“Coming Up Roses – The Story of Growing a Business” – Cath Kidston

The artisans who read The Foodie Bugle would be well advised to buy “Coming Up Roses” by Quadrille, the story of how Cath Kidston grew her floral-vintage-homeware-accessories-clothing empire from a small high-street shop in Holland Park in 1993 to a global lifestyle brand with turnover of £70 million per annum, 61 shops in the UK and 58 shops in Asia twenty years later. And her expansion plans have only just begun!

Just like“The Branded Gentry: How a New Era of Entrepreneurs Made Their Names” by David Hopper and Charles Vallance {published by Elliott & Thompson}, there is much that can be learned from entrepreneurs who started their ventures from scratch. Whether you love or hate the mountain of retro-vintage wares that Cath Kidston produces, this “Marmite brand”, worshipped by some, hated by others, is hugely successful, the story of its unlikely trajectory riveting and applicable to all manner of industries.

There was no grand masterplan at the start of the venture, as Catherine Isabel Audrey Kidston MBE explains in the introduction.

“When I set up Cath Kidston in a small shop in Holland Park in 1993 I had no idea what a journey the company would take on. Besides needing to make a living I had just one ambition: to sell practical, cheerful products for the home with a distinctive modern vintage look. I felt confident there was a gap in the market but I never dreamed the business would grow to the size it is today.”

Her comfortable, rural life in Hampshire came to a grinding halt when her father died from a brain tumour, aged just fifty. This instilled in the young Cath {just nineteen} a sense of earning her own money and never being dependent on a man. Her uncle is the former Chairman of Christie’s, Charles Allsopp 6th Baron Hindlip, the father of Kirstie Allsopp, but there is no doubt that her early London years must have been really hard and the vulnerability of her little fledgling shop is made palpable in the writing. There was no family trust fund cushion to protect her from the tax man or supplier invoices: the hours were long and a diagnosis of cancer in 1995 meant a realignment of focus. “It was going to be all or nothing from here on in!” she writes. The vintage market was taking off, and she landed her first book publishing deal for a book entitled “Vintage Style”.

From that point on there is much to be gleaned as to how an intelligent, hard-working and determined young woman set about ensuring she kept her head above water and her business afloat. From finding the right locations for her shops, not taking on debt, hiring employees, setting up business structures, IT departments, managing costs and making sure that her products were always relevant to the zeitgeist and consumer fashions, this book describes the inner workings of the empire. Highs, lows and everything in between, creating and sustaining a multinational retailing chain is not a bed of roses.

Having worked for a short spell with the interior designer Nicky Haslam helped Cath’s understanding of how to get free editorial coverage from magazines – the company has never paid for advertising, but has featured in all the leading lifestyle magazines.

Despite trading in vintage textiles, furniture, decorative items and kitchenalia, which wealthy London customers lapped up, the business did not make a decent profit for a while, and no one could have foreseen how the brand was going to grow. Gradually, over the years, book deals, department store collaborations and an ever-changing array of designs created the “stealth brand” that become instantly recognisable.

“Today more than 50% of British women {aged between sixteen and sixty-five} are aware of the Cath Kidston brand” writes co-author Sue Chindler.

Of course, expansion to the next level required leverage, and this investment came in the form of a partnership with US investors, but a foray into the American market proved to be unsuccessful, and placed the whole company in jeopardy.

What Cath Learnt

Stay true to your idea

Learn to say no

Don’t confuse a distraction for an opportunity

Trust your gut

Don’t worry about speaking up

Know what you don’t know

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Good people are not always the right people

You’re more of a fighter than you think

Stay focused

Luckily, extremely successful expansion in the Far East put the brand back on track, and after negotiating a deal with venture capitalists TA Associates, Cath Kidston became Creative Director of her company, selling a 60% stake of it to private equity.

Whatever product you produce, design or sell, this story is invaluable for any business owner or start-up entrepreneur who wants to look at the inner machinations of a successful and established business, learn from the mistakes and disappointments of others and keep developing and growing. This is a beautiful book – filled with archive photography of the very first products and images of the patterns that cover handbags and umbrellas up and down the high street today. Just like Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston has taken a uniquely British aesthetic and created a compelling lifestyle package around it, changing a whole generation’s perception of English country house shabby chic.

“When you are self-taught you always worry that you will be found out,” she writes in the book. Thankfully she has not been too proud to let us all take a peek behind the office door, providing a helpful guide and reference manual in so doing. Highly recommended.

Further Information

Cath Kidston: www.cathkidston.co.uk

Follow on Twitter: @Cath_Kidston

Quadrille Publishing: www.quadrille.co.uk

Follow on Twitter: @QuadrilleBooks

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