In this weeks Harrogate Advertiser, Business Weekly, "In the company of..." interviews Sarah T. Woods, The designer taking a four-generation business online.
Name: Sarah T. Woods
Job Title: Creative Director
Company Name: Woods of Harrogate LTD.
Company Address: Prince Albert Row, 65/69 Station Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG1 1ST
Company Founded: 1895
Number of Staff: 18
Q: In a nutshell, what does your company do?
A: It’s a really interesting first question because I don’t think many people really know who we are or what we do here at Woods. We have several linked facets to this Family business. First there is the shop - Woods Fine Linens, which is widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive linen shops not just in Britain but throughout Europe according to our industry and customers, and this is supported by a rapidly growing online shop www.woodsfinelinens.com. Then there is William Woods Interior Design, a comprehensive interior design service which caters for all tastes, from contemporary to traditional. This is also supported by a website that demonstrates our expertise www.woodsinteriordesign.com
Q: How did the company begin, and how has it grown?
A: The shop in Harrogate started in 1895 by my Great Grandfather William E. Woods, however, our Family’s strong association with fine linen & cotton can actually be traced back to 1733 as linen mercers in South Wales.
The interior design element to the business on the other hand was started by my Father William Woods over 40 years ago at a time when there were very few, if any, professional interior designers. We now employ eighteen local people most of which have been with us for a very long time, it’s not uncommon for most of our staff to be with us for 15 years or more, our business thrives on retaining this wonderful experience.
Q: What do you do?
A: I creatively direct the interior design department, the buying for the shop and generally run the company with my Father.
Q: What is your education and business background?
A: I attained a first class degree in English & History and then pursued my love for fabrics and interior design in London where I studied Interior Design at the cutting edge KLC. I was then head-hunted by a top interior design company in London but soon followed my calling home for my real education alongside my Father and have now been at Woods for ten years.
Q: If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
A: That’s a tough question because ever since I was a little girl I always wanted to be involved in interior design, I spent a lot of time in the studio surrounded by beautiful fabrics and was quite single minded about the path I wanted to follow. However, I do love history so perhaps I could have combined my appreciation of history and art in some way.
Q: What motivates you?
A: This one’s simple - my daughter, Thalia. I’ve always been ambitious but since Thalia arrived, I’ve become incredibly driven.
Q: What sets your company apart from the competition?
A: Unusually, we operate our own workshops, this way we can stand proudly behind the quality and skill of the work we deliver, we know this approach is extremely rare these days, others tend to farm work out to third parties. So it’s our attention to detail and invested experience. We’re not all about the money. We really care about what we do. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right and that pervades every area of our business from sourcing the very best linens, to completing a comprehensive interior design scheme.
Q: What is the most difficult challenge your company has faced? And what challenges are you experiencing at the moment?
A: Convincing potential customers that we’re not too expensive. It’s always been a real challenge because we rarely advertise. We can be expensive yes, but we also offer good value propositions throughout the business in both interior design and in the shop. This is still the challenge, many customers that could quite easily afford both our linens and our interior design don’t even come in because they’ve heard we were posh, which upsets us. The simple message is that quality lasts, there is a false economy in buying throw away quality cheaply, you will always regret that purchase.
Q: Have you got a five-year goal for the company?
A: Our five year goal for the company is to attain the kind of reputation the shop and interior design on Prince Albert Row has, but online. We want to be the most knowledgable and helpful place to buy linens online, a trusted authority if you like.
Q: What one thing do you wish you had known when you started out in business?
A: I wish I had known not to rush to solve problems but rather sleep on them and let the right solution arrive naturally.
Q: What excites you about business?
A: The thing that still excites me the most is sharing the moment of satisfaction with our clients as they see their completed scheme for the first time in their home.
Q: What is your pet hate in business?
A: Accountability, people who don’t say sorry!
Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?
A: Find and pursue your passion, and make sure your exude this passion in everything you do.
Q: Who in business do you most admire, and why?
A: My Father, he has devoted his life to not just maintaining and growing our family business in every way but also being thrust into it after the great tragedy of losing both his parents in a car accident at only 17.
Q: What moments of your career so far stand out?
A: We’ve recently been voted in the Top 20 Interior Designers in Britain by The Telegraph, largely under my Creative Lead - considering we don’t advertise I consider this one of my first stand-out moments. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/propertyadvice/10520933/Best-20-interior-designers-in-Britain.html
Q: Why is it good to do business in the Harrogate area?
A: We are very fortunate to live and be part of the history of this beautiful spa town, we’re proud local employers with traditional Yorkshire values, Family values.