Interview with Gail Ball, founder of Crackpots

Find out how a back injury have Gail Ball the opportunity to come up with the idea for her business, Crackpots.

What’s your career background?

After leaving school at 16, I trained as a chef which took me to Switzerland for a year where I worked as chef whilst learning Swiss-German and gaining a passion for Swiss-French cuisine. Another highlight of those early years in my career was serving the Queen during her trip to Leicestershire where I grew up.

I then went on to start my own catering business, where I specialised in gourmet desserts which I sold to large restaurants and luxury wedding cakes in the 1980’s. Having my children changed it all, as I realised I could no longer work the unsociable and demanding hours the catering business entailed, so I turned my hand to crafts and began making salt dough (which was very fashionable in the 90’s!)

After several years touring the country selling at fairs and a change in craft to crackle pots too, I decided to train to become a driving instructor, where I had my own driving school business for six years. I loved being a driving instructor, but unfortunately, I sustained a very severe back injury which meant I could no longer spend so many hours behind the wheel.

It was during my recovery from a back operation, in 2011, that I came up with the idea of our tissue box covers and my business partner, Alison and I started Crackpots. As you can see it’s been a very varied career, but my love of creativity has stuck with me throughout.

What’s your USP?

We’re one of the only businesses making decorative tissue box covers by hand and therefore are a market leader in this sector. Our tissue box covers and bins have been purchased by leading British interior designers, several famous actors and we sell to over 49 countries across the globe.

Our unique homeware sets also decorate the rooms at a large hotel in the UAE which we’d love to visit one day. 

Who’s your target audience?

We love our wonderful loyal customers, some of whom have become friends over the years, and we find our audience tend to be women buying for themselves and friends. Our homewares make great gifts so we almost always find customers will return to Crackpots for presents for loved ones throughout the year. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

We’ve been exhibiting at leading crafts shows across the UK for over a decade, in some lovely locations such as: Chatsworth House, Blenheim Palace, RHS Wisley Gardens and Waddesdon Manor, to name a few.

Being in front of customers has helped us to spread the word over the years and build up a thriving e-commerce business too while we’re not at the fairs. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

When my children were eight and six years old, I went through a divorce which meant I became a full-time working single parent. Juggling my own business and childcare was certainly a challenge.

It was during this time that I trained to become a driving instructor so that I was able to be at home with my children rather than being at craft fairs at various times of the year. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end and my daughters have grown up to be creative themselves and one of them even has her own fine jewellery brand. 

And your proudest moment so far?

As the business grew over the years, my business partner Alison and I quickly outgrew our workshop space in Leicestershire, so we were so proud to be able to purchase enough land on the Lincolnshire coast on which to build our dream workshop, which we now call Crackpots’ home.

Our workshop is now a space that enables us to perform each of the steps in the making of our products and we’re proud to say everything is made by the two of us, in house.

Why is work so important to you?

I need an outlet for my creativity, so I think I’d go crazy without my work. Who knew decorating tissue box covers each day could be therapeutic?

Who inspires you?

My daughters inspire me everyday, as I’m so proud to have raised such strong and independent women!

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar? 

  1. My first piece of advice would be to try to do everything properly and to the best of your ability from the word go, otherwise you may find yourself backtracking as time goes on. Try to have a budget in mind and stick to it. 
  2. Build your business up at a manageable pace and don’t try to rush things – it takes years to grow a business and great customer service along the way will cement your reputation as a company to trust. 
  3. Owning a business is hard work so I think you’ve got to have staying power and dedication to make it work. When things get hard just keep going and you’ll find your way.

Find out more about Crackpots.