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Tracy Gray had a talent which she turned into a business after receiving admiring comments from friends. Here, she tells Workingmums.co.uk how she set up her own company in her kitchen and is now employing others.
Tracy Gray was surprised and shocked when she was made redundant from her job as a customer services manager. ”I had worked there for 12 years and I’d just returned for three months after my first daughter had been born,” says Tracy. ”I wasn’t too worried because my priority was my child – she was about nine months old at the time – and I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mum. But I knew income would be an issue and I knew the time would come when I would have to do something.”
Turning a talent into a career
As a little girl, Tracy, now 40, had always had a passion for beads and bangles. She carried on her love of jewellery when she became an adult. But she wasn’t content to buy it and wear it – she designed it too. One day on the school run she wore a necklace she’d made herself with children’s finger prints as the design. Several of her friends complimented her and asked if she could make something similar for them. The demand was cemented when she set up a stall at a Christmas fayre and received 50 orders. ”I knew then it could be more of a business than a hobby,” says Tracy. ”I hadn’t wanted to return to work, but instead had thought about what I could do for myself, a business I could run around the family.”
So Button and Bean was launched,www.buttonandbean.co.uk. Tracy named her fledgling business after the nicknames she’d given to her two daughters before they were born. Caitlin is now eight, and Madeleine is five.
Tracy set up the business in 2007. At first she ran the company from the kitchen table, but she has expanded considerably – in January this year she began to rent a studio in Thames Ditton. She works at the studio Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm. She and another member of staff work on the creative side, while two others take responsibility for sales and admin. Tracy has plans to expand even more and has just brought out a children’s range of incorporating hand, foot and paw prints jewellery.
”Working from home was good in the sense that I was always there, but I was forever clearing away the equipment from the table to get ready for tea,” she said. ”It tended to take over. Having a studio now means I can make my work-life balance better – I can separate the two. However, I do work a couple of hours in the evening too, often doing admin.”
Tracy benefited from having her jewellery featured on boutique website Notonthehighstreet. Sales went up rapidly and Tracy often finds herself running her business from her BlackBerry Torch. ”I can respond to customers instantly,” she said. ”It’s a great way to work.”
Tracy cites her experience of customer service as pivotal to her own business. ”One of the biggest transferable skills I had was the ability to deal with customers,” she says. ”Communication is key. I always respond to people immediately.”
Tracy’s husband Mark, a systems architect, has been very supportive of Tracy’s venture into the business world. ”He has helped me enormously – I couldn’t have done this without his support,” she says. ”I do the cooking for the children during the meal, but he does all our meals, and he cooks all our meals at the weekend. On a Sunday he does the food shop – I haven’t done a food shop for two years.”