Kathryn Beatty loved helping friends and family get their big days just right. She began her wedding décor business from her garden shed and now one year after going full time she has scooped two industry awards. Kathryn shares some tips and advice on how to turn your business dreams into your reality.
In a whirlwind two weeks, The Whole Sch-Bang, based at our Design Works Business Centre in Gateshead, won two awards for its wedding décor services – both based on votes and feedback from brides in the North East.
For founder Kathryn Beatty, these accolades are rewards for years of hard work, commitment, learning and sacrifice – and proof that doing what you love can bring happiness and success to customers as well as to you as a business owner.
In October Kathryn was surprised to receive a phone call telling her The Whole Sch-Bang was shortlisted in the English Wedding Awards for North East Event Decorator Of The Year, based on votes from brides in the region. Unfortunately, the team could not attend the ceremony in Manchester, but were overjoyed to be told they’d been named the winner.
“It feels amazing having built the company up from nothing, to be recognised in an industry where there is so much competition. It gives you the confidence that you know what you are doing and people appreciate it,” says Kathryn, 35, who runs the business with the help of husband Alan.
“Just the week before we’d won a local award from Belle Bridal Magazine. We got their exhibitor award based on feedback from brides, so now we’re wondering what we might win next!”
After Kathryn’s amazing first year in business, we asked her to share her start-up journey and offer some words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs.
How did you first start your business?
My passion started when my husband and I got married in Thailand 11 years ago. We then organised another family wedding in Thailand and started helping more friends and family to plan and decorate their events and it went from there. It got to the point where we realised we should start charging for it and I started The Whole Sch-Bang as a hobby five years ago. It was only last year when we moved into our unit at Design Works that I quit my day job to run it full time.
What gave you the motivation to take the plunge and launch a full-time business?
It was the case that we had got too big running the company from home and we needed to make that jump from running as a hobby to running professionally, with space to hold stock and meet clients. One major reason was the recognition of peers within the industry. It got to a stage where we were talking to people and they said ‘I’ve heard of you’, and you think ‘we must be bigger than I thought’. I thought I could really take the business to another level and there is more I want to do too. But I like to take things slow and easy to make sure I keep my quality and standards and don’t dilute things by taking on too much.
What did you do before you launched the business full time?
I worked for my sister’s company in child psychology, so it’s quite a big change. Most of my careers has been working on government and European funding projects, although I’ve worked on events as well. I decided it wasn’t for me and I wanted to see if my own business idea was viable.
How did it feel to launch your own start-up business?
It was a mix of emotions. You get really excited but at the same time you are thinking ‘is it going to work?’ You need to have a consistency throughout the business so customers can find you and get to know what you are about. There’s also so much more to it than you first think. You need to build stock, find quality products, make relationships with suppliers, find warehousing and much more. But for me I know I have found my calling and this is what I was supposed to do.
What makes The Whole Sch-Bang different?
I’d say it’s our commitment to service and our involvement with the customer. As well as organising décor we do some elements of planning and work closely with the couples and the wedding co-ordinators at venues to ensure everything goes smoothly on the day and our brides don’t need to stress.
How have you customised your workspace?
Since we began we’ve taken on a second unit that’s purely for stock storage, alongside our studio. The studio is where our brides and grooms, or people planning any event, come to meet us. We have pieces of décor out to give people ideas and help them imagine how things can look, and lots of stock set out around the room for people to choose from. In the centre is a table that we can set up with their chosen items so they can see exactly how things will look on the big day.
What do you love about your workspace at Design Works?
It made it really easy for us to get set up. There were easy ‘in and out’ terms, so it made it possible for us to decide to give it a go and see how it went without a huge risk.
It’s ideal for us and actually, I don’t ever want to leave as the team are so amenable and so helpful. The reception staff can take parcels for me if I’m not around, I can come and go 24 hours a day, and everything is included in one bill so you don’t have to worry about separate costs. It’s just so good, it’s almost like having an extra member of staff on your team. There are a good mix of businesses on site and it’s nice to chat with other people – there’s always a great atmosphere. We’ve even worked with another company here who supplied gifts for a Christmas themed wedding.
How has your business changed since you launched?
When we got the new premises we had a rebrand at the same time and things really took off. Brides could come in and visit and look at all the decorations and it gave people the ease of mind that we are a successful business that is here to stay.
We are now much more recognised by hotels and are on numerous supplier lists, so we get brides getting in touch with us once they’ve chosen their venue. It feels like we’ve gone from having no industry recognition to being recognised and appreciated by some prestigious hotels, and for people to put us on their supplier lists is a massive achievement.
What challenges have you had to overcome in businesses?
One of the hardest elements was to build up our stock because I was constantly having to pump money back into the business as banks were not granting me a loan. The challenge was to build the stock so we had a catalogue of high-quality items. It has taken effort and sacrifice to get to this point, where we have all our own chairs, big and small centrepieces, candelabras and so much more.
I also decided to train in floristry so we could offer our customers all services in-house – so we really do offer ‘the whole sch-bang’.
Is there anything you would have done differently, looking back?
Yes, I would have gone full-time sooner and I would have taken on a business premises sooner. There is a lot of preparation and behind the scenes work, and thinking back I can’t understand how I managed it while working part time.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
It’s hard work – probably the hardest work you’ll ever do for the least pay – but it is so addictive, you just can’t stop.
There are satisfying elements even at the toughest times and you get that motivation to want to do more. The flexibility is also great. Mine isn’t an office-based job and I am really privileged to get to travel and be able to see behind the scenes of amazing places other people don’t’ get to see.
What advice do you have for anyone thinking of starting their own business?
Do your research first. Take the time to look around at who else is offering what you want to offer and how they are doing things. If there isn’t anyone else then you’ll have a niche.
Also, have a firm idea of how you want to start off and what you want to achieve. Even if you don’t have a formal business plan, make sure you know what you are up against, where you are going and how you are going to get there. I have a business plan but one which is a working document that is always changing.
What have you learnt on your business journey?
I am always learning. As well as my formal qualification in floristry there is so much you have to learn as you go along. No one tells you how to do something in this job – you have to work it out yourself. The actual skills of the job only come from instinct and experience, but then there are things like accountancy systems and pay roll that I’ve had to learn about.
You need to give yourself the time to learn and not get frustrated if things don’t go right the first time.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
My father in law had his own business and he told me it doesn’t matter who your client is, do everything the same way for each one. I have stuck by that philosophy of always keeping the same levels of quality no matter what the size of the job and I think that is what has helped us win such consistent positive feedback from our customers.