Business growth is a badge of honour for sisters

16 October 2015

An eco-friendly business started by two sisters from Lancaster is flourishing, thanks to support from Boost Business Lancashire – the county’s business growth hub.

Louise and Victoria Lawson started Bough to Beauty Bespoke in February 2015 after spotting an opportunity to provide event and conference organisers with a sustainable wood alternative to plastic name badges.

A little over six months on and the business can already count Jameson Irish Whiskey, Greenpeace and Waitrose among its customers. And they're now diversifying to offer a wide range of bespoke wooden products, from personalised corporate gifts to events signage.

Boost Business Lancashire is the £7.2m Lancashire Business Growth Hub, offering free and part-funded business support to ambitious and growing businesses.

After taking part in the Lancashire LEAP Start-up Boot Camps, run by Winning Pitch as part of Boost, Lou and Vix as they’re known, are busy planning further growth.

Vix explained: "Customers like Jameson, Waitrose and Greenpeace are a perfect fit for us; people are impressed that companies like those believe in what we’re doing. I’m not sure we would have attracted them if we hadn’t been encouraged to focus on our growth plan for the business.”

Explaining their inspiration for the business, Lou, 43, said: “Me and Vix were volunteering on an organic farm in Portugal just living off the land. It gave us the time and space to think about what we wanted to do and we decided we’d start a business creating bespoke jewellery by upcycling wooden products.

“While we were promoting this business at networking events, we had the idea for wooden name badges. We were a bit uncomfortable with going to all these events where everybody was wearing plastic name-badges that would be used once and thrown away.”

After speaking with a number of event organisers Lou and Vix, who grew up in Brookhouse, near Lancaster, began making biodegradable wooden name badges from sustainable oak and walnut, so companies and event delegates could reuse them after the event to reduce waste.

A chance conversation at one of these events led to a commission from Jameson to make bespoke name badges for its graduate trainee scheme.

Vix and Lou suddenly had a new business, but needed advice and support to help them identify their product offering, develop a growth strategy and improve their financial management skills. This is when they heard about the Lancashire LEAP programme, a series of intensive, practical, hands-on workshops for new business owners.

“Lancashire LEAP made a huge difference,” added Vix, 35, who worked in marketing and research before going into business. “More important than anything else, it brought our thinking together and made the business idea clear in our minds. We became much more certain about what customers we wanted and why we wanted them."

Both Lou and Vix realised they still had to shape their own management abilities and go from two sisters sharing a dream to a properly structured business team.

Lou, a former operations manager for a London theatre company, added: “Lancashire LEAP showed us we didn’t both have to be involved in absolutely everything. We did lots of exercises that taught us how to prioritise our objectives and not get bogged down in doing a million different things. We were able to think about what other sectors we could target to grow the business more quickly, which led to orders for other products such as coasters and menu boards.”

Rona McFall, of Winning Pitch, which delivers the Lancashire LEAP programme on behalf of Boost, said: “The workshops are designed to be challenging and really test the entrepreneur and their conviction to make their business idea a success. The programme allowed Lou and Vix to create a growth action plan with achievable targets. We are so thrilled to see the business going from strength to strength.”

The business, which works with skilled crafts people to make all of its products in Lancashire, has big growth plans for the next 12-months.

It hopes to win more work in the wedding and hotels sector, after recently being commissioned to create products such as ‘save the date’ magnets, place savers, and a table plan carved from oak. Other recent work includes producing wooden beer mats for an independent brewery and oversized key fobs and name badges for a hotel.

Ultimately, the sisters want to create their own workshop and work more closely with woodland and forestry managers in Lancashire to source more of their wood locally. The business hopes to create jobs as it grows.

Boost is delivered by Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and supported by money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Boost has supported more than 2,800 businesses and created more than 900 jobs since it launched in July 2013.

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