Female Entrepreneur Jenny Drew – Founder and Franchisor of Sew Confident
How did you get into sewing?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I still have lots of hilarious designs with mad price tags that I drew on lined paper when I was seven. I’ve always loved drawing and thankfully my parents didn’t discourage me from going to University to study something creative. My Mum used to make clothes for me when I was wee. I can remember two outfits; one was a navy and white polka dot two-piece and one was made from a white strawberry print. My mum only made a few things but she dabbled enough in sewing to spark my interest. The first thing I ever made was a tooth fairy Halloween costume when I was about 15/16.
What was the trigger and why did you start Sew Confident?
I graduated from Glasgow Caledonian University with a BA Hons in Fashion Business. At the time (during a recession), I couldn’t afford to intern in London, which is what it takes to get a fashion job, so I stayed in Glasgow and looked for creative opportunities here. I worked for several small companies, a lot of which sadly went bust, and I learned how (and more importantly, how not) to run a business. A friend of mine opened Glasgow’s first craft cafe and asked if I would teach for her. At first, I said no as I didn’t think I was good enough to teach but she convinced me to give it a go. I loved it. I’m a people person and I can talk to anyone about anything. I was good at making people feel comfortable, relaxed and included no matter who they were. Sadly, this business didn’t survive but the owner did encourage me to keep at it. I was in a very fortunate position to be starting a new business with an existing customer base. I had several jobs on the side to mitigate the risk and make sure my rent and bills were covered each month. I was 24 at the time and thankfully full of energy!
When did you establish Sew Confident?
I started Sew Confident in 2012. I was a sole trader for two years running the business from the back of my tiny Corsa. You wouldn’t believe how many sewing machines you can fit in a Corsa!. I used to rent third party venues, take all the sewing machines with me for every class, then take them all home again. I lived in a flat 2 floors up at the time. Looking back, I don’t know how I carried eight sewing machines up and down the stairs, four times a week. In 2014 I realised I was paying more to third party venues than my own studio would cost, so I set up a ltd company and took the space I’m in now.
Did you have to secure any funding to start the business?
I funded the business myself with my various jobs. My friend Vonnie gave me eight sewing machines to get started and I paid her back over about a year. She was so good to me and is still a good friend now. My first ever loan was a bounce back loan during the pandemic. It was a safety net during a very uncertain time.
What has been the main factor that has made your business successful?
I think to run a successful business you need to have a competitive edge and love creating new and exciting experiences for your customers. I like the saying about never living the same year twice. I can honestly say that for the last 10 years, I have never lived the same year twice. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. I lot of my success was manifested by my really wanting it. I have grasped every opportunity that presented itself to me. After spotting a Facebook ad for a business accelerator programme, I applied and was accepted. I met some amazing people who encouraged me to apply for a business competition called Scottish Edge. The application was lengthy and difficult but I ended up winning £10k, which allowed me to start the franchise. It’s such a cliche but I honestly think personal and professional growth comes from doing things that are out of your comfort zone. Nothing ever changes if you keep towing the line and doing the same things. I’m constantly challenging myself. I’ve been on Take Me Out, I won a TV competition to become a new guest designer on a sewing TV channel, I paid £15k to join a business mastermind and I’m currently writing a book called Stop Playing Small. Writing the book has been a massive learning curve. I’m about 3/4 of the way through and absolutely loving writing it. You don’t realise how much you know and how many anecdotes you have until you start writing. It’s amazing! The book is aimed at encouraging female entrepreneurs to believe in their ability to build and grow a wildly successful business!
What do you think is the main draw for customers to Sew Confident?
We’re good fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. People know that they can come along on their own, be made to feel welcome and have the opportunity to learn something new. We’re always trying to build communities of people with similar interests where people can make new friends. We’re also trend aware so customers leave the classes with beautiful, current things.
Are there any female entrepreneurs who inspired you/you admire?
I have a lot of friends in business who I am constantly in awe of. Their gritty and determined and despite the challenges presented with the pandemic, most of them have managed to grow their business against the odds. I think it’s amazing and shows true entrepreneurial spirit!
If I was to name someone who has been at the forefront of my recent business journey it would be Lisa Johnson, a Business Strategist for Ambitious Entrepreneurs. She has been a mentor of mine over the past year and is absolutely smashing it in business, teaching people how she’s doing it as she goes. She specialises in teaching people about passive/semi passive income and how to grow your business without absolutely working yourself into the ground. It’s a really important and powerful strategy that everyone should be striving for!
What have been the biggest challenges for you?
Running a business during a pandemic has certainly been an interesting experience… At the start of the pandemic, I had two staff and all I could think about was survival for the business and the franchises. I decided early on that failure wasn’t an option and we would do whatever we had to, to survive. I furloughed the staff and stopping all fees to give the franchisees some financial breathing space. It was the most bizarre emotional rollercoaster. I would spend hours of excitedly planning new covid proof revenue streams and 10 minutes later, I would cry whilst making myself a cup of tea. Looking back, it’s the closest I’ve ever been to burnout. All I did was work. The studios were forced to close, so we developed a whole host of online courses and ramped up our retail offering. I knew I had to be there for the staff and the franchisees, but I was also aware that we had to be there for our customers who needed some creative respite from the daily stress of the situation. I’m proud that today, as a result, we actually have a much stronger business model with more revenue streams and an absolute dream team of staff and franchises. This year we are introducing a 4-day work week for everyone in the company. The pandemic certainly taught me that life is too short to work all the time – so now I get an extra day of sewing a week!
What advice would you give to other women hoping to start a business?
My top 3 tips for start up success:
- Start lean – Test your model before getting up to your eyeballs in premises leases, costs and loans. Try renting third party venues or starting online first. Selling things to friends and family is all good but selling things to people with no emotional link to you is how you’ll truly validate your business idea.
- Differentiate yourself – If you want an extraordinary and fulfilling business to be truly proud of, do it differently. We’re all unique individuals with our own views, personalities and ideas. That is your strength, so use it! Find out what problems your ideal client/customer base has and solve them in your own way. You want to have a unique selling point that will make people come to you over the competition. If you decide to try to replicate someone else’s business model, you’ll always be one step behind them. Be authentic and blaze your own trail. Or buy a franchise!
- Make sure you love it – You need to love what you’re doing, not just do it because you think it will make money. I’m approaching 10 years in business this year and I can (hand on heart) say that I still love what I’m doing. This means the business gets the best version of me every day. A business is not a job that you can leave behind at 6pm when you leave work. It will occupy your thoughts 24/7. Ask yourself if you can deal with that, and if the answer is no, you might have to rethink your business idea and opt for something you truly love!
How did you establish your network?
Networking is so important but can be painful at times. It’s out of everyone’s comfort zone to step into a room full of people you don’t know and try to befriend them, but building business friendships will not only help grow your business but it will enrich your experience as an entrepreneur. I’ve done it all, the coffee meet ups, the business accelerator programs, the yearlong masterminds and even trips abroad to meet fellow business owners. I’ve now got a worldwide network spanning all kinds of industries – and I learn from all of them!
About three years in, I joined a business accelerator and met 3 incredible women, Margaret, Christine and Louise. We started our own weekly mastermind and I can truly say they have been pivotal in my growth as an entrepreneur. Never underestimate the power of a network. You need people to share the highs and the lows with and you’ll find your actual friends don’t want to be talking about profit margins over a glass of wine on a Friday!
What drew you towards starting a franchise?
There were a few reasons I opted for the franchise. I recognised there was a gap in other cities for sewing classes and ours were only running in Glasgow at the time. I started branching out to Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. However the driving quickly became unmanageable (Aberdeen is almost 3 hours drive from Glasgow). I soon hired some tutors and found a venue in Dundee that would allow me to store my machines. Even this was occasionally problematic. If something went wrong, I was too far away to fix it. I either had to go all out and set up premises, managers and staff in these cities myself (which would have been a significant financial outlay) or I could go down the franchise route. I liked the idea of giving someone a slice of my life as a business owner, helping them become successful, whilst also growing the Sew Confident brand. Sandra came on board in Dundee in 2018 as our pilot franchise and the rest is history!
What’s the 5 year plan for Sew Confident?
I am not the kind of person who can stay still and thankfully the team are as growth driven as I am. We have expansion plans for Glasgow as we have outgrown our current space (about 10 times over). This will be a retail and classroom space with a bigger range of premium fabrics and Haberdashery, as well as more space for sewing machine demos and of course greater capacity for classes. I’m very excited about it! We are also increasing our online retail offering by launching partnerships with pattern companies, to allow us to sell digital files which we will be able to print with our new A0 printer. Of course, more franchises are on the horizon with a focus on Bristol, London and Edinburgh. Further into the future we hope to add sewing retreats in Europe(sunshine and sewing, what’s not to love?!) and buy a Sew Confident yacht. Okay, the last bit might be a lie, but one can dream…