25 Years in Business: The Out of Eden Story
Back in December 2017, we posted our 2017, that’s a wrap blog in which we discussed our greatest achievements throughout last year. We hit our sales target of £1 million in our busiest month, opened our new showroom with great success, and ultimately had our best year yet.
However, in 2018 we celebrated Out of Eden’s 25th birthday, and so instead of reflecting on the last year's successes alone, we’ve taken a step back to look over everything we’ve accomplished in the last 25 years.
We’ve proudly built our team up to over 80 individuals in our local area making us one of the largest local employers, our product range has expanded from a small selection to thousands of items, and our customer base has grown to over 20,000 throughout the UK and beyond, not to mention the development of our site and the awards, certifications and sponsorships we’ve both proudly received and presented.
That’s how long we’ve been doing ‘business not as usual’ at Out of Eden – and boy haven’t we learnt a lot! In this blog, we sat down with founders Ian and Janet Hartley, as well as some of our longest term team members, to reflect on the last 25 years; from Out of Eden’s humble beginnings, all the way to our biggest achievements and where we’re headed now.
Humble beginnings and finding our niche
Back in 1993, Out of Eden was born out of necessity for Ian and Janet to make a living. Their daughter Jenny, who was four at the time, had settled in well at school and so uprooting and moving elsewhere was not a favourable option, and their love for the Cumbrian way of life was motivation enough to stay in the area.
According to Ian, from both a personal and business perspective, Cumbria “gives a real heart of community - Cumbrian people by nature are kinder”. Initially, Ian and Janet’s plan was to start running a B&B, but when the opportunity arose to purchase a business known as Cumbria Hotel Furnishers from its original owner, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
As of December 1st 1993, Ian and Janet officially owned the business. Janet nostalgically talked of the first ever office they had ‘built’, a huge contrast to the warehouse, packing hall, showroom, offices and off-site storage we’ve since developed:
Our very first office was our pantry. We had baked beans and tinned tomatoes on the left and our computer and files on the right. It was very homemade… Little by little we got stock collected, and for a while the dining room became the warehouse. It was that home-grown really.”
Starting out within Cumbria, Ian followed in his predecessor’s footsteps by approaching customers in local tourist areas such as Keswick and Windermere, and with that further built his product knowledge and customer base. Reminiscing about those first few years of door-knocking and meeting customers face-to-face, Ian says “I would always ask to see their rooms, to build up my product knowledge and understanding of their businesses. […] I believe it’s so important to constantly accumulate knowledge and expertise.”
With this ever-increasing knowledge gained from visiting B&Bs and guest houses, an opening in the market to support those smaller accommodation providers became unwaveringly clear to Ian.
When I would go round to people’s establishments, they would gradually ask for things they couldn’t find anywhere. The first ever product we were asked for was zipped bags for blankets and pillows to keep them fresh and clean. I had no idea where to get a zipped bag from, but I found the product. My thoughts then were if there’s one customer wanting this product, how many others do too?”
And with that, we found our niche. A specialism that has continued to remain at the forefront of our motivation as a business. It wasn’t just supplying unique products otherwise difficult to find on the market that set Out of Eden apart from its competitors, but the desire to support the smaller accommodation provider too.
Often overlooked by larger suppliers, our smaller pack sizes, low quantity orders and a personal approach have consistently benefitted B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering properties, and allowed us to meet their needs time after time.
Our greatest assets
You may have heard the saying that your team members are always the greatest asset to a good business, and that’s so true.”
When Janine, our Website Coordinator, began her employment at Out of Eden back in 2003, there were just nine team members, including Ian and Janet. She reflects that back then, everyone “had to be experts in all fields” and, though good, it added to the pressure of running a small business.
From pre-web days to 2018 where more than half of our orders are now being placed online, the internet is changing every day, says Janine, and “It’s good to be part of the changes and the challenge of keeping up with it all is what keeps me happy. I know a lot of people of my generation that aren’t comfortable with the internet, computers, mobile phones, social media etc. … but I say 'bring it on!'"
“I take great pride in the website,” says Janine “I’m completely self-taught but it was Out of Eden that allowed me the opportunity and time to study things like simple coding and graphics manipulation.”
The team has grown with each year, and as the demands for specialist departments increases we can now accommodate the growing needs of our business and customers. Over the years, we’ve developed a Business Development team, a Purchasing team, a Marketing team, a HR department, a Quality Control & Compliance department, an Accounts team, IT, Warehouse, Customer Services and a Despatch team.
Many having received their training through funded qualifications by Out of Eden, our now 80+ team work together like clockwork to make sure everything runs smoothly for our customers.
But what hasn’t changed?
Looking back, it’s inevitable that as a business we’ve grown more than ever anticipated back in 1993. However, we also appreciate the importance of keeping our ethics and goals the very same as they were 25 years ago.
Often our longer-term customers tell us not to get ‘too big’ like our competitors, as they have grown to enjoy the personal relationship we strive for, whether that be over the phone with our Customer Services team, catching up in our showroom, or when members of our Business Development team pop out to visit our customers if they so wish. Rest assured, though, that although a whole lot has changed, grown, and developed over the years, as Janet puts it, “the way we do business hasn’t changed”.
We are completely honest in our business, and we’ve always said we would never do business in a way that we wouldn’t want someone to do business with us. So, as we’ve got bigger, we’ve always tried to do business right and always considered the smaller business, as that was us once. And we have certainly kept to our word. It stands us in good stead both ethically and business-wise as we have a really great, honest relationship with our suppliers, community and our customers.”
For a business to thrive in this digital age, it’s almost essential for e-commerce, social media and a general online presence to take centre stage in order to continue reaching customers throughout the UK, given that we remain settled here in the heart of rural Cumbria.
However our home-grown values of commitment, trust and passion to and for smaller businesses, and creating that personal working relationship, are what makes us so different from large scale suppliers, a difference that will continue to be a priority.
The future of product development
Having worked at the Savoy Hotel Company and prior to that in his parent’s hotel, Ian had a wealth of hospitality experience and, even more than that, had a good understanding of what those in the industry needed.
I think it’s important that we’ve always listened to customers, we’ve always tried to be ahead of the game and if people are looking for products, we’ll do our best to find them. Unique is best, and it’s so important to keep finding unique products, though it does get harder and harder.”
Increasing our efforts to brainstorm, research and eventually develop unique, problem-solving products, we have most recently brought this drive for innovation in-house. Since November 2017, we have been selecting a number of our team members from varying departments to come together in weekly meetings and generate ideas for new products, with the hope that by the end of the sessions, plans will be set in motion to begin manufacturing the suggested product.
Our hope is that the future of our products will lie in developing problem, time and money saving innovative products, in order to continue providing everything our customers need for great hospitality.
Finding a Managing Director
After over 20 years of being heavily involved in the day-to-day management of the business, Ian and Janet decided it was time to ‘learn to be human beings, not human doings' and think about the future of the business. Their aim was to find a Managing Director who shared the same values as Out of Eden, who would continue to support and enhance this growing Cumbrian business.
We said that whoever our new MD is would have to live in Cumbria and really understand Cumbrian life, because businesses are a little bit different here, they have to be. We’re a sparsely populated county, we’re the other end of a very London-centric country, but Cumbria… things are done a little bit differently here. And Mike really gets that.”
So, in 2015, we were joined by Mike Gannon, who is perfectly suited to the job of taking Out of Eden forward and keeping the business running smoothly. On the future of Out of Eden, here’s what Mike had to say:
In the 3 years since I joined the business, I have grown more and more aware of just how important it is that we preserve the values of Out of Eden and continue to build on the work of Janet, Ian and both former and current team members. We have something special here and I want to ensure its stability for many years to come.
However, it is very important we don’t stand still, get complacent and start to rest on past achievements. We must keep moving forwards, because as every person in business understands, standing still is really falling behind. Our customers are facing challenging times and we must ensure that we continue to meet their changing needs. They are why we are here and who have made us what we are today – and we appreciate every single one of them.
There is more competition than ever before and we face new challenges every working day. I have been impressed by how much change Janet, Ian and the team have embraced in the last 3 years. The rate of change has been very quick, but it has been hugely rewarding and I am sure it will continue at the same pace in the years ahead. The only thing we can be certain of is the need to keep changing but doing business in the right way, for both our team and our customers.”
A reflection on our progress
Overall, it would be impossible to sit and list each and every milestone, every award and every success achieved over the years, though each is equally as important in its contribution to our overall growth. Having worked here since 2000, our team member Judith sums it up perfectly:
What is exciting about these milestones, is that I’ve never had to wait that long. It doesn’t stand still! Seeing it grow from 6 people to what it is today, I see every little change as a milestone.”
So, instead of boring you with each and every thing we’re proud of, we thought we’d sum it up for you with a brief history of Out of Eden:
Most of all, though, we would like to thank our customers. Whether you’ve been a customer since 1993, or 2018, we wouldn’t have got this far without you. We hope to provide you with great service and products for many years to come.