The Mutts Nuts: Keith and Gail Lawther

A love of design inspired Keith and Gail Lawther to start up their own clothing brand. Startups.co.uk finds out how they did it.

A love of entrepreneurship and design prompted Keith and Gail Lawther to plough their savings into a funky new clothing brand – The Mutts Nuts. Here they tell Startups.co.uk how they did it.

Startup profiles go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up. We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Keith and Gail Lawther Age: 39 and 37 (respectively) Business: The Mutts Nuts Ltd Type of business: Clothing Brand Start date: December 2003

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I (Gail) have always wanted to start my own business and have dabbled in different things over the years. I started off in design so always felt that it was something I would like to make a career out of. This is Keith’s second business.

Tell us about your businessAt the moment we are selling ‘funky’ men’s t-shirts. We decided to stick with t-shirts in the short term as we are entirely self funding and the start up funds (from our savings) have been stretched to their limit. But very soon we want to go into other clothing for men, shorts, jeans, hoodies etc and then into ladieswear and childrenswear as well. Most of our trading initially will come from direct selling through the website and at shows and events. Ultimately what we are looking to create is a new clothing ‘brand’.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? I’ve had one or two ideas previously but never been able to develop them into a proper business. With the Mutts Nuts we had an idea for a really funky logo and the idea grew out of that.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? We found the Fat Face story very inspirational, from very humble beginnings and felt we could do that too !

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? After researching our market and soliciting advice and opinions from friends, the first job was the business plan.

What research did you do? We have friends in the fashion industry who we presented our ideas to and had some very positive feedback from, we also spoke to surf and skateboard shops who all expressed an interest in meeting with us and possibly taking some designs to trial.

What advice did you seek? We met with a small business advisor at Business Link and he was very helpful in formulating our thoughts, particularly with a view to becoming a Limited Company, he also helped us through the maze of forms, insurances etc. We are planning to attend marketing and sales courses shortly that they run also.

What other help did you get?Loads of advice really – our website designer has been great as has the t-shirt printer we use. Plus the guides from startups for writing the business plan have been incredibly useful.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? It would be useful – when you start a business you need all the help and advice you can get.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. We found writing the business plan very daunting but actually once you get started it’s quite logical. We started with the guide on startups and created it from scratch.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? In asmuch as it gives the progress of the business a focus it has been very useful from an internal point of view, but we haven’t used it for raising funds or anything, but if we needed to it is there. A business plan shouldn’t be something you write and stick on a shelf to gather dust – it ought to be a tool for your business – I see the plan evolving over time to meet our changing needs and always being an integral part of the planning process.

How much did it cost to start the business? So far it has cost about £4,000. We have kept costs deliberately low initially, we would like to spend at least another £4,000 straightaway but will have to wait for some profits to start coming in.

How did you fund this? We made the decision, very early on, to be entirely self funding from savings and a small inheritance.

When did you stop working? Keith has always been self employed, so no transition there and for the moment I am continuing with my full time job to fund the running costs/living expenses.

Are you working from home or from premises? From home at the moment although we have had to talk a friend with a lock up into holding the stock for us as our insurance company had kittens when we suggested we may like to keep some stock at home. Working from home is not a problem at all and premises would be an unnecessary expense at the moment.

How many hours are you working at the moment? 24/7

What about staff, is it just you? Just us for the moment. But the very first member of staff we are going to take on will be a book-keeper because we both HATE doing the books!

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? This is by far the biggest challenge and we haven’t done anywhere near enough marketing yet. This is our current main project – working out the marketing and advertising plan and implementing it !

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? On a beach in the Bahamas! Seriously, if the business is making a profit in 12 months time we will be extremely happy.

What are the main obstacles to growth? Finance – having made the decision to grow the business on profits, it’s a painfully slow process but will hopefully give us a really firm footing.

How do you plan to overcome these? We are going to have to seriously prioritise what we are spending and on what and just face the fact that we are not going to be able to grow as quickly as we would like.

Tell us about your website. The website is absolutely critical to our business. We found our designer on Startups – Moustique Design. It was important how it looked from a brand marketing point of view and we are very happy with the result. We just wanted a clear and simple site to use with no fancy ‘twiddly’ bits for the moment and that is exactly what we have.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do? Both – ‘a lot of money’ isn’t really that crucial as long as we have enough to live on and enjoy life ! the main ambition is to truly enjoy what we do, to look forward to getting up in the morning and to know that however hard we work and whatever rewards we reap that it is for us.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? The hardest thing for me (Gail) is dealing with the moments of self doubt and knowing where to look for help. We wouldn’t have done anything any differently.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? I think all anyone needs is a great idea and the tenacity and single mindedness to make it work !

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Go for it and enjoy the whole process – even the bits that may seem very frustrating at the time – it’s all part of the learning experience.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time? Indeed

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