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Lizzie Carroll’s business Haus Distribution is based not just on distributing beautiful household products, but on building a supportive, empathetic workplace.
When she was on maternity leave for the first time, Lizzie Carroll had a dream about setting up a store which would not just sell nice things but act as a place for parents and carers to gain the support they needed, where they could talk about the kind of things she was dealing with, such as reflux and sleep deprivation.
Her dream has been surpassed. Lizzie has set up a multi-million pound distribution business Haus Distribution which has her values of family first, kindness, flexibility and compassion at its core. Not only that, but she has found herself a finalist for the small enterprise award at this year’s everywoman awards.
Lizzie started her career in the corporate world. After gaining a degree in business and communication studies she rapidly rose up the corporate ranks and by the time she became pregnant with her son, Sonny [pictured right], she was a senior delivery manager at accenture, working on a multi-million pound project and managing hundreds of people globally. When her son was born he didn’t sleep and suffered from reflux, meaning she could not put him down. Despite this being quite challenging, Lizzie loved it. “I got really into the world of mums,” she says, which included shopping for nice things for her baby. But she noted that the Scandinavian toys and clothing she loved had to be shipped from overseas.
When she returned to work she realised she was mentally healthier than she had been before her son was born. Before she had suffered badly from anxiety, but she noticed there was something grounding about having a baby and being a mum. She had gained confidence in her body after seeing how it recovered from the extreme pressure that giving birth had put it through.
In 2018, Lizzie became pregnant with her daughter Bella. Soon after she was born Bella was unwell. Lizzie began to reconsider whether she wanted to return to work, particularly given her job involved a fair bit of travel. A former colleague had launched a website and was interested in selling Scandinavian products. Lizzie started doing some research and in October 2019 she took the leap from accenture. She approached brands in Denmark, The Netherlands and America which were responsible for beautifully crafted, design-led products, asking if she could distribute them in the UK. She set up Haus and started ringing retailers, using a third party warehouse for her stock. Within a month she had turned over £10K.
The business grew very quickly, with the aid of Covid. As people were staying at home due to the lockdown, they started buying more home furnishings, household items and toys. Online sales went wild. Lizzie was turning over hundreds of thousands of pounds, even though she was working from her spare room on her own with two young children. By the summer of 2020, when the Covid rules relaxed a little, she took on an assistant and a chief operating officer and moved into a small office. Next came a warehouse of their own in an industrial unit in Newcastle. Within a month they had had their first 40-foot container delivered from China. To date the company has turned over £17 million and now has a showroom and five warehouses in Newcastle.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Lizzie had to contend with Brexit which she says was both a blessing and a curse in that it was harder to get things in and out of the country. On the positive side, smaller distributors started working with the company to import goods from abroad, given Haus could service all of the UK and Ireland.
Harder to manage has been the economic slowdown this year. Several major retailers Lizzie worked with have gone under and everyone is being more cautious. Her costs have risen too.
She has had to adopt a belt and braces approach. “Since I started there have been no normal years so a bit of stability would be good,” she smiles, adding that things are picking up as xmas approaches and she hopes the UK will have turned the corner in 2024.
Lizzie is also really proud about the flexible, supportive culture at Haus. Many of her 13 employees are parents [Lizzie’s own children are pictured left]. She has made that early dream a reality. She still gets excited looking at the beautiful products her suppliers have to offer. “It’s a real pinch me moment,” she says.
But she adds that the main fulfilment for her is building a business that not only works but corresponds to her core values of communication, empathy and compassion, which is fun, flexible and open and allows people to be themselves. “That is my passion,” she says. “I want the business to have a family feel.”
She talks about how employees can bring their children into work to play with the toys. “I’m so proud of the business,” she says. “It’s a complete joy. And I feel stronger in myself, respect my own power more and feel ready to face the next challenge.”