Taking out a loan or leasing to increase production capacity can help grow your embroidery, screen-printing or heat-pressing business, but do your homework first.FULL STORY
Build Your Business: Management
Inside The Funky Fairy
The Funky Fairy team members with owner/director Vicki Stewart (far right). Just over their shoulders, customers can peek inside the door of the “Fairy House,” and watch the embroidery machines at work.
As an embroidery instructor and consultant, I speak with many embroiderers who would like to start a business, as well as current business owners. Sometimes a business can sprout from the tiniest seed, growing into a profitable enterprise with a simple plan.
In a way, that appears to have happened to the embroidery business of Vicki Stewart and Rob Jeavons, co-owners of London-based The Funky Fairy. Of course, plenty of hard work and long hours were involved, but I’m fascinated by the simple formula that launched this business into the stratosphere in just a few years.
Stewart started the business in 2008 by offering infant socks to mothers of newborns. Today, The Funky Fairy offers a full range of children’s goods, including personalized bibs, socks, onesies, T-shirts, plush animals and backpacks. When she began offering embroidery in 2010, she used a contractor until the demand was so high it made sense to invest in her own equipment.
In the early days, Stewart sold her wares at craft fairs and other shows, but she wanted to grow the business to a full-time endeavor. “I wanted to be busy all the time so I took some [retail] space in a busy shopping center, which meant working seven days a week,” she says.
After running through ideas for names for the fledgling business, she decided on The Funky Fairy. “I ran through many names but it just sounded catchy and very much like me,” Stewart recalls.
After initially purchasing a Brother singlehead, six-needle machine, Stewart soon found herself with four machines. Today, The Funky Fairy operates an impressive total of eight Brother six-needle machines. Jeavons and Stewart consider their machines to be “real workhorses.”
The research on the initial equipment choice has paid dividends by allowing the company to purchase additional units, keeping personnel training or retraining to a minimum. The mix of blank items to be personalized, embellishment type and decoration sizes make the selected equipment ideal for their specific product offering.
Stewart wanted to cater to the baby and children’s market with high-quality goods. As a new business, she needed vendors that could supply clothing and other blanks. “I researched online to find trade suppliers of blank clothing,” she says. “I found someone that could deliver quickly for a reasonable price, and I am still using this company today.”
Another popular, staple product category the company offers is embroiderable plush animals. Adding a name to a plush bunny or bear is easy using specially designed toys with removable stuffing pods.
This illustrates the benefits of thorough research in The Funky Fairy’s early days. They sought suppliers that were a good fit for their business model in both the equipment and soft goods categories. By carefully selecting vendors with which they could grow, Jeavons and Stewart have maintained business consistency and continuity.
“We have always seemed to know what does and doesn’t sell well and how best to display it; I think it’s the shopper in me,” Stewart says. Indeed, the shop’s merchandise is nicely displayed, with backstock stored neatly in colorful cloth bins beneath the slat-wall displays.
The Funky Fairy specializes in personalization. Samples of available lettering styles are stitched on a bib for customer selection near the cashwrap. One of the most interesting things about the shop is the absence of embroidery software. The alphabets used for personalization are pre-loaded in the embroidery machines. This simplifies the choices and process for customers and machine operators, respectively.
Additionally, The Funky Fairy added items pre-decorated with bling in 2013, including backpacks for older children.
Jeavons had a full-time job elsewhere while Stewart developed the company. Initially, she worked alone with occasional help from friends at shows. When she first started hiring employees, she says, early experiences were hit-and-miss.
“Not everyone shares your passion, dreams and work ethic,” she says. “I met our manager, Clare, five years ago and we just clicked. I told her she should come and work with me. For the most part, if you don’t include 18-hour days at Christmas, it has been great fun.”
Eventually, Clare’s partner joined The Funky Fairy team. After four years of business, the company was doing well enough for Jeavons to quit his job and work full time for the embroidery firm. The company now has seven total team members.
Of the early days, Vicki says, “None of us had any embroidery skills. I was self-taught through books, videos, trial and lots of error. Then we developed a training program for our employees. Some loved it and others didn’t, but we now feel we have a perfect balance of team members.”
How did Stewart know when the time was right to take the business to the next level and expand its retail location? “I got to know a lot of the [shopping] center staff, and when I could afford it I was lucky enough to be offered an empty unit,” she says. “I jumped at the chance. It was a huge risk but we needed to expand and this was the opportunity. I decided to take it.”
The shop is located in the Westfield Stratford Centre in London. Jeavons and Stewart have changed locations in this large, upscale mall twice since moving into the original location — and plan another move soon. The store’s machines work continuously from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, except Sundays during slightly abbreviated hours.
They have a clever “Fairy House” built inside the store, where customers can view the embroidery machines running from a side window. This keeps everyone from worrying about children getting near the machines while adding a fun fantasy element to the shop’s décor.
In the company’s early days, about 80% of its products were pre-made for buyers to purchase. Today, Stewart estimates that about 40% is pre-made, with 60% being custom embroidered.
This could be because customers are now more familiar with The Funky Fairy’s quick and easy personalization process. “A customer comes into the store, spends a short amount of time with one of our team [members] and, less than an hour later, has a gift,” Stewart explains.
“We also offer click-and-collect, where a customer can order online and they receive notification when their order is ready for collection,” she adds. “This is popular. We focus on the customer service and experience; the look on the customer’s face when he comes to collect that personalized item is priceless.”
The future looks bright for The Funky Fairy. Since joining the company full-time, Jeavons has re-designed its website and tripled sales.
“Yes, our home life is chaotic with children and pets, but our juggling skills are great,” Stewart says. “We shortly are moving to a bigger location in the shopping center and then hope to open other locations around the U.K. Running a business is not easy, but we have passion and determination to provide to our customers, [along] with products they love. We work insanely long days, seven days a week, but the rewards are amazing.”
Deborah Jones is a commercial and home embroiderer with more than 30 years experience in the computerized embroidery field. She runs myembroiderymentor.com and regularly speaks at the Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). For more information or to comment on this article, email Deborah at email@example.com.
Hear Deborah speak on embroidery topics at the 2015 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Individual seminars are just $25 if you pre-register: isshows.com.
Like this article? Read these and other embroidery articles at impressionsmag.com:
• “Made in the USA: A Case Study, Part 1”
• “Made in the USA: A Case Study, Part 2”
• “Take Advantage of Monogram Madness”
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