Gwyneth Hulse Design is a Kerikeri-based boutique woodworking studio, which produces small homewares and jewellery.
When and why did you set up your business?
I trained as a graphic designer and have a fine arts degree so I've always had an interest in design. I've also always made wooden stuff; when I was a university student every holiday I'd come home and make one wooden project to take back with me. Then after I had children, in early 2013 we moved back to Kerikeri, where my parents and the workshop are, and I started creating wooden projects as a hobby. Then the hobby turned into a business.
Is it just you in the business?
It started with just me, but my husband now also works part time in the business. He's actually an aircraft engineer and was working away from home during the week, which we hated. When we decided we were going to turn this into a real business, that allowed him to leave his job and start helping me out.
How did you make that transition from having a hobby to having a business?
My first experience of actually selling my products was at a few markets, and that's when I realised people liked our stuff. After that I listed on Felt, which has been amazing. They showcased our work quite early on and from that I had stores approaching me to stock our work. That side of the business has been amazing, and we now have 23 stores around New Zealand stocking our work. After listing on Felt, I also listed on Etsy and The Market NZ and we also do the Auckland Fair, and have our own online store.
For me transitioning from a hobby to a business required a definite change in mindset, but there were lots of practical things we did to help that - things like registering as a business, employing a small business accountant/advisor, getting in a mentor, and allocating specific times to get our work done.
What have been some of the other challenges for you building a business in this space?
Being a small business owner is fantastic in terms of flexibility, especially because we have young children. But creating a good work life balance is a challenge because the business takes lots of time. Everything we make is by hand and that's really time consuming, but we also have to be a jack of all trades, especially with limited financial resources. I've had to learn about GST, improve my photography skills because our products are sold online, and be the accountant - there are so many things I've had to learn and they all take time.
Pricing is another area I've had to work on. When we set this up as a business I created a spreadsheet to break our costs down thoroughly to incorporate all our materials and time, plus things like ACC fees and insurance. I've learnt so much about pricing along the way, especially about retail pricing and markups, as well as the rural/urban difference. In large centres you have a much larger demographic of people to sell your products to and in general things cost a bit more. But we live in a rural town and it wasn't until I started seeing what retailers in Auckland were selling our work for that I realised it would be okay to increase prices in order to better cover our expenses. It's an ongoing balancing act.
What advice would you have for another maker wanting to create a business around their creations?
You have to make sure you're doing what you love because it's hard work. You also have to talk to others; the more collaborative stuff you can do and the more knowledge you can share, the better it is for everyone, including consumers.