In our first featured article of Sparkle Up North we showcase how a Northern based fused-glass-studio transformed during the pandemic to take on huge new clients such as John Lewis and will now also be featured on TV…
Twelve months ago, Kate Park was set to have her most successful year ever as owner of her business Twice Fired. But, like many others, she had to put her work on hold when the country was put into Lockdown.
She told Sparkle Up North: “Some of the opportunities that we had lined up, we had already bought all the materials for. We’d been approached by a Michelin star restaurant in London, and we were redesigning their dinnerware service.
“I’d worked with them for about six months, narrowed it down to what they wanted and we were just about to move forward with that when lockdown happened. That was quite catastrophic, as we’d bought all the raw materials and it was a project I was excited about, something I’d never done before.”
Kate had also just taken a huge trade order from The National Trust, but with their shops closed to customers, the stock was sat in their shops unable to be sold. It was a similar story with the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield.
“We’d made things for them and, obviously, Sheffield went into tier three before we did and there was no way of retrieving anything before Christmas. So, all those things we were a massive financial loss.”
Like many small businesses across the north and the whole of the UK, Kate found herself facing pressure financially. She had recently taken on a member of staff:
“Jenny works full-time on a self-employed basis, but you still feel that pressure, because she’s got a family as well.”
“Financially, it was really quite scary. My husband’s company, as well, they had to stop paying themselves so that they could pay their employees. So, thank goodness for mortgage breaks!”
“We’d gone from all that in the pipeline, massive expansion plans, I was just about to buy two more kilns and then it was… nothing. So I thought, ‘Let’s put the brakes on that one.’”
Crafting our way out of the hit of Covid…
Here’s how we adapted our business through the Pandemic
Kate couldn’t let the pandemic destroy the business she is so passionate about, so she looked at what she could offer as an alternative to their usual offerings of sales through shops and face-to-face workshops.
“There was no point just thinking, ‘Oh, well, that’s rubbish’. There had to be something we could still do.”
She looked at increasing their online sales and quickly set to work improving their website. But she also opened an Etsy site, something she hadn’t considered before. Amazingly, they quickly hit 1,000 sales and found their business was growing fast.
“That was brilliant as it meant I could involve Jenny, keep that side of the retail going and reach new customers. We’ve had loads of repeat customers from that, so that’s been really good.”
But it was the workshops that were most important to Kate; as a former teacher, teaching was where her true passion could be found. And it was her loyal collection of customers that directed her to an idea for a new product that would allow her to keep a version of the workshops going.
“We had lots of lovely regulars who lived locally, asking me to put some bits in a box and leave it at the gate for them to pick up. I realised this was something I could do a bit more of, but obviously the works got to come back to me to be fired in the kiln.”
And so, her ‘make-at-home’ kits were born.
“To start with, it was just a collection, local people when they were out for their daily walk would come and get a box, then bring it back to me and I finish it in the kiln. But I was sure I could do this in a bigger way.”
Kate experimented with different boxes to post the kits in, different ways of packaging the glass, and sealing the glass so it was protected. She then road tested it with family and friends, before making some tweaks and ensuring it was perfect to offer the public.
The right idea at the right time
It was then that retailer John Lewis picked up on Kate’s kits and, having been accepted onto their Creative Makers programme, Twice Fired products began appearing in their stores.
“We were really excited because it just gives you that little bit of credibility. I’d gone from a takeaway box that I was leaving at the bottom of my drive, to quite quickly a product that’s being sold in places like Germany.”
Within just 4 weeks, she had made £3,000 of sales, a figure that would undoubtedly have been even higher had the shops been open for longer. Modestly unaware of what an innovative and brave business-woman she is, Kate insists the were really lucky to find this success:
“We hit a product at the right time and it took off, massively. As quickly as I could get new designs out there, people buying them and we were giving us lovely feedback and reviews.”
“Because of the medium that it is, you don’t have to have any experience in the field and we had so many families doing it together. Not just in one place, but also them being able to do it with another part of the family in another place.”
“Sharing experiences like that was great, we had knockdown Zoom birthday parties, Prosecco nights, all sorts. I was sent photos of groups of ladies making Robins all over the country, all together and at the same time.”
Financially, of course, it was a great relief for Kate that they had found a way to grow her business through such a difficult time.
“When I first started doing it, it was just to keep in contact with our lovely shoppers, I just wanted to keep that relationship alive. Then it started to take off and I felt very lucky that things were going so well, this kept our heads above water.”
Inspiring the next generation through working from home
The benefits of this incredible business growth have not been limited to the financial income, her family have enjoyed working on the products together – especially her eldest daughter, Freya. At just 16, she has been inspired to start her own business too:
“My eldest works in the workshops with me when we’re open normally. It’s been really good for her confidence and experience and that’s lovely. She’s just set up an Etsy shop too!”
“She’s been working alongside me all through lockdown and she’s off to Beauty College in September. She’s really artistic, but she’s been really into nail art and so that’s her lockdown project. It’s been amazing, she’s actually got a desk next to me in the office now!”
“It’s something she absolutely loves doing. That’s what I’ve always said to the kids: it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ve just got to enjoy it.”
Kate says this side of lockdown has had a massive impact on them as a family. Her husband runs his own business, too, and has been working from home – so Freya has clearly learned a lot from seeing both her parents working and watching them do very different things.
Of course, it’s not just in her family that she’s seen some positive changes over the last 12 months. She believes her business would be in a very different place if it weren’t for the pandemic:
“I think the pandemic helped my business. I always try to spin many, many, many, plates, and I would never have ‘paused’ one part of my business to build another. So that forced stop meant I could just focus on one part, get it running to a point where I can also then on to another part that I can continue to develop.”
“A lot of the projects, like the restaurant, have been in touch and said they still want to work together. I’m seeing all these things as ‘paused’.”
“Sky TV have even got in contact to go on a craft channel. I’m down at Peterborough filming live workshops!”
“We would love to welcome people back to the workshops and we have another new project that we just did a delivery to yesterday. But I think the kit side of it has legs and we’re looking to extend on that.”
Kate ended the interview by saying thank you to all her customers who have supported her through the pandemic, saying she owes all her success to them. It’s testament to her lovely character that this is such an important thing for her to include.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Kate for sharing her story with Sparkle Up North and wish her the very best of luck in 2021. You can follow Kate on Facebook and Twitter.
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Article written by Amy Downes