Tis the season to curl up in comfy chairs!!
Only kidding. If you’re me, every season is the season to curl up in a comfy chair, not just this one.
With sleep at a premium in this house I take every single chance I can get to engulf myself in a soft-furnishing cuddle, the most recent source of which is my new chair from Julian Joseph via Wayfair. While I was deliberating over which of their gorgeous pieces to install in my bedroom a couple of months ago I received an email from their co-founder, Louise Cronin.
The email was a quick hello, outlining the story of their business, one quite clearly borne out of some amazing twists of fate and a clear love of making people happy. From that email I was incredibly intrigued and delighted to learn that Louise not only lives in the next village along from me (small worlds and all that) but she’s related by marriage to my lovely friend and inspiration Hayley Southwood.
Now I definitely wanted to make Louise my pal!
I drilled Louise about her business, how it took her on a journey through China and back to the UK, and what it is like to run a company with partners in different time zones. Read on to find out more…
Can you tell me a bit about you and your work background?
I’m Louise and I’m 32 years old. I met my husband Mike when I was 16, we grew up within a ten-minute walk from each other and went to the same school, so it’s safe to say we had a lot in common. We were also both fascinated with the idea of travelling and doing something a little bit different but we were just unsure of what that was.
While my curiosity bubbled away in the background, I needed to get a full-time job and gain some work experience. My first job was in a bank. I loved the people but it’s a bit of an understatement that numbers and I aren’t such great friends! Doing a job that I didn’t enjoy spurred me on to think long and hard about what I wanted to do and eventually I came to realise that I wanted to work in marketing. With no degree or marketing related qualification I was under no illusion that getting a job would be a walk in the park.
Thankfully after several interviews a local Jaguar dealership were willing to take a gamble on me. Since then I have always worked in either marketing or event management. It’s been a fascinating journey seeing the marketing landscape change from door drops in my first marketing job (I hated these, I had to frank thousands by hand myself!) to now when your target market is at your fingertips on social media.
The niggling feeling of doing something a little different still nipped at mine and Mike’s thoughts. In 2012, Mike worked for a global logistics company and the possibility of relocating came about. For a year, numerous roles were discussed in various locations including America, Canada, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. After what seemed like an age, Mike’s boss recommended him for a role in Shanghai. When Mike came home and told me China was looking very likely, I said no!
China just seemed too different. I would’ve had to contend with a different language, I wasn’t much of a fan of Chinese food…the list went on and for me, everything pointed towards no and Mike agreed. Mike told his boss that Shanghai just wasn’t for us, but his boss rejected his answer! He advised Mike to seriously reconsider it, think about it over the weekend and on the Monday give a final answer.
Mike and I spent Saturday and Sunday poring over a Lonely Planet book and in a snap decision thought let’s do this. A few months later we said an emotional farewell to our families and friends. We didn’t have a clue what to expect but all I can say is that it was the best decision we have ever made. Such a shock to the system, but definitely the best thing we have ever done.
What was the trigger that led to you starting your own business? Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Nope, that definitely wasn’t on my bucket list! I didn’t have an uncontrollable thirst when it came to work. I wanted to do well and I’m a hard worker but it wasn’t the be all and end all for me. I’ll be honest, I worked hard so I could travel.
It’s so funny how things have turned out. I never expected to move to China of all places, but even less that I would end up falling in love with the place. And whether it’s fate or good fortune I’m so glad that I did. That’s where Mike and I met our business partners Luke and Hannah.
China is such a fascinating country with some weird and wonderful ways. These oddities (which I soon came to love) were a great icebreaker when making friends. I signed up to a Mandarin course and my classmates were an American couple. Hannah and I soon struck up a friendship laughing about some of the things we had seen or situations we found ourselves in, but mostly about what food we missed the most from back home.
The four of us went out a lot, ate far too many brunches, took trips together and it became clear that Mike and Luke were keen to own a business. Luke had strong experience within the world of furniture, Mike worked within finance for many years, Hannah had experience within design and me within marketing. We soon realised that between the four of us we were onto something and maybe we could make it work.
It must have been an incredible challenge to set up a business in a foreign country. Was the language barrier tough or was that the least of your worries?
Just living in a foreign country was a daily struggle! At the very beginning simple things like setting up a mobile phone contract or knowing where to go to buy a food shop was a challenge. I remember being in a supermarket not knowing how to ask for a carrier bag – hand gestures really were a saviour.
The decision to set up a business was quite a scary one. But over the years I’ve realised Mike and I seem to thrive off making life-changing decisions so we dug deep and plodded on. Between the four of us we could barely scrape by on our Mandarin but business talk is a different kettle of fish.
It’s not just about the language being different, you also have to conduct yourself differently when it comes to doing business in China. For example, everything is negotiable, absolutely everything and it involves a lot of haggling – so I had to leave any shyness at the door! I also soon realised that you must sit with a factory owner in the sweltering heat drinking cup after cup of green tea before talking about business. After tea, the business meeting continued with lunch. China offers some bizarre and intriguing dishes and it goes down very well if you are open to trying everything. This gained us a lot of respect, well mainly Mike and Luke – Hannah and I were a little more squeamish!
I learned an awful lot in a short space of time but mainly to have patience. Our Mandarin was a tad on the shameful side. The two languages are so vastly different but so are the ideas around interior design. So it did take quite a bit longer and many more discussions to get what we wanted.
What does a typical day in the business look like for you?
I actually work part-time for a creative marketing company so it’s a bit of a balancing act when it comes to Julian Joseph. The dedicated days I have for Julian Joseph trickle over into evenings and weekends so my hours are very flexible. But this works brilliantly as the American half of JJ aren’t online until a little later in the day.
Initially JJ was created with a clear focus on B2B sales but as the business has grown over the last year, we have moved more into the B2C world. This is really exciting for me as this is where my experience lies. Currently our products can be purchased via some major online retailers like Wayfair but I’m the process of updating our website so that we can take direct orders too. I also spend a lot of my time trying to drive the business forward by reaching out to people we can collaborate with like Alice and building relationships with sales agents to continue with the B2B sides of things.
Who else inspires you in the world of business?
Any small business owner. The furniture world is such a competitive market place that being heard amongst the noise is always a challenge. I follow a lot of businesses and bloggers like Alice who all started at the same point we did and really put themselves out there. I love businesses that add a real personal touch to the brand and their products. One company that really inspires me is a competitor – can I say who?! Well I’m going to anyway, Rose and Grey Interiors. They do a fabulous job.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
If you told 16-year-old me I would move to China, fall in love with the place and become one of the Co-Founders of Julian Joseph, I would’ve assumed you were talking to the wrong person. I think the key is being open minded and a little gutsy. I remember feeling so nervous when we started Julian Joseph – telling everyone what we were doing and really putting ourselves out there. But I quickly learned that taking that first step is the most important thing you’ll do – just run with it! The rest is a hell of a lot of hard work and countless mistakes which I laugh about now when I’m sat relaxing in one of our chairs.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in the process of entrepreneurship?
I’m surprised how dedicated I’ve found myself. I’ve ploughed more time into JJ than anything else I’ve ever done in business. I really do get such a buzz seeing a chair that we have designed, manufactured and marketed sat in someone’s home. I’ve found drive that I never knew I had and I’m so determined to make this a success.
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
That I’m working with friends! It’s been a truly incredible journey. This last year the four of us have really noticed how much Julian Joseph is taking off and we’re immensely proud of that. You can probably tell that I really do love this work…although I’m not sure that working with friends counts as work?
And the least favourite?
My least favourite part is that Mike and I are in the U.K. and Luke and Hannah are in the U.S. It poses some challenges. Business decisions can sometimes be hard to make when you’re sat in the same room but when you’re not even in the same continent that’s a whole other ball game! But we’ve learned to be more flexible with the hours we talk about business and we make sure there’s still plenty of chitchat – I miss our Shanghai pals!
What’s next in 2018 for Julian Joseph?
As I said things this year has really ramped up so I can’t wait for 2018. We’ve been working on some new designs and using new fabrics so we’ll have a new line to launch next year. My goal is to get as much exposure for the business as I can. I’ve started formulating a marketing and social media strategy so expect to see and hear a lot more from us!
Thanks, Louise! You can take a look at Julian Joseph’s gorgeous collection here, or find out more about them at their website.