Meet the mumpreneurs of Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 14:05 21 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:05 21 March 2014
It's a term that's been coined to describe a new generation of business owners, nurturing their newborn businesses from the kitchen table alongside raising young families. Karen Kay meets a pair of Buckinghamshire-based mothers to hear more about their enterprises and how they juggle balance sheets with babies
Tidy the temple
Emiko Ray, now 34, met her future husband, James, when they were 12-year-old Norwich school-children. After taking a year out at 18 to volunteer for Toy Box, a charity helping street kids in Guatamala, she went on to study education at Durham, and he enrolled at De Montfort university in Buckinghamshire. They married after graduating, t10 years after they’d first met. At 26, with an eight month old son, Samson, the couple moved to Switzerland, working as ‘house parents’ looking after boarders at an international school in Villars. Emiko had built a network of local friends, including Joey Bull, an English-born former bodybuilder, fitness champion and dancer who ran a community ‘Boot Camp’ in the ski resort, and had a son, Oscar, the same age as Samson.
“I enrolled on her Boot Camp and we immediately clicked,” recalls Emiko of the friendship that was to eventually offer her a new vocation. “Joey ran a slick exercise regime alongside a carefully-planned 28 day nutrition programme that she had devised to detox and encourage weight loss and wellbeing. I, along with loads of other women, found it was really do-able, we enjoyed it and the results spoke for themselves. I asked her to do some work on a Fit Club project for the boys at the school, to help them move away from sedentary lifestyles, and she really inspired them to get active. She’d get them out doing jogs, boxing, doing circuits and help with nutritional advice. Her enthusiasm and expertise really got to everyone.”
Emiko was so inspired, that she suggested Joey should consider putting everything into a book. She loved the idea, but needed Emiko’s methodical approach to projects to help her make it happen. So, continuing with their day jobs and juggling family life, the pair embarked on an embryonic publishing plan. Emiko managed the project, helping Joey to focus her ideas, shaping fitness routines into a format that would work in printed form and researching the scientific evidence that backed up her 28 day plan.
A passionate baker, she started devising recipes that worked within the strict confines of the four week detoxing nutrition programme, attempting to create a menu that would work easily for busy, time-poor families.
“I had no training, but my mother is Japanese and had raised me on a healthy diet based on Japanese cuisine. My dad is really passionate about food, and had always been excited about cooking and experiencing different flavours. I grew up understanding that food is the fuel that runs your body and the choices you make can sustain you or leave you lacking in energy and with various deficiencies.
“Your body is a temple that needs to be filled with good things. If you treat it right, there are positive consequences; great skin, energy, healthy, and a balanced body, mind and soul. So, with the 28 day plan, you set about ‘tidying the temple’.”
For four years, Joey and Emiko worked on their book, collaborating on photo shoots, recipe testing and exercise regimes that could be done safely and easily at home. Then, two years ago, soon after her second son Arthur was born, James and Emiko decided to move back to the UK, after he was offered the chance to run a charitable enterprise in Latimer, Bucks. They relocated, and Emiko and Joey continued to work remotely, before self-publishing their tome ‘Tidy the Temple’ in July 2013. Emiko now works from their pretty cottage in the Chess Valley, on the same estate where James runs ‘Me & My Dad’, a fathering initiative designed to support parents in the local community.
Emiko manages the Tidy the Temple website, offering a paid subscription package to 10-12 minute daily exercise videos and menu plans to support the programme, and promoting the wellbeing brand.
“It is more than just a book,” says the petite mum of two, sitting at a rustic kitchen table surrounded by the kind of shabby chic décor that comes straight from a ‘country’ interiors manual. “Tidy the Temple is who I am now. It is a journey that I have made with Joey and has brought me to a healthier place. I do the programme every few months and feel much better for it. I work on the website and on PR while Arthur is at nursery and once the kids are in bed, and we are raising our profile slowly and surely. My goal is to grow the brand and spread the idea of the 28 day plan, so more people enjoy the benefits I have.”
Six years ago, when Charlotte and Andrew Notcutt’s son, Charlie, was three and her daughter, Lucy, was a year old, the family moved from their north London home to a charming cottage in a picturesque part of the Chilterns. “Andrew had grown up in Suffolk and wanted to be back in the countryside, but with some hills,” Charlotte, 39, explains. “I’d spent my childhood and adult life in north London, but we really wanted to give our kids the benefits of a rural upbringing while still being accessible to the capital.”
While Andrew continued to commute into London, working in marketing, Charlotte gave up her job in an architectural practice, where she put together tender documents and producing other projects that required her desktop publishing skills, to become a full time mum. Three years later, baby Emily arrived, and with her two older
children at school, Charlotte found herself hand-crafting hairclips for Lucy.
“My kid wear bright, modern colourful clothes from Boden, Joules, Frugi and Hatley and there weren’t contemporary hair accessories to match. All I could find in the shops was sparkly pink clips, so I started making my own. Other mums admired them and asked me to make some to sell at the Christmas Fayre,” she recalls, sitting
today amidst a sea of buttons, ribbon and ponytail bands sorted into a rainbow of colours. “I made as many as I could, and the stall was really successful, and people were asking where they could buy them after the Fayre.
“I was getting phone calls from people wanting to come to my house and pick some up as birthday gifts, which wasn’t always practical, so I decided to have a go at building a website. I’d never done anything like that before, but I had some sense of design and creativity and relished the challenge of doing something different. I went online and did lots of research, and just taught myself what to do. When I encountered problems, I used forums to help resolve them. It was brilliant: I could just ask a question and someone in New Zealand or Louisana would pop up with the solution.”
So, Lottie Nottie was born. In Summer 2012, Charlotte hit the phone and sold her range of decorative clips, ponytail ties and other hair accessories around south Bucks school fairs, with her children helping to make and sell her wares. The Notcutts’ kitchen table had become a production line, while the rest of their home housed raw materials and newly-crafted stock ready for dispatch.
But, Charlotte rapidly found her fledgling business was eating into precious family time, with weekends consumed by school fairs, and a realisation that she needed to consolidate her operation so it was more profitable.
“I invested in a stand at a big Christmas Fayre in London, and consumer sales were fairly slow at the event,” explains Charlotte. “But, what did emerge was substantial interest from a number of independent stores who wanted to buy wholesale. Word has spread and the brand has grown organically: for example, a buyer from the shop at Waddesdon Manor saw the hairclips in a shop in Oxfordshire and approached me to sell through him, which really raised the profile of Lottie Nottie.”
“Now, a year or so later, I have about 23 stockists around the UK and one in Austria, and they have all been really supportive, helping me nurture the brand and giving me lots of feedback. Jo Watson, who runs Dandelion in Buckingham, has really acted as a mentor, and guided me towards making Lottie Nottie a viable long term
“I do a lot of market research and do a range in school uniform colours as well as seasonal specials, designed to sell at Easter, Christmas and Halloween, for example. I recognise if that is to happen, I can’t be the one sitting at home, making ribbon bows or putting ladybirds onto clips. I am really working towards making this a scaleable business model, with a larger range of children’s accessories, ideally selling to a chain such as John Lewis.”
Today, Charlotte operates from the garage, which has been converted to a dedicated space for the Lottie Nottie brand. She employs a handful of local friends to
help during busy periods, making and packing orders, and has built a loyal network of customers on her website, with a growing fan base bouncing ideas around and offering feedback on Facebook.
“I’m so aware that the internet has really enabled me to turn a hobby into a business that I can run from home, working around family life. If someone had tried to launch a business from home 10 or 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have been nearly so simple. So much can be done in terms of marketing and selling online, and I can communicate with everyone by email when it suits me, rather than worrying about making phone calls during office hours. I love the fact that it really stimulates me creatively and is fulfilling, giving me something to get my teeth into, alongside being a wife and mother.”