Customer Stories | Millers Yarns & Crafts

By Sarah-Louise James, Feature Writer

Having the courage to get out of the rat race and set up your own small business is a #LifeGoal many us share, and Ann Hurley, owner of Millers Yarns & Crafts, is living proof that when you take the plunge it really can be all it’s cracked up to be.

Ann’s shop, a craft-lover’s paradise - brimming with wools, yarns, and anything a keen crocheter, knitter or busy sewing-bee could want – celebrated its grand opening on 1 August 2019 and has been a popular addition on the pretty high street.

A stitch in time…

The whole process, from finding her premises in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire, to opening to the public, was a whirlwind. Just a few months prior to opening, Ann had been working her socks off in an exhausting corporate role.

“My full-time day job was in business development,’ she explains. “It was very full-on. I was also running my own sideline online craft business, so it was non-stop. Then one night, my husband said ‘Just go for it, open your own shop.’” 

That was in May of 2019. “We’d first discussed the idea a year before but I wasn’t in a financial position. This year I’d saved enough for it to become a reality.” The rest happened at lightening speed.  

Chain reaction

“The units on our high street don’t become vacant very often, so I wasn’t sure we’d find anywhere but I started calling around straight away,” says Ann. “Then I came across a business which was amalgamating with another one, meaning the property was about to become vacant. I managed to get in there before it was even advertised.’

It was meant to be. Not long after the initial call, the shop was hers. “We took the keys on 1 July and we opened on 17 August.” Cue: an army of friends and family working to get the shop ready – including Ann’s 7-year-old daughter, who is also a budding crafter – lots of late nights and lots of strong coffee.

“The last Saturday night before we were due to open, my friends and I didn’t leave the shop until quarter past midnight. I tell you what, though, it was so exciting!”

Staying in the loop

Quite rightly, Ann is now feeling proud as punch. “I can’t believe how happy I am. I never thought I could love coming into work as much as I do. I only take Mondays off and when I do, I miss it. I just want to be in my shop the whole time.

“People come in and say ‘Oh I would love this, you are living my dream’ and I say ‘Yeah, I am living my dream too,’” she laughs.  “Even on quiet days in the shop there’s always something to do, from advertising, updating social media and dressing the windows, to tidying, restocking, re-ordering or crafting. And I love it all.”

That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard work or that Ann hasn’t faced hurdles while setting up her dream biz.

“There are challenges, for sure. One of the biggest is getting that repeat custom, and understanding that people aren’t going to come in on a weekly basis – because they have to go away and make the item before they need to come back in,” she says. “You also have to get on with your neighbours and understand that your competition might not be best pleased about you opening to begin with!” 

Purls of wisdom for new business owners 

  • Know what your competition are doing all the time 
  • Make sure there’s demand for your business. Give customers a reason to come back to you
  • Be prepared for bumps along the road and hold your nerve. It will come good 
  • Offer brilliant customer service. “If people are looking for something from a supplier I use, I’ll give them the shade book, let them choose what they like and offer to get it for them. I try to make every experience personal”
  • Be kind: a simple ‘Have a lovely day’ or ‘What a beautiful coat’ has the power to lift somebody and make them feel special

Hooking up with Bionic

It was top-notch customer service that drew Ann to Bionic – and we’re super-chuffed to be helping out. “No one tells you what a minefield setting up your own business is, from insurance to utilities – but Bionic was a dream. I use the service for my telecoms and it was the easiest transaction I had while setting up.

“The guy I dealt with was absolutely amazing; he wasn’t pushy, he was very chilled and that made me feel really relaxed. The whole experience was amazing, the least stressful by far of all the utilities.”

Pattern for success

With the practicalities all taken care of, Ann is now in a position to get even more creative. She’s recently launched ‘Crafts and Laughs’ lunches in the shop, which see novice and experienced crafters get together to eat, craft and shop.

“The first one was a huge success,” she says. “One of our local coffee shops supplied lunch, which keeps it in the community, and there was a real mix of people, from retired ladies to women in their 30s just getting started.

“One of my friends, who is quite shy, said she’d made new friends while she’d been here. She’d entered a room full of complete strangers but they weren’t by the end of lunch.”

Ann believes it’s the key to high street success. “It’s brilliant because it brings in business in an organic way – and creates a social hub. I want to introduce Crafts and Laughs dinners in the evening next.”

Future projects…

It’s not hard to see why Ann, who first picked up a pair of knitting needles at the tender age of seven, is loving life 

“I have so many ideas for the future,” she says. “Obviously, as a small business owner you can’t take anything for granted. You have to have plans in place: a 12-month plan, an 18-month plan but the truth is, I want to be here until I retire,” Ann says. “Then I’ll pass the business on to my daughter.”

Something tells us Ann will love spending time in her daughter’s shop just as much as she does her own…

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