Start-up Story: Little Beau Sheep
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Little Beau Sheep celebrates the very best of British wool with a unique range of totally natural laundry and body care goodies. From fabric-softening laundry balls to skin soothing lanolin balm, everything we do brings to life the natural wonders of wool. Along the way, we’re on a mission to be kind to the environment with plastic-free packaging, as well as flying the flag for local farmers and their flock from our HQ in the heart of the North Yorkshire Dales.
What did you do before you started this business?
Before entering the wonderful woolly world of Little Beau Sheep, I was Marketing Manager at HSBC. The role gave me a fantastic insight into how business works and getting your product to market. Swapping finance for fleeces allowed me to channel all the good stuff I’d learned into doing my own thing on my own terms.
What inspired you to start up?
In a word: motherhood. With perfect timing, I was mum to lovely little girls at the same time as being in the midst of a major house renovation.
Long story short, we were living as a family in a compact and bijou flat whilst our house was undergoing major restructuring. As any mum will tell you, laundry plays a large part in your life when little ones are on the go. Getting said laundry dry without a garden added to the task and I was forced into using a tumble dryer.
In an effort to speed things up, I invested in off-the-shelf plastic dryer balls. Besides being unbearably noisy, they broke and just added to the world’s unwanted plastic problem. As an avid ‘felter’ I put my skills to work making a softer natural alternative using wool – and Little Beau Sheep was born.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
I would say "Grandma, Little Beau Sheep is making a big difference to the way people care for their laundry, their bodies and even the environment." At this point, she might say "That sounds lovely. But how are you doing that, Sarah?" I’d then say "I use all-natural bio-degradable wool from lovely British sheep to create sheep-shaped tumble dryer balls, body-scrubbing felted soaps and soothing lanolin balm. And then there’s a wool wash, scented linen sprays and even laundry fragrances.” At which point some tea and battenberg cake would come out to celebrate.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
Making the leap from employee to entrepreneur is a big and sometimes scary move. So it’s important to surround yourself with a supportive network who understand what you’re going through. That’s why I joined Girl Tribe Gang, a local networking group of women, mainly solopreneurs, who are great for everything from advice to events and even volunteering as product guinea pigs!
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
To start with, I kept everything pretty lo-fi. Working from my kitchen table, I used the online marketplace Etsy, which is a great fit for artisan businesses like Little Beau Sheep. Social media was also cheap and helped spread the word to the wider world. This enabled me to generate sufficient sales and profit to reinvest in the business. When I needed a cash-injection to redesign my plastic-free product packaging, I tapped into crowdfunding.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I was delighted to be recently announced as a Rural Business Awards finalist in the start-up category. Even to have got this far seems amazing when I look back to how things started out when I was struggling to get my children’s clothes dry. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
As with any brand, what makes you different is your values and sticking to them. With Little Beau Sheep it’s all about only using British wool; flying the flag for local sheep farmers and their flock, especially rare breeds through the Rare Breed Survival Trust; trying to always be as eco-friendly as possible; and creating a range that either fills an unmet need in the laundry or bathroom or simply does it better than anyone else.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
For me, the best thing is knowing I can always be there to pick up my girls from school and not need to ask for time off to go to a class assembly or sports day. The flipside is not knowing when to switch off, especially as I work from home. That said, I wouldn’t swap for anything!
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
In the long-term, I want Little Beau Sheep to be the leading supplier of British made wool laundry balls and the first port of call for anyone seeking laundry advice and expertise. I’m also looking to extend my network of independent outlets in the UK and build on my existing US customer base by becoming available over the counter in stores that reflect the brand’s values.
I intend to continue spreading the Little Beau Sheep gospel about rare breeds by developing my special edition laundry balls in partnership with locally-known farmers and the Rare Breed Survival Trust. On an environmental scale and on the back of my successful plastic-free drive, I want the brand to become synonymous with eco-care and environmental awareness.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just do it! If you have an idea for a business, give it a go. Don’t wait for perfection, just get the idea out there and test it on a limited budget to see how it works. Then refine it as you go – otherwise, you may never do it and you’ll never know.
Published: 06 December 2018