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For those of you who (like us) love to know the story behind a small business, we hope you enjoy this little illustrated journey down the Stickerscape memory lanes…
Jo has her first taste of business, making personalised keyrings and selling them at school. She and her friends make lots of money for a local animal charity, get featured in the paper and Jo is well and truly bitten by the business bug!
Jo leaves uni with a shiny Economics degree and starts a very sensible career in financial consulting (mainly this involves a lot of late nights and pretending to find the Financial Times interesting). Five years later and Mike (with a matchy Economics degree) joins the same team at work. He at least does genuinely love a spreadsheet. Jo feels suddenly ancient because Mike looks about 12 years old but they become good friends and pump out some prettttty fancy reports together.
Mike and Jo discover a shared ambition to start their own business. They spend lots of car journeys and late nights over takeaways brainstorming ideas. These range from dog-friendly holiday resorts to speciality tea shops and wedding businesses. All ideas are dismissed as either a) pants or b) way too expensive to start. Hmpf.
Jo gets married and she and her husband are thrilled to be expecting a baby. Jo decides she really doesn’t want to go back to the ‘sensible job’ after maternity leave and this somewhat increases the urgency of new business brainstorming with Mike!
Whilst pregnant Jo is excitedly planning the baby’s nursery, and contemplates painting a mural. “NO” says husband, “that will be a total nightmare to paint over later”. After spending weeks scraping stubborn wallpaper off all their walls to finally have nice smooth and plain painted walls, Jo concedes hubby has a point and abandons mural plan. Looking around at alternatives, she discovers wall stickers – which aren’t really much of a thing in the UK. She imports some from America which aren’t ‘quite right’ and proceeds to spend a long time cutting them up and modifying them to get exactly the look she wants (whilst ignoring lots of eye rolling from husband).
Mike and (now heavily pregnant) Jo are on another car journey, and chatting about the latest in the long line of a) pants or b) prohibitively expensive business ideas. Jo adds wall stickers to the pile of new suggestions, and explains the concept to Mike. “YES!” cries Mike, “let’s do that! Let’s buy a printer and make wall stickers!”. “HOORAY!” shouts hormonal Jo “WE’RE STARTING A BUSINESS!!”. Both Jo and Mike gloss over the fact that neither of them has any design or printing experience. Details come later, right?
Baby Emma arrives and together Mike and Jo take her to lots of baby shows in the name of market research. “Ooooh, what a cute baby” people say, “she looks just like her Daddy”. Jo spends a lot of time explaining Mike is not Baby Daddy and starts calling him “Uncle Mike” very loudly in public.
Jo and Mike decide the time is right to start researching what is actually involved in starting up a print business.
Stickerscape is officially born! Mike and Jo register the company, buy the cheapest second-hand large format printer they can find, and spend ages on all manner of boring admin tasks that make starting a business suddenly feel a whole lot less glamourous. The printer is installed at Stickerscape HQ (otherwise known as Mike’s garage). Jo gets to sneak out quietly from the ‘proper job’, choosing to just not return after maternity leave, whereas Mike has to properly quit (much braver). He raises a few eyebrows as he tries to explain that he’s leaving his sensible and well paid job to start a wall sticker business, even though he knows nothing about printing or design – or for that matter, kids.
After months of planning, sampling, printing and questioning of sanity, Jo and Mike decide to unleash Stickerscape on the world. For these purposes ‘the world’ can be loosely interpreted as a handful of small craft fairs and school fetes. Everyone starts somewhere, right? Jo is allocated the role of sales, and Mike spends most of the fairs under the table in the ‘stock box’ passing up stickers that people buy. When he is not under the table he is mainly trying to stop Jo spending all their takings at the other stalls.
Mike and Jo discover some of the realities of running your own business. The fancy corporate cars are long gone, economy cheese sandwiches are high on the menu and Mike has to go to the doctor for advice because he is getting so cold working in the garage that he is concerned about possible circulation issues. Doctor suggests additional pair of socks. Mike ploughs on.
Things seem to have turned a corner. Mike and Jo have fulfilled a corporate contract supplying stickers to Wrigleys, have a license agreed to make ‘In the Night Garden’ wall stickers (Emma is a big fan) and gone for a meeting with Mothercare. HQ still in Mike’s garage, so very much a “we insist – we’ll come to you!” situation with any important meetings – but expansion is in the air as business ‘premises’ now include Mike’s dining room, spare bedroom and landing.
The first ‘big break’ – Stickerscape is chosen to supply Mothercare with all their own-brand wall stickers internationally. Jo and Mike are over the moon and overwhelmed in pretty equal measure. Decide now is probably the time to move out of the garage. Mike’s cold hands and feet (and indeed his long-suffering fiancée) rejoice!
Mike and Jo find the best commercial unit available for their meagre budget. Offer to redecorate it for a rent reduction, and rope in both their families to help paint and re-carpet. Everyone from 3 year old Emma to 90 year old Grandad muck in and help out. The new place feels absolutely massive and is definitely warmer than the garage.
The year starts with Mike and Jo still rattling around alone in their unit, but with the Mothercare contract starting in earnest, they decide now is the big moment to actually employ someone. Along trots Adam, an 18 year old apprentice (who still looks older than Mike, now 30) to join the crew. Jo and Mike are delighted that they can now have a team social that doesn’t resemble a weird date.
Bigger and fancier print equipment is purchased (to Mike’s glee, who’s official remit includes ‘anything with a plug’) and over the year a few more employees come on board (one of whom is Jo’s mum, who to be fair has been helping for ages for free anyway). The unit which so recently felt massive now feels rather cramped, so Mike and Jo expand the premises to accommodate the growing team and all the machines. This quite literally involves Jo hitting the wall with a sledgehammer to break through to the next-door unit… fortunately builders get involved too and the result is a lovely big space to spread out in.
Stickerscape also wins a contract to supply Debenhams with wall stickers, and production is kept pretty busy!
Mike gets married to his beautiful girlfriend, having know she was definitely a keeper when she tolerated the crazy leap from good job and salary to ‘economy cheese sandwich’ land and allowed Stickerscape production to take over their entire house.
The Stickerscape family continues to grow in all senses – both in terms of employees, and also baby count (baby no.2 for Jo – Daniel, baby no.1 for Mike – Sophie). Emma starts school, so Jo needs to label all her stuff, which gives us the bright idea to expand the Stickerscape product range to include a selection of fancy name labels. A lot of time and effort later, the name label range launches to great early success… and yet somehow Emma’s stuff is still only labelled very late the night before she starts school, whoopsie.
To sit alongside the existing licensed In the Night Garden wall sticker range, Mike and Jo agree licenses with both Peppa Pig and Thomas & Friends.
Christmas 2016 also sees the first Stickerscape Christmas window sticker collection and a brand shiny new website.
Another year and another product idea when Jo struggles to source nice gifts for Emma’s teachers, so suggests that Stickerscape might make some (it turns out quite a lot of Stickerscape’s products are developed for selfish personal reasons!).
The first gifts include bags and pencil cases for teachers, and once again Mike and Jo expand the business unit to fit in the new people, new machinery and new product stock. Busy times!
Mike’s baby count is now up at 2 with the arrival of baby Hanna. Despite being increasingly distracted by the number of little people at home, business continues to expand. The Mothercare contract still forms a large part of day to day work, but direct to customer sales (through the Stickerscape website, Etsy and Amazon) are increasing, providing some much needed diversification in the business.
More, even bigger machinery is purchased (Mike let loose with the company credit card again – very dangerous) to manage the growing print requirements each day.
The Stickerscape version of an ‘annus horribilis’. Mothercare goes into administration, taking with it a huge chunk of business (and the write-off of a lot of unpaid invoices). Mike and Jo feel pretty sad but after drinking lots of wine (at home, not in the office) crack on and tell themselves it might be a good thing, as they can now concentrate on their direct to customer work. They and the team spend the year working crazy hard, growing their ranges and improving products, and manage to keep business turnover pretty flat, an epic result in the circumstances. Nobody has to lose their jobs (economy cheese sandwiches do make a bit of a comeback for Mike and Jo though).
Another year and this time, a worldwide pandemic to contend with. Rainbow window stickers fly out of the office, as well as lots of wall stickers as people redecorate their homes whilst in lockdown.
Turns out all the various stages of office expansion were pretty handy as the team is able to spread out all over the office, maintaining social distancing working in small team ‘bubbles’ or even at home. Everyone gets their head down and feels very lucky to be able to continue to operate and be busy, when so many companies are facing hard times.
A new retail contract with John Lewis helps fill some of the Mothercare gap, and aprons are introduced to join the growing gift range.
Feeling that no big product lines have been introduced for a while, Jo and Mike decide to launch a made to measure roller blind business, with lots of designs made to coordinate with wall sticker options. Another office expansion is needed to accommodate all the new equipment. Stickerscape HQ is now a bit of a rabbit warren, the initial office space back from 2014 now just being the packing room!
More staff join on the design side and loads of new ranges and products are created. After 9 years, a regular Stickerscape email marketing campaign / subscriber club launches (not before time!).
More lines are added to Stickerscape’s gift collection, with storage trugs, foiled notebooks and keyrings amongst them. In May Stickerscape celebrates its 10th birthday (mainly with a lot of cake), and in the same month achieves their highest ever monthly sales, as the country goes Jubilee mad and orders lots of window stickers!
After about a decade of thinking about it and lots of enquiries, the team decide the time is finally right to launch a range of wall stickers in beautiful retail packaging that can be offered to trade customers who are interested in selling them in their own shops. We start with a gorgeous range of stickers produced with our long-term friend and design partner, Kali Stileman, with lots more designs in the pipeline.
The licensed range of products also has a big step up, with new ranges including (to name a few) The Gruffalo, Guess How Much I Love You, My Little Pony, Transformers and Nerf. Needless to say the design team are kept rather busy and the office is filled with big to-do list boards everywhere you look!