24 Jul 2018
The inspirational founder of Crafter’s Companion chats with Angela Sara West about how she’s grown her university bedroom-based business into a multi-million-pound empire, how the papercraft trend is set to continue, the papercrafts that float her boat, both here and across the Pond, and her new soft spot for sewing.
Well respected amongst industry professionals as well as consumers, craft supplies champion, Sara Davies, has been in the industry for 13 years. Founded in 2005 by the County Durham-born entrepreneur, Crafter’s Companion, has hit the craft jackpot and is now reaping the rewards as one of the UK’s leading brands, manufacturing and selling products and tools for the craft, art and sewing markets worldwide via its website, TV shopping channels, through independent retailers and in its own retail stores in both the UK and Europe. The company sells to multi-nationals and high street stores, too, including The Range, Hobbycraft, John Lewis, Paperchase and Office Outlet, while Amazon also stocks a wide range of their products.
Pushing the enveloper
Sara says her love for craft came at an early age. “I’ve always been creative. From a very young age, I baked, knitted and crocheted with my mum and grandma. Papercrafting came later.”
She has her parents to thank for her entrepreneurial spirit. “Both my parents were entrepreneurs when I was growing up, so I suppose it’s in my DNA! They’ve always been really encouraging and supportive of me starting my own business.”
And that business began with a bright idea… Sara’s lightbulb moment came when she was just 21 and studying for a business degree. “My university work experience placement was at a local craft company in the North East, and that’s when my passion for papercraft really took hold. I had no idea how big cardmaking was before that, and I learned so much!”
While working at the craft business, which supplied products to the craft industry, she spotted a gap in the market for a tool that could create bespoke envelopes for handmade cards. Sara soon set about designing the Enveloper, which makes envelopes in all sizes, with her dad, a retired engineer… and boom! “It’s the product that started everything!,” she explains.
On hearing that the shopping channel, Ideal World TV, was dedicating part of its programme to cardmaking, she begged for the chance to demonstrate her hot new product. Following numerous ‘phone calls, a persuasive Sara was given a showcasing slot to sell her revolutionary product… and it was snapped up, selling 1,500 in the first ten minutes, 8,000 on the first day and 30,000 by Christmas.
With a first-year turnover of £500,000, the company grew fast and Sara hasn’t stopped developing new and innovative products for the craft market since, turning Crafter’s Companion into a phenomenally-successful global craft retailer turning over a whopping £24.7m globally a year. Not bad for a university-bedroom start-up!
A sensational start-up success story
From its humble beginnings in 2005, Crafter’s Companion is now one of the UK’s market leaders in craft, employing 160 people across global sites in the UK, Europe and the US. Today, having built the business as an online venture, with TV shopping channels and in specialist shops in the UK and Europe, the firm sells thousands of paper products, pens, stamps, stencils, paints and tools, as well as themed collections and now sewing kits and accessories, to craft enthusiasts around the world, supplying products to over 30 countries worldwide.
Having graduated in 2006 with a first-class business degree and following years of hard graft, Sara’s success story serves as inspiration to similar start-ups. Did she ever think her university-bedroom-based business would one day become a global business? “I certainly knew that I had a great innovative product in my Enveloper tool. However, I never would have believed that one day we would be a global business taking over the world!”
Bursting with products, inspiration and advice, the retail stores in Newton Aycliffe, Chesterfield and Evesham are veritable hobbyists’ havens, offering immersive craft experiences with demonstrations and workshops. The community crafting hubs host hands-on experiences with dedicated staff who are all passionate creatives themselves. Alongside learning about craft, visitors can get a taste for Crafter’s Companions products and brands, such as the Gemini, the Ultimate Pro, Spectrum Noir and Sara Signature, while soaking up the benefits of socialising with a like-minded community. “I love how papercraft brings people together – it’s a great stress reliever and a real social hobby,” says Sara.
The company’s new corporate headquarters at Aycliffe Industrial Park are based next to the flagship store. Online, the website showcases over 10,000 products across multiple categories, from papercraft, colouring and art, to sewing and knitting. Blogs, craft tutorials, video content and photo galleries, meanwhile, encourage their ever-growing online community of crafters to share their ideas and creations with others.
Ethos & business philosophy
Meeting the needs of the enthusiastic crafter and knowing and understanding her customer, ensuring they’re at the heart of the business, has secured Sara’s reputation for setting trends in the craft industry, earning the company, and its branded products, numerous national and international awards for product innovation, excellence in export and entrepreneurialism.
“We’re a family business and we’ve always put the customer at the centre of everything we do. There’s a huge emphasis on education and inspiration here at Crafter’s Companion, and it’s our aim to encourage more people to take up this rewarding hobby. From our Club Inspire, to the focus on education through our use of videos and in-store demonstrations, we have built up a community of loyal followers who love to interact with us.”
She stresses the importance of being “hands-on”. “I’m still very hands-on with my business, as I do think it’s important to stay involved in the day-to-day running of things. I don’t really enjoy the facts and figures aspect of running a business, so I leave that to my husband, Simon. My forte is creativity and innovation - I enjoy brainstorming new ideas and then seeing them through to the end in the different processes they go through; from the first concept meetings with my Head of Development, Leann, through to the development stage and then finishing with me demonstrating them on TV.”
Understand your brand
How crucial is it to understand your brand and to stay innovative? “I believe it’s crucial to have a strong brand and know who your customers are. They appreciate your engagement – building a relationship with your customers means you can start to understand their needs and wants better, which is a great tool for developing new product ideas. It helps us to stay innovative and ahead of the curve as we know them so well and can anticipate the things they’ll love.”
Sara reveals there are countless rewarding aspects with her work. “I love the diversity of it all. No two days are the same, and I love that I meet so many different people and get to travel all over for my job as well, which is amazing - I feel so lucky to be doing what I do!”
Life on the road… and across the Pond
Sara and her dedicated team regularly demonstrate their inspirational products on TV shopping channels around the world. “My diary is usually pretty busy and not all of my days are office-based - sometimes I need to go down to the Hochanda TV studios in Peterborough, other times I’ll be visiting trade shows in Europe or be demonstrating on TV in Germany or America.”
Also making big waves in the States, Crafter’s Companion has an office in California, meaning Sara spends a lot of time across the Pond, which serves as an invaluable source of inspiration. “I probably visit our US office and demonstrate products on the HSN shopping channel every six weeks or so. I certainly love how craft-focused they are in America – they have far more craft stores than we do and seem ahead of the UK in terms of trends, so it’s good to take some inspiration from over there!”
Accolades at the palace
There have been high points galore in Sara’s career in papercraft. “Opening a Crafter’s Companion store was always a huge dream of mine, so it was incredible to see it come true and it’s a definite highlight of my career!”
As a much-loved influencer, creative Sara’s even received royal recognition, having been rewarded for her services to the economy with a much-coveted MBE. After being named on The Queen’s Birthday Honours lists in 2016, Sara was presented with the prestigious honour at Buckingham Palace by The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William. “Receiving an MBE was an amazing experience, especially the day I told all my family and friends!”
She has also won Entrepreneur of the Year at Shell’s Women of the Future Awards, an international Stevie Award for Women in Business, a Creative Industries Entrepreneur of the Year award, and has been crowned the winner of the ‘Young Gun’ title, a much-respected award for young creatives around the globe.
Papercraft trends to die for…
As for trends, Sara says the papercraft trend shows no signs of slowing down. How does she see the cutting-edge papercraft world evolving? “We’re seeing more people taking up this rewarding hobby all the time, and I have no doubt it’s set to continue. I think die-cutting will continue to be popular, especially as more people invest in high-powered electronic machines like our Gemini over the next few years, and I predict we’ll start to see it used more in the sewing and mixed-media markets before long.”
Her favourite papercraft techniques? “Die-cutting has to be one of my favourites as it really takes your projects to the next level and gives them a professional finish. I’m also a big fan of scrapbooking as I love to capture memories and photographs of my two young sons.”
Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration…
At the beginning of the year, Crafter’s Companion announced a new exciting partnership with the innovative craft and art supplier, Imagination Crafts, to expand their product offering and develop brand-new ranges with Imagination Crafts’ owner, Sue Baker, and her husband, Harvey. The crafty couple have worked with famous designers, including Laurence Llewellyn- Bowen, on TV shows such as Changing Rooms, Home Front, This Morning and Lorraine, along with high-profile clients and celebrities, and crafting and paint experts like Annie Sloan and Jocasta Innes.
Bringing two of the UK’s leading brands together in one place, the merger has created a new versatile range of mixed-media products, which can be used for home décor and creative textiles, as well as cardmaking and papercraft, offering crafters an unrivalled combination of top-quality products across a wide variety of applications and techniques. “Sue and Harvey have worked with shopping channels Hochanda, QVC and Create and Craft and are highly respected in the industry, which they’ve been in for over 25 years. I’m so excited that we’re working together!” says Sara.
And how did the hugely successful collaboration with Sheena Douglass, affectionately known as ‘Crafter’s Companion’s Queen of Messy Crafting’, come about? “Sheena worked with another stamping company as a guest presenter on a TV shopping channel many years ago, which is where I met her, and we just clicked! She’s such a talented designer, so I jumped at the chance to collaborate with her on new stamp and die designs. She shares our passion for education and is fantastic at teaching crafters some amazing techniques.”
Sara reveals some exciting new papercraft products in store from Crafter’s Companion Christmas papercraft offering. “We have some absolutely gorgeous Christmas releases this year, in both the sewing and papercraft sectors, including two of my Signature collections, ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘A Winter’s Tale’. I love designing these papercraft collections, and I take great care to ensure everything co-ordinates perfectly. So, whether you buy the whole collection or just a choice few items, they’ll all work beautifully together!”
Alongside her papercraft projects, there are a few other things she’s busy making at the mo… In fact, it’s sewtime, it ‘seams’, for Sara! “We’ve branched into sewing and soft crafts in the last few years and I’ve been so inspired… I recently tried my hand at patchwork for the first time and I’m already hooked!