Mother who started her stationery company from the back of a camper van now boasts an award-winning business designed to help other busy mums – and she’s making £2.2M a year
- Kerri Middleton, 46, from Edinburgh started in 1998 with Christmas card holder
- Her clever stationery products are designed to make family life more organised
- Includes a weekly schedule for planning work and home alongside each other
- Now turns over £2.2M a year and is one of John Lewis’ top sellers
A mother who started her business by making samples from cereal packets and nail scissors, has gone on to set up an award-winning stationary company.
Kerri Middleton, 46, from Edinburgh, came up with the idea of Busy B when travelling around Australia in a camper van with her now husband Kieran, 47.
Her best-selling products include a dual weekly schedule for planning work and home alongside each other and calendars which feature a pocket every month, so it’s easy to find bills, invites and timetables all in one place.
The stationery products are all clever solutions that help families stay organised – something which Kerri knows is important, as a mother to Lily, 13, Finn, 11 and Max, six.
‘It’s not been easy to juggle and for ten years I worked at home three nights a week after the kids were in bed, as well as three days in the office to try and keep on top of everything,’ said the mumpreneur.
‘I still work in the evenings sometimes and whilst waiting at the football pick up or the kid’s swimming lessons.’
Mother-of-three Kerri Middleton, 46, from Edinburgh, runs an award-winning stationery business Busy B after thinking of the idea in a caravan while travelling around Australia. Above, the self-made business woman holds her very first product – a Christmas card tree holder
The mumtrepreneur clutches some diaries from her product range – and they’re one of the top three selling diary brands in John Lewis UK
Kerri and husband Kieran, 47, have to juggle the business around looking after their three children – Lily, 13, Finn, 11 and Max (above)
Kerri’s success story began in 1990, after she left Glasgow School of Art to work for an entrepreneur in Edinburgh who had a few different businesses.
‘I worked for him designing and getting manufactured give-away promotional products,’ explained Kerri.
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‘We did large production runs in India and China of things like ash trays and puzzles for big drink brands like Morgan Spiced and Tenants.
Busy B have launched a limited edition card tree for their 20th year celebrations, with all proceeds going to Breast Cancer Care
‘It taught me a lot about how to take something you have designed and make it commercially viable.
‘I learnt so much from the people I worked with about business, negotiation, margins and manufacturing.’
Following this, the self-made businesswoman left to travel around Australia with Kieran – and while in Sydney, she started working for a product development company.
‘I was the only female product designer they had ever employed,’ explained the busy mum-of-three.
‘I learnt a lot about communicating ideas and the logistics involved in taking an idea for a product and turning it into something real.’
After deciding to purchase a camper van with her earnings, Kerri remembered an idea Kieran’s mum had given her back when she was a product design student.
‘She was frustrated there was nothing stylish to hold Christmas cards and suggested I create something,’ recalled Kerri.
‘I think she thought I could do it as a college project but I remembered the suggestion and it became my first real product.’
Kerri remembered an idea Kieran’s mum has given her once when she was a product design student. She said: ‘She was frustrated there was nothing stylish to hold Christmas cards and suggested I create something’
Kerri’s first product – a Christmas card tree holder – comes as two flat-packed halves which, once assembled into shape, can then be placed on the wall or mantelpiece. They can also be slotted together to make a free standing tree
Kerri’s best-selling products include a dual weekly schedule for planning work and home alongside each other and calendars which have a pocket every month, so it’s easy to find bills, invites and timetables all in one place
She made prototypes in the back of the van using cereal packets and nail scissors, and back in the UK, Kerri set about trying to find a manufacturer who could turn her concept into a reality.
She said: ‘I found a brilliant packaging company outside Edinburgh and the young team of engineers there created my first commercial samples.
‘That took about three months and then I set about doing my market research. I took the samples to London and around Edinburgh and Glasgow, knocking on retailer doors and speaking to buyers to get feedback.’
The product came as two flat-packed halves which, once assembled into shape, could then be placed on the wall or mantelpiece. They could also be slotted together to make a free standing tree.
She added: ‘It became clear quickly that the idea was liked and they thought it would appeal to their customers but that it had to retail at £7.99 to be commercially viable.’
After being given some advice by a family friend and six months after returning home from Australia, Kerri decided to exhibit her product at a trade show – calling her company name, K TWO .
The mother-of-three (pictured with other members of the Busy B team) loves working with a team, rather than independently from her spare room
‘With some good feedback and a loan from the Princes Trust, plus £10,000 I had inherited from my grandfather, I took my first big leap and produced 5,000 Card Trees before the show,’ explained Kerri.
‘I sold half of the stock I’d produced and my business was up and running.’
It was from there that Kerri’s love of creating useful and clever solutions that help people stay organised developed.
‘I worked 24-7’, she said. ‘There was no escaping the phone and the fax machine, and the to-do list was always getting longer.
Busy B sells an award-winning range of diaries which aim to make life a little easier for busy families
Kerri’s company was initially called K-Two, before she rebranded to the renowned Busy B. Above, the self-made businesswoman celebrates Busy B’s 20th birthday
‘I had tonnes of rejection and found it hard at the start. The only way to keep going was just to dust yourself off and get back up and at it again, adapting and learning all the time.
‘Being bold and persevering whilst growing a thick skin was all important to survival in those early years.’
And there is one particular ‘disaster’ that still gives Kerri nightmares today.
‘We had secured an order from a large UK retailer for a couple of new stationery products I’d developed – a Birthday card book with pockets every month for cards, and a Christmas card book,’ she explained.
‘They took the stock into every store in the UK, but three weeks into the selling season I received a call to say they had recalled all of the stock following customer complaints.
‘Each month in the birthday book had 30 days and ‘Christmas’ was spelt wrong three times in the Christmas card book.’
Determined to find a solution, Kerri managed to find a printer company who could take all of the wire binding out the books.
One of Busy B’s most successful products: a gift wrap bag to keep all the roll wrap, ribbon, tags and scissors etc. together in one easy to access place at home
Together they reprinted, cut, folded and reinserted the new pages and they had stock back on shelf in ten days.
Over the next few years, Kerri went on to sell tens of thousands of the products and the business continued to grow.
Then in 2014, she decided to re-brand from K TWO to Busy B – something which she describes as a real turning point.
She said: ‘We made substantial investment during the recession of 2008 – 2011 to understand what our consumers valued about our products, and to create a new brand image, tone of voice and a fresh new way to engage with our customers.
‘The subsequent development of Busy B has been fantastic.’
Since then, Busy B has produced everything from greeting cards, stationery, calendars and diaries.
‘Our most successful products have always offered a clever solution that really meets a customer’s needs,’ explained Kerri.
‘Like our best-selling Busy Life Diary with a dual weekly schedule for planning work and home alongside each other.
And our gift wrap bag keep all the roll wrap, ribbon, tags and scissors etc. together in one easy to access place at home.’
Now, Busy B is stocked in lots of major and independent retailers across the UK and some in the US and Europe – and is even one of the top three selling diary brands in John Lewis UK.
To cope with high demand, Kerri’s parents help to look after her three children.
‘My mum and dad live locally and I could not have managed without that support,’ admits Kerri.
‘I really love being part of a team of talented people. I was never really happy on my own in the spare room.’
‘I always wanted to work as part of a team and I feel lucky to have a role that I love with great people around me, and the flexibility to have time at home with my children as they grow up too.
‘I am excited about the future of Busy B and how it will evolve over the next.’
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