Saturday, March 17, 2012

Poppy Treffry - A true Inspiration

Poppy Treffry....

Oh My Goodness, where to start?! Poppy Treffry is an absolute inspiration. I reckon that most crafty types in the U.K have heard of and admire Poppy's work. In just 8 years poppy has gone from starting her little business to having her own shop, exhibiting at trade fairs in New York and writing her own book....second one on the way!!! Take a deep breath and prepare yourself to be inspired.


Poppy Treffry is a small company based just outside Newlyn, a busy, messy, industrious fishing village in the far west of Cornwall.

Poppy started small, back in 2003, selling to one or two galleries locally but eight years on her team has grown from just Poppy and one cranky singer sewing machine to eight  people and 13 cranky singer sewing machines! The products are all still made in Cornwall and inspired by their beautiful surroundings.
In 2010 they opened their first Poppy Treffry Shop in St Ives, Cornwall. Visit them at Drill Hall, Chapel Street, St Ives, Cornwall

Poppy now also runs very popular stitching courses and her second book is out in September 2012. Poppy has also licensed her most popular designs and they now appear on a range of greetings cards and a lovely leather collection.

Over to Poppy....

Poppy Treffry the company (as opposed to me!) started in late 2003 when I was finally encouraged by first friends then a business mentor to get the backlog of machine embroidered bags I had in a suitcase under my bed out and into galleries.

I always loved to make and to draw. I studied textiles at the Winchester School of art and my designs were always based on my sketches. But after graduating I was unsure how to make my designs into something I could sell and potentially make a living out of.

I didn’t resolve this issue straight out of college but spent almost three years volunteering to run a women’s paper making cooperative in Guatemala. Where I had been flummoxed and under confident about my own work I was totally convinced that I could improve what they were making and help them to up their sales – which I did as when I left the ladies were earning 10 times what they had been when I arrived.

I learnt so much whilst volunteering and all of it has come into play in my own business. I started very small with around £200 and a tiny workshop. I was staying in a friends’ tiny spare room so working from home was not an option. But right away I found myself surrounded by others working as designer makers and this was a huge help in getting the business off the ground.

I started as a wholesale business right from the beginning exhibiting at the British Craft Trade Fair (BCTF) in Harrogate 4 months after setting up. I took about 5 orders at the show but had a real buzz around the stand and follow up orders from the show for the whole of the next year. By the time my 2nd BCTF show came around I was already seriously considering giving up my part time job as an arts officer and had already taken on some helpers.

I did my first London trade show – Top Drawer Autumn in 2005, less than two years after setting up and the week after resigning from my job. I took so many orders that even with help I was booked up until April the following year. It was very exciting and when I returned home I moved to much larger studio and took on my first full time employee in March of the following year.

Ali has asked me to write about ‘The next big Step’ and on some levels I feel that is the point I’m at now. I really feel Poppy Treffry the company has massive potential and has achieved a lot but I find there is less support once you are no longer a start up and perhaps fewer businesses on my doorstep going through the same things as we are. Or maybe they are out there but I am intimidated as they seem like ‘proper’ businesses! That’s where the online community can be really useful.

Ali has given me a few questions that her followers have asked so, in an attempt to get a bit more specific, I’ll try to answer them…

a few questions... 

1 - How much time do you spend per day working, on average?
I work three 9-5 days and one half day a week and generally an hour or two every evening. I look after my daughter the rest of the time so I don’t do weekends any more (except for shows)

2 - How do you deal with "copying" (seems to be a big issue at the moment, just wondered if you had any words of wisdom as to how to rise above it)
I have been copied quite a lot over the years by smaller companies and bigger ones and there’s no doubt it’s affected my business. I have sat down with lawyers but it’s been very difficult to put a case together. I do regret not doing more sooner to nip some things in the bud but my philosophy has always been that energy used up in negative battle fighting is much better directed at positive product development and strong marketing.

Poppy Treffry's shop - St Ives, Cornwall

3 - Have you made any silly mistakes along the way?
I often suspect that I’ve made silly mistakes that I still haven’t realized yet! But I stand by every decision I’ve made – they all made sense at the time and all provided an opportunity to learn and grow.

4 - What is the one thing you have learned that you can pass on to others?
It’s crucial to get your pricing right. Learn how to use excel or whatever works for you and really nail the cost of your materials, the time it takes to make something and the amount you need to cover your overheads and the amount of profit you need to invest back in to the growth of the business. And work it out on a worst case basis, that way if you manage to get your materials cheaper, or employ someone who makes them much quicker you will be bringing in a better margin.

5 - When did you realise it was time to employ someone to help you out?
About a year in I found my first 2 helpers and my first full time employee 2 years in. They are all still with me today and we’re now a team of 7.

6 - When did you stop custom orders and when did you realise that it was time to move on from doing them? (if you ever did them)
I’ve only recently stopped them altogether. Previously I would always feel guilty if someone really wanted something bespoke so I would take valuable time out from product development/designing/running the company to do them but I’ve realized that that’s really not a good use of my time and I‘ve had to get strict! We do custom for wholesale now and have done bespoke collections for Fortnum and Mason and Bettys Tea rooms

7 - When did you know you were ready for your first trade fair and how were you received? Were you nervous of possibly receiving too many orders that you wouldn't be able to supply in time
My business mentor frog marched me to my first trade fair! Only joking- she was great! I went with a group of Cornish makers and we had plenty of coaching to get ready. Including a day of ‘critting’ each others work, looking at publicity materials, pretending we were manning our stands etc. I was really nervous about talking to customers but I really enjoyed it and it was so much less terrifying that just walking into a shop and asking them to look at your stuff – they are there to buy products so immediately you’re on a level playing field. I didn’t really plan the production for the orders but I had sort of put together a collection that was ‘orderable’ though most of the orders were one off pieces or variations rather than set designs.

Country Living Stand

I had originally planned to only do one-offs but the business mentor managed to convince me that trade and one-offs were not compatible. I am finally getting back to some one offs now for my shop and for retail shows this year – only took 8 years!

8 - Are you happy with where you are or do you have dreams to go further?
I definitely have dreams of going further – though I’m not sure where! I love employing people and having a team and in a way would like to grow the business so that more people can be involved. I have recently move premises again to an industrial unit and have opened a shop so we’ve got lots going on and I feel my core team are really strong at the moment and our plans are much more informed and directed.

Poppy's book. Second one is due out in September 2012

 9 - Have you ever written up a business plan and if so can you recommend any templates/links e.t.c?
I wrote a business plan when I first started based on the Princes Trust template as they gave me start up loan. I then updated this plan every year for the first 3 years. We have done a lot of work on the business in the last year and it’s still continuing but we haven’t formalized it into a plan as yet. It’s more important that it’s something my team and I can work with on a day to day basis so we now have a monthly team meeting were we look at our sales and targets and where we are with the various aspects of our plan. Most of it’s on big pieces on paper taped to the wall.

10 - What do you think was the combination to your business success and last words of wisdom?
I think I came along with something different at a time when the market was still very buoyant. I was lucky to be picked up by some of the trade press early on and by some national press such as the Guardian. I was and am very enthusiastic and passionate about what I do but also very hardworking and organized so that customers quickly realized I could deliver on my promises.

As to words of wisdom, I’ve always believed you can only run your business in line with how you are as a person. You can only pretend to be something you’re not for a short time before someone rumbles you! Big decisions will often bring these core values into focus and you’ll realize that what you feel and think as a person and your company’s core values are very closely entwined.

That said it’s crucial to get the right people in your team and their viewpoint will be different to yours and hopefully help round out the value of your business.

I’ve recently been interviewed for a great book called Craft Business Heroes by Alison Nichol which goes alongside her book The Craft Business Handbook. They are both absolutely brilliant and well worth a read. – they have many more words of wisdom than I can offer!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and many thanks Ali for asking me to take part!

thank you Poppy....

We hope you enjoyed that little insight in to Poppy's world. She is a very busy lady, so it's really great that she could spare the time to write this for us. So thank you SO much Poppy, I/we really appreciate it. Once again, we'd love your feedback, please feel free to post below.

Next week we have my very own all time crafty heroine, Claudine Hellmuth. Claudine digs deep in her blog and tells it as it is! You know that's how I like my blogs ;) It's so down to earth and refreshing, a real eye opening read and I can't wait to share it with you :)

If you would like to read all the other fantastic BLOGS by guest bloggers, please click here

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Don't forget. The Cheeky Chat is BACK!! Hooray!! This coming Tuesday 20th March, 8pm (EST) over on tickle the imagination's page. We shall be discussing markets and much more.



  1. What a fantastic read - thank you Poppy and thank you Ali. It has confirmed what I sort of already knew, that with my things always being one-offs, I will never be able to go down the trade route. I still don't know what the future holds for Doodlebags, but reading about other people's experiences is helping me to shape my thoughts and wishes for my business.

  2. Lovely post Poppy - thanks for sharing your story. It really is fantastic to find out some background details. Love your work and have followed your business from the start. Such a shame we missed you at Country Living Fairs when we were exhibiting - would have been brilliant to meet you!!
    Best of luck for your future success
    Heidi xx (Giddy Kipper)

  3. Fabulous post. I'm off to look for your book now. It is so strange reading about youtr first show at the BCTF. I remember coming to that for the first time myself that year. I also remember talking to you on your stand and I would never have guessed that it was your first trade fair! Well done Poppy. You really ARE an inspiration. I LOVE your work. It is so fresh.

  4. Loved this bloggy post, thanks for sharing it Ali x

  5. Katherine Thompson HandmadeMarch 19, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    I'm only just starting out and I found this very inspirational - I have been following Poppy's success story for the last year since reading her book and it's been lovely to hear more from her - thak you for arranging this

  6. this is a brilliant blog. thank you Poppy for your invaluable advice and account of your experience. Its definitely made me think about taking my business to the next level. eeek. I find the thought of BCTF so daunting. But considering what you've done --I've already done some of these things too! Perhaps there is a possibility! Many thanks to Ali for putting these blogs together they are definitely worth all the hard work!

  7. Thanks so much for this really good advice, Poppy.
    I've found it to be really inspiring.

    I have reached the "next level" with my business.
    But am finding it hard to find the appropriate people to work for me.
    I don't suppose you could give any tips on how you found the "right" employees?