Interview with Verity Sparks, Managing Director of Sparks & Daughters
Sparks & Daughters is a family run business, based in the British countryside, where they’ve been lovingly creating quality, personalised gifts and clothing from their Somerset studio for over a decade.
Originally founded by mother and daughter duo Deborah and Verity Sparks, Verity took over the running of the business in 2019, when Deborah retired. She, with husband Lex alongside her, now runs the business as Managing Director as well as raising their daughter Tilly.
What’s your career background?
I have been involved with our business from the very beginning, even though I was in full time education in the early days.
Even when my mum began making the first Sparks and Daughters gifts, I was still at secondary school, but I would always race to finish my homework before offering to help her with orders. I was excited to be involved and enjoyed helping her out.
About a year after the start of the business, mum found out that she had breast cancer. She bravely decided to carry on running the business whilst undergoing treatment and I continued to support her through to her eventual recovery a year later.
Around the time that I began university, I became a partner in the business with mum and continued to juggle a degree in Textiles and Surface Design with keeping on top of customer orders and creating new products for our collection.
Once I completed my degree, I was able to commit myself full-time to my role of Co-Director and at the end of 2019 Mum retired, making me the Managing Director of Sparks and Daughters.
How did your career change after having children?
The benefit of running a family business is there is always a lot of support on hand. When my daughter Tilly was born, she was coming into the studio with me when she was only a few weeks old. It wasn’t unusual for me or my mum to be wearing her in a sling, whilst packing customer orders or organising deliveries.
Around this time, my husband Lex also joined the business. As Tilly grew, we worked out a job share between the two of us, and mum too, that ensured she was cared for. When she began preschool, this freed up a little more time and now that she is at Primary school, it has become much easier.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
When mum first began the business, she started out with a small, completely hand-made and hand-sewn collection of items. This meant her turnaround times were long and she was limited in what could be offered to her customers.
I quickly saw the potential for us to expand our collection to include gifts that were quicker to produce, whilst still being of a high quality and featuring our hand drawn and hand painted designs that made them authentically ‘us’.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
It took a little bit of risk and a big leap of faith to turn the business from a small operation to a big success.
Once I’d convinced mum that we should expand our collection, we needed to make a considerable financial investment into new equipment and revamp our production processes to supply our customers with the quality gifts they were looking for without having to wait more than a couple of days
What’s your USP?
Our experiences as a family have directly influenced the kinds of gifts we create. For instance, when I became a mother to my daughter Tilly, it was at this time that we came up with our best-selling baby milestone blanket, which remains a customer favourite to this day.
We always try to create the kinds of gifts that we would hope to receive ourselves, because we value the importance of family moments and milestones, big or small, delightful or difficult.
This brings a direct connection with our customers, who know that when they choose to buy from our small business, the gift they receive is truly made with love from our family to theirs.
Who’s your target audience?
We like to think that people of all ages would be able to find the perfect personalised gift on our website, to celebrate someone they love. But with a strong focus on family, raising children and celebrating major milestones, our target customer tends to be female, aged between 25-45
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We are fortunate to have a loyal and engaged following on social media and customers who choose to stay informed of everything we are doing by joining our mailing list.
We have a blog that is updated regularly and covers everything from new product launches, gift guides, parenting tips and activities to do with your little ones.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
As a small family business, engaging our following on social media has been a great way to keep people sharing and talking about our collection. Our monthly #mysparksmoment competition encourages customers to post photographs of their products online and each month a winner is chosen, they receive £30 to spend at Sparks & Daughters.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Like many working mums, the dreaded ‘Mum Guilt’ always troubles me but at seasonal peaks like Christmas, it’s a constant battle. During November and December, we are at our busiest and I am often in the studio from very early in the morning until late in the evening.
Tilly is definitely a mummy’s girl, I hate not being there when she wakes up or missing out on reading her a bedtime story. To help with this, our family and friends are so good to us.
Whether it’s being picked up from school by Nanna for a sleepover or spending a whole day with friends she doesn’t get to see as often as she’d like, I try see that she enjoys plenty of exciting moments with some of her favourite people.
Then, when I do have time in the run up to Christmas, I make sure to devote as much of it as possible to spending time with her, doing all of our favourite things together.
And your proudest moment so far?
For me, it would be completing my degree and running the business at the same time. Naturally, I felt guilty at the time because I was worried I wasn’t giving 100% commitment to either, but the entire experience taught me valuable lessons about time management, dedication and keeping a cool head when things feel like they’re getting out of control.
Why is work so important to you?
It lets me do what things I love most all the time. By creating designs for our collection, I don’t have to find the time for art in my personal time, though I do still from time to time. Plus, I feel very lucky to have a personal passion that provides for my family.
Who inspires you?
Holly Tucker, because she has an incredible sense of self-belief and confidence to overcome obstacles, she simply powers through. She is also passionate about small businesses and has been instrumental in bringing women in the small business community together.
Plus, both myself and Holly Tucker have dyslexia and she is an inspiration to me in that regard too.
How do you balance your work with your family?
It’s challenge because we spend all day together, but my husband and I have a rule – to make a conscious effort to not talk about work too much, when we are at home, especially in front of our daughter.
I never want her to feel side-lined or less important than our business, so checking emails, taking calls etc, when we’re enjoying family time is out of the question.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
- Go with your gut when making creative decisions and don’t worry about the opinions of others because passion and self-belief create products with story behind them that people care about
- Be adaptable, don’t be afraid of failure. If something doesn’t work out the way you hoped first time, find a new approach and try again.
- Believe in the things you feel good about. If you love a product, someone else will love it too
You can find out more about Sparks & Daughters on their website.