Lesley Nottley and her husband Nick produce a range of yarns spun from their flock of Jacob sheep and dyed by hand on their smallholding in Devon. Their micro-business is called Tavistock Tastes & Textures and they recently started selling their yarns online through Folksy. We talked to Lesley about how they have grown the brand so far and why she would rather have a small nucleus of fans and repeat customers than a big business…
Your Folksy shop is relatively new. What kind of things did you consider before setting up online?
I have been selling at small, local craft fairs for a while, but I’m often asked if I have a website. The cost of setting up one of my own that would offer online sales was more than I was prepared to pay, plus there was the time involved in setting it up and maintaining it. I chose Folksy because it’s easy to use, reaches a much larger audience and gives me a unique web address, all for a reasonable outlay.
Did you think about your brand identity before you started selling?
Yes, I spent a long time thinking about a brand name – all the sheep-related names I could think of were already in use! I think it’s important to find a name that describes what you do, ideally something memorable that locates to where you live.
How do you sell your yarns?
Wherever and whenever possible! I sell them at local craft fairs, online and in small quantities from home to repeat customers who live locally.
Is Tavistock Tastes and Textures your main source of income, or an extra on the side?
The wool side of the business is very much an add-on to the main source of income from selling meat and also pedigree ewes and rams to other flock owners. However, with such small numbers it would be very difficult to earn enough to live on, so we both have ‘day-jobs’, although mine is thankfully only part-time. It may seem an idyllic lifestyle, but in reality there’s a lot of hard work for little reward and my sympathies are with farmers who have to rely on livestock for a living. It’s time we were all prepared to pay more for food produced to a high standard in this country rather than resort to cheap imports.
What channels do you use to promote your shop? Have you seen good results so far?
I produce leaflets and swatch cards to give out at craft fairs and I have listings in the Wool Directory and on the Jacob Sheep Society website. I also struggle with a Facebook page, coming from a generation not used to airing its views to the world through social media! Results have been fair, but marketing is the thing I find most difficult, and I am conscious that it’s an area I need to work on.
Who do you follow on social media and who do you think does it well?
I tend to follow other wool producers and sites such as Ravelry for new patterns and ideas. I particularly like the KnitRowan website, which is very inspirational and has some excellent photography. I also find their patterns work very well with my yarn!
How do you calculate your prices?
By far the biggest cost is the amount charged by the mill for processing and spinning, which is done locally by The Natural Fibre Company. To this, I add shearing, dyes, electricity used etc to work out a cost per 100g ball. I then factor in marketing and other overheads, plus a bit of leeway in case of disasters in the dyeing process. I don’t include a charge for my time as it’s my hobby, and I try to keep my prices affordable. I’m not aiming to make a profit, just to cover my costs, so that I can justify producing wool I enjoy working with. To quote a fellow addict “it feeds my yarn habit!”
Starting a small business while also running a smallholding must be hugely demanding. How do you manage your time?
There’s always more to do than we can fit into the hours available, and looking after livestock is a seven days a week, 52 weeks a year job. Holidays are a rare occurrence, but thankfully we live in a lovely part of the country so we can sneak in a quick visit to the coast or the moors if we have a few hours to spare (usually when it’s raining!). There’s also a lot of paperwork to keep on top of, and this year alone we’ve had a Soil Protection inspection, a brucellosis test, and two sheep welfare and identification inspections. All passed with flying colours, but they make for quite a bit of extra work.
Is there anything you found particularly difficult about starting or running your own business?
I would say that the most difficult things about running the business are a) lack of time and b) marketing and developing contacts on social media and elsewhere.
How would you like Tavistock Tastes and Textures to develop?
To be honest, I wouldn’t want the business to grow too big, I prefer to remain a craftsperson rather than a businesswoman. My aim at this stage is to build up a small nucleus of repeat customers, either locally or online, who think of me when they plan their next knitting project.