Multi-tasking is one of Sara’s many fortes. As well as being a mum to two young boys, a TV celebrity and owner of an internationally successful craft business, she has recently become Ambassador for Smart Works, Newcastle.
The charity helps unemployed women from across the North East to find employment by offering interview coaching and quality clothing to give them the confidence they need to transform their lives. More on her latest venture later.
From humble beginnings, but with an appetite for success, Sara grew up in the North East where her parents ran a wallpaper and paint store in Coundon. She knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur and studied management at York University.
Her third year on a placement at a craft company exposed her to an industry she didn’t even know existed.
Sara fell in love with the customers. In her words, with a “head full of magic and lots of ideas”, she spotted a gap in the market for a tool that could create bespoke envelopes for handmade cards.
She took her idea to the owner of the shop, but they weren’t interested, so Sara decided to start her own business. With the help of her retired engineer dad, Sara designed and launched her ground-breaking craft product called The Enveloper.
Sara approached TV shopping channel, Ideal World, and from her first slot, The Enveloper became an instant hit, selling 1,500 in the first 10 minutes and 30,000 units within six months.
This demand led Sara to develop her first line of innovative products for the craft market and by the time she left university with a first-class Honours degree, her business was already turning over half a million pounds.
Sara’s business continued to fly, and she went from working in an office shed at her parents’ house with only a friend to help, to owning a multinational company. This was at a time when crafting was becoming hugely popular, and Sara thrived on sticking to her core principles and developing products for the needs of the customer.
Today, her business, Crafter’s Companion, is a household name in the industry. Sara has expanded her range of papercraft products to include sewing and needlecraft items, as well as her own brand of art materials.
The company designs, manufactures and sells its craft-related products to customers across 40 countries and employs more than 200 people worldwide.
Sara is still loyal to her North East roots with a head office and warehouse in County Durham, alongside established stores in Chesterfield and Evesham, and a US head office and warehouse in California.
As with all businesses, the pandemic threw many challenges at Sara, but one adjustment she made during lockdown has had a hugely positive impact on her work/life balance.
“Before the pandemic, I’d be away from my family for at least four nights each week, travelling to America, filming and then flying back. So that I could continue to appear on the American shopping channel while it was impossible to get to the States, we built a state-of-the-art studio adjacent to our head offices in Newton Aycliffe.
“Now I can deliver the same show in one day, without the need to be away for so long, and still get the chance to put Oliver (7) and Charlie (4) to bed.
“This adjustment has enabled me to be a better mum and gives me more time to spend on developing the business, without having to travel. One of the things that will change after the pandemic is that people won’t expect me to go back to travelling as much. Now I can nip to the studio, it’s been absolutely life-changing and great for the boys. With the time difference, I actually do the filming in the middle of the night while they’re asleep!”
Another commitment that Sara has embraced is her relatively new role on Dragons’ Den. It was something she had always fancied being a part of. A good friend suggested Sara would be great on the programme, but she didn’t feel comfortable putting herself forward.
Unbeknown to Sara, her friend contacted the researchers and asked if they were recruiting any female dragons. It was a bit of a whirlwind after that, but needless to say the production team loved her and before she knew it, she was filming for the next series, and they finished just in time before the January lockdown.
“I really love Dragons’ Den. I’m different to many entrepreneurs as most grow a business and then sell it to start another. I have no appetite to start another business, I love the one I’ve got. But I’m keen to invest in others. I always compare it to babies. My sister has recently had a baby who I love spending time with, but I don’t have to do the sleepless nights and all the tough stuff. Investing is like being an auntie. I can do all the fun stuff at the start, but at the end of the day, it’s their business.
“The entrepreneurs really excite me. You get a great firecracker of a person, and I love spending time with them, advising and supporting them, then watching them succeed.”
Sara is also heavily invested in helping North East women succeed with her latest partnership with Smart Works Newcastle.
“I get asked all the time to be involved in charity work and I find it so difficult to say no, but most of the time I have to. I see my life as having three pots – my work, being a mum and my personal pot. Dragons’ Den definitely falls into my personal time as it’s not benefiting the family or the business, it’s for me, as I’m enjoying it personally.
“It’s the same with charity work. That falls into the Sara pot too. So, when I do link with a charity, it has to fit with my personal values. Smart Works appeals to me for many reasons. I want to use my position as a woman in power to support other women, and to support underprivileged women.
“There are so many women who think they aren’t good enough so don’t apply for a particular job in the first place. Smart Works not only provides the clothes women need for interviews, but also gives them coaching and development training to learn how to sell the best version of themselves. Two thirds of the women Smart Works supports go on to get a job, so it shows it’s working. It was an absolute no-brainer for me to be involved.”
So, what about the third ‘pot’ in Sara’s life? Her family.
“Family is so important to me. I really enjoy baking with the children, during lockdown we perfected our chocolate brownies and scones and put together care packages for relatives. I also enjoy going for long runs on Saturdays and have recently given open water swimming a go. I’d love to do more of that.”
Sara also loves to eat out with family and support local businesses – The Dudley Arms in Ingleby Greenhow near Great Ayton, the Crab and Lobster in Asenby and Café Lilli in Norton are just a few of their favourites.
For an afternoon out, they enjoy Hardwick Park or Preston Park, or a day out at Saltholme Nature Reserve.
“My in-laws have a caravan at White Water at Tees Barrage, which is only 10 minutes down the road, but we love it, and love staying close. Because our business is bigger in the US now, people often ask why we don’t move there. I could never move out of the North East, let alone out of the country. We’ve got firm roots here. The quality of life is perfect.”
You can help support Smart Works in three ways. By donating clothes, accessories and toiletries; donating time as a volunteer stylist or coach; or by donating money to the charity so they can help even more women across the region.