Jane Field, Jonny’s Sister

Jane Field, Jonny’s Sister

Dealing with spelling mistakes and rogue couriers are just two of the challenges of running online personalised gift company Jonny’s Sister, says Founder Jane Field. The business specialises in British handmade products and has a £1.5 million turnover.

What was the inspiration for your business?

I had small children and a big grown-up job in London which involved lots of international travel, and something had to give. One day I was in my hotel room in Hong Kong reading the daily fax from the nanny telling me what the children were doing and I just thought, this is ridiculous. So I quit my job and we moved down to Dorset. I found a local lady to help me make cushions in the shape of letters and I sent one to Country Living magazine which put it on their Emporium page. The letter cushions are still one of our best-selling products.

How did you finance the growth of your business?

We used some of the proceeds from the sale of our house in London and I also had some savings. We have never borrowed.

What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?

Being able to scale up. A lot of gift companies spend the quiet months in the summer making stock, so that come Christmas it is just a matter of getting it out. But because we make personalised gifts we can’t do that. When we first started doing cake tins we would get orders for personalisation such as ‘Baked by Granny’ so we could do those ahead of time, but now people want something like ‘Granny’s burnt lemon drizzle cake’ so there is absolutely no prep we can do.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?

It has been absolutely amazing, and absolutely disastrous. Like a lot of other online businesses, sales have rocketed. Within two weeks of going into lockdown it was like Christmas in April. But that was quite short lived because the supply chain collapsed. There was nothing coming out of China or India and a lot of the companies we used in the UK, such as the wool mills we used for our throws, all closed. So we redesigned loads of new products based on supplies we could actually get hold of. Overall our sales are up about 88% on last year and we have hired two new people.

Have you changed your business in any way as a result of the pandemic?

Personalisation has changed - everyone wants something much more sentimental and meaningful now. The more jocular, humorous, almost scathing personalisation has gone and now it is all about being kind. That has changed the way we design things. We also started designing things which would fit through the letter box, which has been very popular, because couriers were an absolute nightmare during the pandemic and would throw things over garden walls because they didn’t want to go near front doors.

What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?

To concentrate on what you are good at and get the experts to do the rest. I tried doing my own book-keeping at the beginning but I absolutely hate figures and am better at sales. I used to spend two hours at most on selling, and about six hours struggling with book-keeping - if I had spent that eight hours on selling I would have got a lot further on, and that would have enabled me to hire a book-keeper. It was just a false economy.

What has been your biggest mistake?

I wish I’d taken investment and grown quicker. It is probably one of my biggest regrets. Personalisation was a new idea when I started the business - my only competitors were those stands in WHSmith where you could buy a pencil with your name on it - so I had a huge audience for our products. But the whole reason I moved down to Dorset was to get out of a demanding job, and at the time I felt that if I had the additional pressure of investors breathing down my neck, I would be just recreating all those pressures again.

What has been the secret of your success so far?

Customer service. Sometimes we will get personalisation that just doesn’t make sense. Customers need to tick a box on our website to confirm they have checked their grammar and spelling in order to proceed with the order, so legally we could just print what they requested, but we don’t, we always call the customer and check. We waste a lot of precious time doing this but they are always over the moon. As a result we have a lot of loyal customers.

What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?

Enjoy the journey.

What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?


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