Welcome to our meet the brands series of blog posts, where we take you behind the scenes to meet the makers and small brand owners that make Shop The Squares possible.
This week we’re chatting with Tess Hislop, owner of Cottage In the Hills, a family run business nestled in the Malvern Hills, selling ethical, enduring and organic homewares and gifts that are inspired by a rural country lifestyle.
1. What made you decide to set up your own business?
I’ve always worked in retail – after doing a 4 year BA hons degree in Clothing Studies and Textiles at Nottingham Trent University I worked with various retailers as a buyer. As I got more senior it felt like more time was spent in meetings than with product. 11 years ago I went on holiday to France and got chatting to the chateau owner where we stayed and we decided to set up a business together. It was a moment of madness starting a business with someone I barely knew who lived in a different country, but I think it was just a catalyst for the change I needed. We called it Ochre and Ocre after the French and English words for Ocres and our range was organic from the outset.
10 years ago the French were not into online shopping at all so we went our separate ways after 2 years and I continued to grow and evolve the range, and I rebranded it last year to Cottage in the Hills.
2. What was the hardest thing about getting started?
Cashflow – and still is today. Doing own brand from scratch means a huge investment in material. So often over the past few years I have thought it would have been easier to run a service where you don’t have stock!
3. Describe a typical day
Manic morning doing the school run, then at my desk for 8.30 to deal with any customer enquiries. Check the orders going out and then it’s usually a marketing activity – working on the brochure pagination, shooting new images, or planning social media posts.
4. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about setting up their own small business?
Make sure it is something you are completely and utterly passionate about as you will end up living and breathing it every day. I often call it my first child as it takes up so much energy and time but it is also very rewarding.
5. How important is social media to your business?
It’s growing in importance as I spend more time on it – the business has been built on growing a customer database from shows, email newsletters, brand collaborations etc. When I started there was no Instagram and Facebook was the main driver. Instagram has been over taking Facebook recently as it is more visual and as more of our target customers start to adopt it.
6. What’s your biggest challenge?
Time – there are always so many things to do and working around school hours makes you become very focused.
7. How is your work/life balance?
Getting there! It’s not ideal as I know I work too many weekends and evenings, but the pay off is I get to see my son every day, and walk the dogs, and not spend 2 – 3 hours commuting!
8. Describe your personal style
In our home it’s a calm understated colour palette of soft greys, greens and blues. People often comment it feels very serene. It’s not achingly modern, more Scandi with a mix of old pieces of furniture and rustic materials.
9. Where do you find your inspiration?
The countryside and the changing seasons inspire me, and I’m constantly following other brands both in fashion and home to see the changing trends. I think it’s a hard habit to break as once you’ve been a buyer you never quite shift away from it.
10. If you weren’t running Cottage In The Hills, what would you be doing?
I suspect another role in retail somewhere. But if I were to try something completely different I’d be tempted to run a health and fitness business.