Helen Thompstone is a rarer breed of crafter. She grew up on a dairy farm in Staffordshire, and after finishing her degree in fine art went back to her family farm and started her own business A Farmer’s Daughter, illustrating and designing products based around food, farming and the British countryside. Since then, her work has been stocked in over 200 shops. We asked her to tell us a bit more about her business…
When did you start your business, and how has it developed since then?
I started my business back in 2009 and I was employed on the farm at the same time. I’d been back home for a couple of years after living in London where I did my fine art degree and wanted to find a way to still be creative with a realistic prospect of making a living. I had to fit it around the farm too, so I set up my studio and started developing the idea of ‘A Farmer’s Daughter’. Since then I’ve supplied around 200 different shops, which is quite an achievement having started with no customers at all.
Basing your products around the English countryside and farming gives you a strong brand and identity. Is that something you considered when you started out?
When I started out I was definitely aware of that, and especially using the name ‘A Farmer’s Daughter’, but I think I tried to fit too many different things under the one umbrella. Having food, farming and the countryside as my main themes now gives me a clear identity and focus. You can only do so many things well – I’d hate to try to play to a market that I had no interest in. My brand has a simple, wholesome image and I think my designs fit really well with the name.
How you promote your work?
I use Twitter and Facebook mainly, but also Instagram and Pinterest. Trade shows are my main way of promoting the business to retail customers. I’ve done at least two shows a year since 2011 and this has raised my profile. Trade shows have been a big learning curve and they need to be planned and researched well. It’s important to be seen, as retailers and potential customers want to meet you, see your work and speak to you. I’ve got a great database of contacts through meeting buyers at shows, and keeping in touch with all of these people is really important. Even if a buyer doesn’t place an order straight away, there’s a good chance they will in the future, so I take every meeting really seriously.
How do you sell your work – online, wholesale, markets?
All three! Wholesale is my main sales channel and this was always my plan. My customers are mainly independent shops and they are varied in type and location, right across the UK, from farm shops to art galleries and garden centres. As well as Folksy, I sell on my own website and a couple of other places online. I’ve spent more time smartening up my Folksy shop this year, displaying a bigger range. Increasing online sales is something I want to focus on more in 2014. Around Christmas time I’m usually pretty booked up doing seasonal markets locally. I love meeting customers and telling them about my work, so throughout the year I attend a handful of farmers’ markets. I also design bespoke wedding stationery, so I get lots of enquiries through my website but also by word of mouth and recommendation.
How do you price your work?
As I have so many wholesale customers it is really important to price my work correctly. Every cost is taken into account, so that I can sell to trade at a price that makes the RRP realistic too. A lot of designers shudder at the thought of a shop making more money than they do on each piece, but with my products that is usually inevitable when selling wholesale. You can’t price yourself out of the market – particularly with greetings cards – there is so much competition that they need to be costed correctly.
Do you work on A Farmer’s Daughter full time?
Yes I do. When I first started my business, I relied on money that I earned on the farm, then it gradually got to a point where I felt I needed to spend all my time on it. I was lucky to have the studio and be living at home then too, so it was a time when I could put everything into focusing on my business. Although it’s really hard to keep up with all aspects of running a business on your own, I feel like it is paying off.
Have you got any tips for other makers?
Be unique. There’s no point in copying or imitating someone else’s work. It’s good to be inspired by others but you can’t replicate someone else’s passion for their work, and I always think that shows. Make things that you love and do yourself justice by presenting your work professionally. Taking great photos and telling your story well will get you noticed.