighstreet.com?

Yes! We were actually set up 11 years ago by Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish around their kitchen table and in the last 10 years the business has grown significantly. Today we have over 200 employees and a turnover of over £158 million. We also work with 5,000 of the best small creative businesses, many of whom started around kitchen tables with notonthehighstreet.com and that are now incredibly successful in their own right. We’re not working with hobbyists but people who have made careers out of their creative talent and passion.

We did a significant piece of research with Oxford Economics early in 2017 to find out about the impact of small creative businesses on the UK economy and the world of work. It found that 38 per cent of our Partners are the sole bread winners in their households. They’re passionate and they’re taking their business seriously – whether they’re working from home or not.

Today we have 20 Partners selling more than £1 million a year with us (17 of them run by women) but it’s important
to note that many of our Partners reach a certain point, say the £250,000 turnover mark, and they’re happy to stay there. Ambition isn’t just about money – it can be about work-life balance and supporting family life.

Are there any geographical hotspots when it comes to notonthehighstreet.com Partners?

People often assume that we are very much a London network but actually, our largest concentration of businesses by borough is Brighton and Hove. We have a total of 156 Partners in this area – proving there is lots of creativity on the south coast.

The next borough by size is Hackney, as you might expect, but after that it’s the South West. So I would say we see creative pockets all over the UK. Scotland is also a big spot for creativity, especially among female founders – 91 per cent of our Scottish Partners are female.

Is there anything in particular that you help your Partners with when it comes to scaling?

We do a lot of work with Partners to help them develop their product ranges. We are able to assist them to think about
what customers are looking for and we regularly host product sessions. This is something important that small businesses often don’t have time to think about. We also offer support and workshops on things like HR and finance functions. These can be challenging areas – often just hearing about how another business leader has tackled them is helpful – straight from the horse’s mouth.

“COLLABORATION AND PEER-TO- PEER LEARNING IS IMPORTANT FOR OUR PARTNERS BECAUSE WHEN THEY’RE ON THEIR OWN IN THEIR HOMES IT CAN BE A BIT LONELY.”

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Gillian Arnold- Notonthehighstreet.com, Partner

Do you see a lot of home businesses making a move into professional premises?

Yes, absolutely and they see this as a key milestone for them. We know that it can be daunting for our Partners to take this step. But we’ve actually seen that this is an opportunity for them to collaborate. I was up in Edinburgh meeting some of our Partners and I met three businesses which have come together to share a space.

Collaboration like this, and peer-to-peer learning, is important for our Partners because when they’re on their own in their homes it can be a bit lonely. They miss that watercooler chat and when you’re trying to build your business and see that vision through, if you haven’t got people around you it can be tough. We have a Partner portal which businesses can use to connect and ask questions to the network of other entrepreneurs.

Print designer Gillian Arnold was pregnant with her first child when her husband suggested she start using her degree in textiles to design jewelry and soft furnishings.

Living in London without much spare room, Gillian took to the garden shed to start working. “I went in there and just started printing flowers. I’d always been ambitious but I’d lacked the confidence to start something of my own. Once I’d started I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.”

Gillian’s products went from the shed to Greenwich market, where she started to sell her necklaces, mugs and cushions. Shortly afterwards the couple moved to Bishop Auckland, county Durham, but Gillian kept up the business, this time working out of the family home: “At one point we had three staff members: the jewelry was being made in the dining room, we had a heat press in the hallway and a mug-making room upstairs.”

When Gillian met a friend of Jonathan Ruffer, a local philanthropist who wanted to build an accelerator hub in the town to house local entrepreneurs, she was asked to help establish and run the project. Gillian was able to take one of the spaces and set up a production and retail space in the hub, known as POD @ 42 Market Place.

“AT ONE POINT WE HAD THREE STAFF MEMBERS: THE JEWELLERY WAS BEING MADE IN THE DINING ROOM, WE HAD A HEAT PRESS IN THE HALLWAY AND A MUG-MAKING ROOM UPSTAIRS.”

“The step of moving out gave us more floor space and the business naturally grew to fit it. We knew we needed more staff to accommodate our ambitions and once we had the space this organically happened.”

Hiring more staff and managing a larger space was nerve wracking, says the entrepreneur, but it altered the dynamic of the business: “It really changed mindsets and put my husband and I in a more strategic role. Taking on more staff was a big task, we got it wrong a couple of times and had to let people go but getting it right made all the difference to the business. We’ve found people who share our vision and want to make it a success.”

Having applied a number of times and being knocked back, Gillian was accepted as a seller on notonthehighstreet.com last year. She says the move has been transformative, adding a sizable extra revenue stream for the small business. “We haven’t looked back. It has sharpened us and made us think harder about what customers want.”

The business opened its first standalone retail store last year and having seen great results, Gillian is getting ready to move out of POD and into a new, even larger retail space on the high street. The business has grown from 20 to 200 stockists, has six full-time staff and turned over £175,000 last year. “I was really nervous about moving into a shop, I knew I’d love to but it was a big jump. Once you’ve made the step though, you realise it wasn’t that big after all and think ‘I should have done this a year and a half ago’.”

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