A crafty hobby that brought business success

A crafty hobby that brought business success

 

Caron Laffey had loved crafts ever since she first learned to knit and sew when she was a little girl. So, a career in this area seemed like a natural progression for Caron who now owns The Crafter’s Basket in Cliffoney. Caron, who is originally from Hartlepool in England, had worked as a microbiologist before opening her shop. “It’s a hobby that turned into a business,” she says.

Caron swapped the North East of England for the West Coast of Ireland in 1988. She started baking and designing wedding and celebration cakes full-time. She opened the Crafter’s Basket with a partner in 2003, believing there was a gap in the market for a specialised craft store. Based on Main Street in Cliffoney, the Crafter’s Basket stocks wool, fabrics, card-making supplies, sugarcraft supplies, embroidery and more. Customers can order products online too as the business ships all over Ireland and around the world.

Caron has shared her passion for crafts with her customers by hosting weekly classes covering a range of skills. These cover crocheting and knitting, patchwork, embroidery, and a wedding cake decorating class —which Caron teaches, as well as a ten-week diploma in sugar craft. The business gradually grew after opening, and five years later in 2008, they decided to expand the shop and moved to larger premises. The building where the Crafter’s Basket now resides started life as Cliffoney’s post office before it was converted into an Italian restaurant.

“It has a beautiful big extension at the back with windows overlooking the sea, it’s a fabulous building. When the restaurant closed the building was sold. When the lease became available I got in touch with the landlord and we moved in,” she says. In 2013 the partnership ended and Caron became sole trader at The Crafter’s Basket.

As businesses grow, so do the responsibilities that come with running them, and in 2015, Caron got in touch with the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Sligo to see what supports she could avail of. “I have a website and a shop and it was very difficult to keep the two going together because stock in the shop would be sold, and the website —if I didn’t update it every day - it would be out of sync with the shop. One day I just decided I’d phone in to LEO Sligo to see if they had anything that would help and they came back with lots of help!” Caron was assigned a mentor, Anne Kelly. She applied for, and secured an Online Trading Voucher enabling her to launch a new responsive website with stock control linked to the shop epos system.

Caron says the help she received from her mentor was invaluable in financial and business planning, and with that encouragement, she was able to purchase the shop premises in March 2016. “It’s amazing to walk in and think ‘this is mine’”. Caron has six staff working with her, and every morning she looks forward to coming into the shop, and seeing the products on display. But engaging with the customers and helping them choose materials for their projects is the real highlight of the job for Caron. “If someone’s making a quilt, we’d have every fabric in the shop out to help them find just the right one,” she says.

“The customers come in and show us what they’ve made, and we always encourage them to come back. If they have a problem they’ll come back in and we’ll help them out, and they’ll return and show us the amazing things they’ve finished.” Taking part in social media workshops, through LEO Sligo organised programmes, has also encouraged Caron to make the most of her social media channels to increase the business’s presence.

And with the building her own, Caron has ambitious plans to keep driving the business. As the Wild Atlantic Way wends its way past her front door, Caron plans to capitalise on its tourism to increase her business, expand the number and range of classes and workshops, and raise the shop’s online profile and sales. “We’re hoping to do some long weekend workshops, starting next year, perhaps getting together with local businesses to offer residential weekends away .” After 13 years in business, she’s was nominated for an award for the first time —the Best Independent Haberdashery in Ireland, in the British Sewing Awards.

Seeking support from LEO Sligo — particularly the mentoring — is something that Caron would recommend to anyone starting a new business, or in an established business. “It’s great to have somebody just to be there. To encourage you to talk, listen, suggest where to go next. I’m delighted I picked up the phone!”

 

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