This ethical founder has found the move from the corporate world far greater than she had imagined. After leaving her job at IBM, Clara Challoner Walker laumched her own skincare business, The Cosy Cottage Soap Company.
Set up in Yorkshire, Walker originally began business in her home but since expanding she now works from York Science Park. Her range includes, soaps, hand, foot and body creams and balms and associated gift items too.
Business Advice caught up with Walker to find out what inspired her to start her business.
Where did the concept come from?
At university, my degree was in Chemistry and Cell biology and I’ve always been fascinated by the effect which skincare, cosmetics and bathing products have on our bodies and on the environment.
I started the company to provide customers with an ethical choice and a high quality alternative to high volume, commercially produced products.
Our concept is founded upon end to end sustainability. All our ingredients are sustainably sourced and natural; we don’t use any palm oil and nor do we use additives; you will find every ingredient we use in nature.
The only fragrances we use are made from steam distilled flowers and fruit. Our manufacturing processes produce minimal waste and our packaging is all either recyclable or compostable.
How did you fund your business?
I funded my business from savings which I built up while working for IBM for many years before taking the plunge and setting up my own company.
Making the move from IBM was daunting but it was great to have the support of Jimmy and the team at Garbutt + Elliott who were always there to advise and support me through the process of establishing a new company.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?
The difference between being in the corporate world and running your own company is enormous; certainly far greater than I could ever have imagined.
On the one hand, I learned pretty quickly that if I didn’t do something, it didn’t get done! So many things ‘just happen’ in the corporate world.
On the other hand, the sheer enjoyment of being able to make quick decisions, being able to get things done in a really agile way and letting my creativity flow is fantastic.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I am delighted to have broken into several overseas markets already. Garbutt + Elliott were really helpful here, giving me the confidence to pursue overseas opportunities.
We now have distributors in France and Denmark and have recently secured a large deal with customers in the Netherlands.
I have found that overseas customers are really keen on British products and items made in Yorkshire resonate well too. It’s amazing how much of a brand ‘Yorkshire’ is overseas.
What marketing strategies have you used?
I have worked really hard on our website to make it SEO friendly, attractive and easy to use.
Shortly after I moved to our current premises, near the university, a graduate came to spend some time with me on an internship scheme.
She has stayed with me ever since and we work together on our website, social media, branding and regular email communications and other interactions with our customers.
We always make sure we analyse and act upon the data which our marketing activity yields and we tweak things weekly to maintain impact. Data driven marketing is a big part of how I spend my time each week.
In five years’ time, I’ll be…
In a larger premises; the current one is bursting at the seams now!
Who are your business heroes and why?
I have recently been really moved by reading letters published by both Steve Jobs and Richard Branson wherein they talk about the ‘true’ meanings of happiness and success.
They are both remarkably similar and they emphasise how success is a much more about emotional fulfilment than status, money or fast cars. That sort of self-awareness blended with humility really inspires me.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never underestimate your own capability. If you have a vision, passion and you’re not afraid to listen, the rewards can be enormous.
It’s always a great idea to leverage high quality support as you go on your entrepreneurial journey. That’s where partners like Garbutt and Elliott come in.
What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?
I really enjoy books, reading and creative writing. With a friend and fellow writer, Janet Dean, I run about three writing retreats each year, in York and in France.
Janet and I have been running them for several years now, we’ve built a great network of people and the retreats are really popular. We are also looking at starting a publishing imprint soon.
Last series you binge watched?
I hardly ever watch TV these days. I know there are some great things on and I’m sure I’d enjoy them if I did watch more; but right now, TV is a bit like getting fit! I’ll get into it when I have a bit more time.
What three things can’t you live without?
My family, my friends and France; I’m a real Francophile and take the opportunity to head over the channel to enjoy the food, the atmosphere and the language whenever I can.
What app do you use the most?
Google Analytics. I check up very regularly on website traffic, user trends, flows and generally how the website is performing.
The website is our shop window and it is the point of entry for not only our retail customers but also it’s the way most of our potential trade customers, such as shops and tourist attractions, hear about us.
What song is always on your playlist?
It has to be Nina Simone’s ‘I’m feeling good’. Whenever I’m in danger of not ‘feeling good’, she turns me around and gets me back on track!
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