THE TRUTH OF A FEMALE RUN SMALL ONLINE CREATIVE BUSINESS - PART TWO : LOVE, MIRACLE BABIES, STAFF AND STUDIOS
(make sure you read Part one first or this will make NO sense..)
Then in October 2004 I walked into a bar to meet friends and also met a lovely Tall Boy with smiley kind eyes who made me laugh and took me dancing all night. He was just about to sell his house so he could go travelling around the world, and I was still sure that I’d had my big Love with my first marriage and was destined to never marry again and instead stay in European capital cities for 6 months at a time running Sam’s Lovely Things from my laptop. Well neither of those things happened, and instead within two months we’d moved in together, within one year he’d left his much disliked job in the drawing department of a Steel company to help with Sam’s Lovely Things and also start the first of his own passion projects, within two years we were married and I became Samantha Peach.
Now Samantha Peach seemed like a GREAT Brand name for the business ( as well as being my new married name), so Sam’s Lovely Things became Samantha Peach and the start of a new era..
I made our very first standalone website with zero coding or web design skills but lots of swearing and late nights, and I can still remember the JOY when the very first order came in through the website and bizarrely it was for an address only a couple of streets away so of course we had to walk round and hand deliver it.. thousands of orders had been shipped through our eBay store to places all over the world ( in fact one of the best parts of the wrapping and packing process was seeing things go off to so many countries I’d never been to or barely heard of ) and a local order was a real rarity!
The next couple of years took in lots and lots of trips to Italy as we grew Samantha Peach, we travelled to Venice to visit the tiny workshops down dark backstreets where the suppliers of our masks were based, and slowly but surely the Masks took over the bulk of what we sold, accented still with my handmade corsages and chokers. These worked nicely with the masks in the same way they had with the Vintage clothes, as the vast majority of our customers were buying masks for a Masquerade Party or Masked Ball, and a little something fancy was often a nice finishing touch alongside the masks.
In 2007 we fell in love with and bought a 3 storey Edwardian house so we could use the rooms on the top floor solely for the business, and the large double cellars for business storage. That same year my 30th birthday present to my husband was two weeks in New York together, where we decided to try and make a baby, which he'd known since our second date was highly unlikely as doctors had told me since I was 19 it probably couldn't happen for me ( a combination of the state of my spine and gynaecological issues I’d had) and indeed it hadn’t, despite being married before and being surrounded by friends all having babies.
But miracle of all miracles we MADE A BABY, and my back withstood the pregnancy and in 2008 our perfect boy was born.. I’d kept working right up to the wire, even waddling around frantically to fulfil a large order when I was 9 months pregnant for a Masquerade Wedding on a boat that was done under great secrecy, and only when the photographs were in Hello Magazine did I realise it was for Wayne and Coleen Rooney’s wedding
.. Now anyone self employed will know how hard maternity leave is when you ARE the business and you only have a limited amount of statutory maternity pay (I’d be downstairs on the ground floor trying to feed the baby, then get a shout to dash up flights of stairs to the top of the house to make a corsage or a choker, or mend a mask that had arrived damaged from the suppliers. Then I’d dash back down all the stairs to do Mum things again.
So my maternity leave was interesting to say the least, and I looked on in envy at the other new Mum friends I’d made who were properly off from their jobs and had the time and head space to focus on just figuring out how to keep a tiny human happy and alive. Samantha Peach the business felt like my first baby, I’d put blood, sweat and tears into making it survive and grow, and trying to keep one eye on it and one eye on the MAMMOTH change that becoming a Mum is for the first time was quite some test, and many exhausted tears were shed, as well as many email replies sent to customers at 2 a.m, 3 a.m, 4 a.m etc when I was up with the baby.
By 2009 we had a 1 year old, had survived the first year juggling a newborn baby and a demanding business and decided to become a registered company, so Samantha Peach Limited was born. We had the eBay store still, and the website. The selection of masks we now offered included not only the authentic and traditional style Venetian masks but also Designer Masquerade masks that we sourced from a company I fell completely in love with who were based just outside of New York. With masks arriving from Venice and from New York, there were inevitably casualties in the massive boxes, and I was spending more and more of my time with my hot glue gun mending masks that arrived here damaged.
This led directly to me deciding to try and make some designs of my own to add to the shop, the first few designs I made and put out there make me cringe now, but they SOLD and people started to buy my designs more and more, so I made more and more until my own mask designs made up at least 50% of the masks we sold every day. At this stage it was still just me and my husband doing EVERYTHING and doing it all from our home along with our 1 year old. We could only afford to close the business and take a holiday in the first week of January after the Halloween / Christmas / New Years Eve rush and would be sat freezing in a holiday apartment in Spain whilst NOBODY else was on holiday there in the first week of January..We would take time off in August as it was the quietest month of the year for Masquerade parties, but of course we wouldn’t earn a penny whilst the website was closed for orders.
So although the UK and the USA were reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, we thought 2009 was the time to invest in a large studio so we could also find some staff to help with orders and crucially, enable us to keep the website open and the business ticking over when we finally had a holiday..
We took a lease out on a large draughty studio in an old Lace factory here in Nottingham and worked hard to make it a place where we could work every day without getting hypothermia, and interviewed for our first team member I wasn’t also married to. We ended up with a team of fabulous and enthusiastic young graduates from Nottingham Trent University ( the same place I’d gone to back in the day) and we threw everything into growing the business.
It was a heady time of great ideas and more and more people in the studio as we opened our doors to undergraduates from the creative courses at Nottingham Trent University, giving them placements and a chance to see how a small creative business really operated, plus a chance to get making some mask designs of their own. The team did photo shoots at Goose Fair with models wearing our masks, at the club Gatecrasher with the dancers looking AMAZING in our masks, and we hired a professional photographer for the first time ever to photograph all our new mask ranges on models ( up to that point we’d basically pin anyone who came into the studio down and force them to put a mask on so we could get a picture of someone actually wearing it)
The first studio threw every challenge it could at us that first year - there was a fire in the workshop below us, we were burgled and then flooded, you really couldn’t make it up. We worked hard through a bitter Winter and started 2010 determined to get a more professional, properly designed website made, thinking that would help to increase sales, along with all the new professional images and dozens of new mask ranges.
The shiny new version of Samantha Peach was unveiled June 2010, we took on a lease for a new fancy studio in a better part of the City and we busied ourselves getting stock ready for the crazy busy time of the year in the Masquerade Mask world - from October through to January as you hit Halloween, then Christmas Masquerade work parties and Charity events, then New Years Eve and Mardi Gras. But that year instead of sales flying in, orders just got slower and slower and slower. All the big corporate companies who had contacted us earlier in the year to organise discounts or coupon codes for their Christmas Masquerade Ball or Charity event had quietly decided not to go through with them as belts were tightened due to the economic climate.
As I do, I tried new idea after new idea after new idea, and found myself moving further and further away from the parts of the business I was really any good at, I’d sit and watch the rest of the team doing all the mask making, all the most creative and fulfilling parts, and I’d be mired in technical issues or website issues or marketing plans and feeling desperate not to let down all the mouths we needed to feed, both our staff and ourselves and our child.
A tough 2010 ended dramatically with ANOTHER flood in the new studio, arriving at work between Christmas and the New Year to get the NYE orders out and finding a water pipe had frozen and burst ruining a lot of our stock was the final kick in the teeth that year. We started 2011 trying to consolidate what we could, the Samantha Peach team got smaller by necessity as Beth got a more secure job and Emily went off to teach English in Spain, so we were back down to just three of us. We sat and looked at the money we’d spent leasing studio spaces, and decided to invest in building a timber studio at the bottom of the garden back at home.
9 years later I’m sat in it right now writing this, with scented candles lit and my Spotify playlists on and it remains still probably the best money we ever spent. It is just far enough away from the family home so that I feel I can switch properly into business mode, but has all the benefits of being close to home too.
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