Made in Britain: The herdy company

What does your company do? What products services does it provide?

The herdy company was set up by myself and my husband, Spencer in 2007. Inspired by the Lake District’s little Herdwick sheep, the herdy company designs, produces and sells cute and contemporary gifts, lifestyle and homeware. We aim to be irresistibly lovable, and our company purpose is to spread smiles and happiness. Whilst this may sound light-hearted, we refer to this each time we develop product; and our marketing messages. Our herdy strapline is: ‘Made to make you smile.’ We employ 14 people. This includes staff in our three shops as well as our head office staff who work in finance, design, product development and marketing.

Where did the idea for your business come from?
As two designers, we had always loved Scandinavian style and design, and were inspired by the Lake District’s little Herdwick sheep. This became the icon for the business.

When did you start up, and what support were you given?
The business was set up through our own personal investment and a lot of in-house resource – no grants, no loans, and continual re-investment of company profits in the business.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Wanting to give something back to the area, responsibility is a core value at the heart of the herdy brand. From day one the company policy has been to give a little back – a profit and knowledge share agenda decided by the company directors in recognition of what inspired us to invent herdy originally: “the lovable British Brand born in the English Lake District inspired by the equally lovable Herdwick sheep.” Doing the right thing in business is something we feel passionate about. To date we have donated thousands of pounds to rural community initiatives and upland fell farmers who care for the region’s Herdwick sheep

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Reaching customers and responding to their needs is an ongoing challenge for any customer-centric business. This is where being online has really helped us. Our online shop has enabled customers to discover us wherever they are in the world. Now we have a website, customers can buy from us anytime they want to, which is fantastic in terms of giving customer satisfaction.

How would you say you differentiate yourself from the competition?
From day one at herdy, we realised that building sustainable rural communities meant working together. We fund and sponsor projects, spending time working with rural community initiatives and upland fell farmers who care for the region’s Herdwick sheep. We believe in responsible business practice and have won awards for it. We also literally do everything in house – from design, development, product photography and marketing.

What has been the best decision you have made to-date?
Taking our business online has really helped us. Having started only eight years ago our business has really seen the enormous benefits of doing more online. Launching our e-commerce website in 2008 did seem quite daunting at the time, particularly for a business of our size. However, thinking back, it really was a key move which put the Herdy brand on the UK and international map. It allowed us to reach beyond our Lakes location and gain customers who would never have found us otherwise.

Where do you see the business in 12 months’ time?
Our ambitious business plan is on track: we’re becoming an icon in the Lakes – our homeland; and we’re looking to develop that evolution and growth throughout the UK. We now have a footprint in central mainland Europe and are carefully reaching out around the world. We already send products around the globe and obviously an online business is instrumental in this. In fact, online is the fastest growing area of our business, with a 120% increase in turnover this year on last year.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I’d urge entrepreneurs to be brave, particularly when it comes to doing more online. A recent Government study showed that more than half of the public find it difficult to support local firms because these businesses aren’t online. Figures show that as many as 2 million small companies are missing out on business because they have no online presence. But doing more online doesn’t have to cost money or need digital expertise and can be much easier than you think.

Although taking your business online can be daunting, it can reap huge rewards. What’s more, there is lots of support out there to help businesses get online. The Government’s Do More Online website is a great starting point for any small businesses or sole traders thinking about how to help customers find you online.

What do you find most satisfying about running a business?
The reward we get working with our fantastic customers and fan base, who are supporting us as an enthusiastic community, not just a brand. Again, being online has really helped us to nurture these relationships through Facebook and Twitter where we have 17,101 likes and 4,800 followers respectively.

herdy is one of a number of small businesses being showcased as part of the Government’s Do More Online campaign which aims to help small businesses improve their digital skills to find more customers, be more efficient, and save money.