Excitement was certainly high at last week’s Festival of Female Entrepreneurs when Emma Bridgewater, the queen of ceramics, took to the stage to talk about how she’d built her business and become a household name. AMBITIOUS Director Mel Beeby Clarke took note on what she had to share …
Beyond perusing her mugs and bowls in appreciation, I hadn’t really read or heard much about the woman behind the success story before now. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed, it turned out that Emma is an extremely articulate, intelligent woman with lots of stories to share from along the way.
As she spoke about her journey from dried mackerel sales girl (really!) to building an internationally renowned brand, several pearls of wisdom emerged, some of which I’ve shared below…
Growth? One size does not fit all
So, let’s start with the dried mackerel. Emma’s Cornish uncle was also an entrepreneur, starting a business selling dried mackerel as a bar snack to pubs in and around Cornwall. In fact, one of Emma’s first jobs was riding her bicycle around London setting up new contracts with the great and good at their pubs, clubs and bars. She attributes not being afraid to knock on doors and get her product stocked in the early days of Emma Bridgewater to this experience.
Anyway, back to the growth part. Emma’s uncle grew the business to a comfortable size, giving him and his family a great life. However, when he retired, he decided to simply wind up the business. Emma by contrast has grown her business into an international success story with a £20 million turnover but was very candid about how such growth doesn’t come without sacrifice. ‘Who got it right?’ she pondered, with the general sentiment in the audience being that to be successful you had to do what was right for you when it comes to growth and ambition.
Passion is paramount
One thing that shone through during Emma’s talk was her genuine love and passion for her business and how much she still enjoys what she does. She is clearly very much in the ‘do what you love and love what you do’ camp which seemed to resonate with many of the women in the audience, including me!
Emma said that when she gets in to work in the morning, she still feels a tingle of excitement about choosing which mug she’s going to have her tea in. For her it’s about finding passion for the big things but also the little everyday things. A pretty good mantra for most business owners to live by.
Do what you’re good at
Amazingly Emma has never ‘thrown’ a pot and isn’t a potter or ceramicist. In fact, she regaled being asked by the BBC to guest on The Great Pottery Throw Down and having to decline as she would have had no more chance than the contestants!
The moral of the story here was ‘do what you’re good at’. Emma’s success has been down to her eye for design and knack of spotting a gap in the market and what’s coming next as the business has grown. She’s also not been afraid to jump back in to the Head of Design role over the years if she’s felt the brand isn’t quite going where it should be (without quashing her super-talented team she was quick to add).
Look after yourself
Giving a very open and honest account of her rise to fame, Emma shared the fact that she had let stress take over and made herself quite unwell at times during the business’s growth. Poignantly she spoke of her experience of being at home for six weeks when she was selling her house and realising that those weeks were the most she’d ever spent there. Ironic, she pointed out, for someone that has built a brand all about the home and family.
Hope was not lost however as she’d been working hard to find a balance, her advice, which had been given to her by a good friend, was to keep family and work time for just that and also remember to allow some time for sleep!
Find the funny
Throughout the session, hosted as a Q&A by organisers Enterprise Nation, what shone through was Emma’s wicked sense of humour. Obviously to achieve the success she’s had Emma’s worked very hard and has had to make some tough decisions, however, she clearly hasn’t lost the ability to laugh at herself.
Hoots of laughter came from the audience within the first five minutes as she revealed her first business had been a catering company she’d set up with a friend, which involved lounging around between jobs and trying not to get too much fag ash on the canapés!
Emma’s ability not to take herself too seriously and see the funny side is certainly a lesson we could all learn from.
I left the session feeling like I’d had a good chat and a laugh with an old friend but at the same time learnt a few valuable things, which, given the buzz in the audience it’s clear others felt too.