Crafting queen Sara Davies is the founder and creative director of Crafter’s Companion. Launched while she was still at university in 2005, the company now designs, manufactures and sells its craft-related products to customers across 40 countries, employs more than 220 people worldwide and turns over a reported £34 million a year.
Sara was awarded an MBE in 2016 for services to the economy. She was named as the youngest entrepreneur to join BBC One’s Dragons’ Den in 2019.
I started my first business at university so essentially I’ve never had my own boss, but one of my tutors, Tony Powell, was first to give me crucial leadership advice.
I was trying to take my own advice and I learned how this was wrong. I always assumed that I had to do everything and make myself really good at everything.
I had decided that I needed a website and went to Tony for recommendations on night classes I could go to for web design. He told me, “Sarah, I will give you some advice and I hope it stays with you the rest of your life. Focus on what you’re the best at and surround yourself and pay the most you can for the things you’re not great at.”
I told Tony that I couldn’t afford to outsource. But Tony told me to look at it differently. For example, there was a kid in the year below who did web design and could help for a few hundred pounds. The principles he taught me are: there is always another way to skin a cat, and don’t assume you can do everything yourself.
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Tony has always followed my story for the last 20 years, while Craig, the young lad who created my first website, still keeps in touch every few years. It’s nice to think they had a big impact on my early career.
It was a couple of years into the business when my boyfriend, now husband Simon, gave up work and joined the business. He had been in corporate and had a lot of management, leadership and financial skills and it meant that I could go off and focus on the value driven side: pitching, marketing and selling the product.
I’ve always been crafty as my mum got us involved when we were children. However it’s not that I wanted to turn my hobby into a business, as with most people in this area.
I was exposed to this industry. I could see it was a license to print money and it was underdeveloped. I also perceived that very few companies at a higher level really understood, listened to their customers and let that drive their product development.
If I went in there and researched the market, got under skin of the customer, then I could really create products that would make waves in the market. I didn’t realise that I would make the waves that I did or that the company get as big as it did, but that’s what fuelled me in the first place.
In the early days, I did a placement at university and one of the niche companies I worked for made handmade cards. It was wonderful to see the drive and energy from the customers and that’s what made me want to get involved.
The best way to understand the customer was to go into their environment. In the early 2000s consumer shows were big. Thousands went through the doors and so I watched and observed the behaviour of the customers and learned to understand what questions they were asking.
My dad was an engineer and my parents had always run their own business so when I was ready to then launch the business they were great mentors and support. They instilled in me a vision and belief that I could achieve anything I wanted.
I would never have used the word entrepreneur when I was growing up in a little pit village in the North East of England. The other kids would have laughed at me as I was the kid who went to school in tracksuit bottoms with a school bag from a car boot sale. But growing up in that environment I saw how hard my parents worked. There was no line between work and home – it all merged into one. I saw then that I wanted to have that life.
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I also saw the benefits of the business as they grew and we got older. Now, I want my kids to have the same direct core values and not take anything for granted, as that’s what made me who I am. That’s far more valuable than anything monetary.
When I was in my early 20s, I joined an all-female investment group called Gabriel Investors. We were business angels and alot were retired female, high net worth entrepreneurs from the North East.
I spent a lot of time observing and learning the trade from them in investment and one of the angels was a lady called Fiona Cruickshank. She would take me for coffee after meetings and would say things like, “Never let anyone intimidate you, ever”. This was important as a young woman in business. She instilled in me to believe in myself and never to question what it is I had to offer. That has always held me in great stead.
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