Ahead of this years National Business Awards final we spoke to some of the finalists to find out more about their business. Here Stacey Dennis tells us about Love Layla Designs.
Could you start by giving us a quick rundown of Love Layla?
We are an online business producing and designing Greeting Cards and Giftware that are full of humour, cheek and profanities. While only a small team of 5, we have a large following via social media, generating almost a cult following.
Based in West Yorkshire, our warehouse and office is over 4000sqft, producing items in-house. Our business turns away from the usual Greeting Card and gift ranges but also offer high end finishing within all of our products.
Talk us through the business’s journey so far
The business was started after I was made redundant from a Printing Shop when leaving for Maternity Leave. As a Graphic Designer, 11 Valentine’s Day Cards were designed, and we started producing and selling via online selling platforms. Jay suffered a serious back injury and was unable to work – as a married couple, we had £30 in our bank account and a one year old Layla.
We didn’t actually intend to create a business, we simply needed to pay our bills and generate some cash quickly. Fortunately for us, the whirlwind of the business grew rapidly and expanded into full time positions for both of us.
We have controlled the growth of the business while also expanding our ranges and products, now consisting of over 600 items, from the original 11 designs.
From our dining table, we have outgrown 4 offices, now employing 3 full time staff in our west Yorkshire premises.
What has been the greatest challenge faced so far as a new business?
The business itself! We managed to create a business from nothing and without intention…
This was the hardest part for sure. We weren’t business minded people and had never been part of a business directly before, this was the biggest learning curve for us. Quickly falling into tax, VAT and management roles, we found ourselves running a business.
As a married couple, it’s always interesting working together and enduring parenting, a relationship and a business together – but we have realised that our skills complement each other and we recognise strengths in each other.
What has been your biggest achievement?
Our biggest achievement is definitely running a business and making it the small success that we have! Aside from personal goals, the business has been able to donate over £14k to a childhood cancer charity. We are proud to be able to support such an important charity that will offer so much to those in need at such horrid times.
How successful have you been with securing VC backing? What would you say the secret to success is?
We have never received any financial backing or investment. We are proud to say that we are a stand alone business in that regard with still only 2 Directors and our initial £30. We believe the secret to success is reinvesting your money back into the business – we always agree that to make money – sometimes you need to take a gamble and spend it!
What was it about the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards that made you want to apply?
We spotted the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards and recognised a few previous winners – some of which we shop from/purchase services from – we wanted to be a part of that crowd! It’s a huge event that really grabs the Small Business World by the horns and it’s a really great way to network with like-minded businesses.
What attracted you to this category in particular?
As an online business, it was quite an easy choice to make for us! The Digital Business category sums up everything we stand for as a business, solely selling our products online but also engaging with customers through social media and making a mark on our industry throughout these avenues.
We are an independent website without a storefront and our business completely resonates with each criteria of the category application.
Do you think that being short-listed has boosted your exposure or credentials?
As a short-listed business, we are over the moon and feel like we have already won – this is an amazing achievement already and everyone we mention our short-listing success to is already aware of the awards! This has definitely launched us into further exposure for our business and we feel extremely proud to be a part of the awards this year.
Has there been a particular book, talk or video that has helped you to thrive in your business career?
As a Director, there isn’t anything in particular that has spurred our business process on – it is simply our ideas that have transformed our business into various directions. While we spend lots of time researching, we don’t particularly go with one opinion or one train of thought, we ask various questions to various contacts we have made along the way. People who understand our business and that have seen the business from the start, grow to where we are now; those people are our guides.
What advice would you give to young business-minded professionals?
Because we found ourselves thrown into a business, the advice I would give is to just go for it – we simply started a business through default because we had £30 and bills to pay! You never know where you may end up – but always try to stay real and level with your customer, see everything from an outside view and opinion, appreciate how your customer views your products and we believe you’re halfway there!
What does ambition mean to you?
Ambition is what makes businesses thrive – if you have ambition, you have a goal. We set goals and targets which generates a direction for the business to travel – we all know what we are aiming for!
How do you keep your team motivated?
We all work closely together, we all communicate clearly and we have a meeting once a week. While these are kept informal to allow open speech, they are driven by the aims of that week. We all know what’s happening, we all allow each other to offer something to the meeting and we all have a role to play.
Roles cross over because we are so small so communication is key. We are a lively bunch and regularly socialise outside of working hours. We all have families which we keep flexible working hours for staff – we believe that those important family moments should be enjoyed – this allows our staff to feel appreciated. We have a strong ethos that our office door is always open and we are always ears to listen. We are a team – there is no hierarchy.
What growth plans do you have in place?
Aside from the expansion of existing products, we would love to launch new products too. Our aims are to become more environmentally friendly, eliminating plastic packaging adding another angle to our business model.
Amidst start-up and SME culture, there’s sometimes the fear of a burnout. How do you hope to scale sustainably?
Within our business and products, we have to be original, stand out from the crowd but ensure the quality is consistent. We always check out samples, have strict quality control and price points that ensure all of our products are of a high standard – we believe these points generate repeat custom and a great experience for the customer.
Always view your business and products as an outsider – that way you can never be blindsided by a product or service you provide.