A window to a new life
Published: 24 Jan 2017
Laura creates cash by reinventing old furniture. Natasha Mckim finds out more about her business, Sash Cow
Laura Walton, 31, grew up in Kemnay, but has been living in Kirriemuir for three years. She operates her furniture reclaiming business, Sash Cow, which she has been running for two years, from her small garden shed.
IS THIS YOUR FULL-TIME JOB?
At the moment, Sash Cow is only a part-time venture for me. Full-time, I work for the NHS as a speech and language therapist which I’ve been doing for four years now.
HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THE COMPANY START OUT?
It came completely out of the blue. My partner, Alastair, and I had been visiting his dad one day. I noticed that the garage was full of old sash windows which he’d salvaged from previous jobs that he’d worked on.
As soon as I saw them, it was like a lightbulb went on in my mind and I just knew that they had great potential. That day, I took one of them home and stripped all the old paint off, sanded and painted it, sourced some mirror and made it into a mirror for my house. In the future, I would like to start to develop the “for hire” side of the business, particularly for the wedding market.
DID YOU HAVE ANY HELP WHEN SETTING UP YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
My sister is self-employed so she’s been a great source of information and support when getting started. I’ve attended some introductory workshops at Business Gateway which have been really helpful in sharing key information when starting up a small business. They do some great workshops around finance, writing business plans and marketing – and they’re all free too which is amazing.
ARE YOUR FAMILY INVOLVED AT ALL?
My partner, Alastair, is a tremendous support when it comes to Sash Cow. He is a joiner to trade and helps out with what could be described as the more specialist joinery work, such as building frames.
One of my best friends is a really talented designer, so she designed the logo for me and my sister has given me some help with building a website.
WHAT KIND OF ITEMS DO YOU RECLAIM?
Most of my pieces are reclaimed timber sash window frames. However, I am also a huge fan of auctioneering, salvaging and second-hand shopping, so if I do come across any interesting pieces of furniture which are in need of some TLC or are a bit quirky, I tend to collect them and make plans for sprucing them up.
WHAT ITEMS WILL YOU MAKE OUT OF THE RECLAIMED MATERIALS?
Timber sash window frames are great because they can be so versatile – from blackboards, corkboards, mirrors, tables, nursery wall art and photo frames to display frames and table plans. The possibilities are pretty much endless.
HOW MUCH DO ITEMS COST?
The cost of an item really depends entirely on the size of the sash, what the customer wants to create with it and how they want to personalise it, whether the sash needs any restorative work or whether I need to call on my very handy joiner for any expertise. It really all depends on what the customer is looking for, and I always aim to work within a customer’s budget.
DO YOU MAKE A PROFIT OR JUST COVER YOUR COSTS?
I make a small profit. Making a Sash Cow piece can be a lengthy process, especially when working on a part-time basis. I think if you were to ask any small business owner, particularly within a creative industry, what would happen if they were to charge customers for the real time that they invest in producing just one product, they would say they would never make a profit because it would just end up being too expensive. It’s a careful balance to ensure that it’s a worthwhile and enjoyable process for me as well as ensuring that my pieces are appealing and affordable for customers.
WHERE DOES THE NAME COME FROM?
It was suggested by Alastair as a play on the phrase “cash cow”. Making custom home furnishings and accessories out of materials which would otherwise be skipped or burned, there was the potential that this hobby could end up being a (very small and modest) cash cow. I really love the name Sash Cow though – I think it’s really unique and catchy, and captures the character of the products.
HOW DID YOU FINANCE THE BUSINESS?
I’ve financed the business using my savings and any profit generated from Sash Cow.
The sash window frames are largely donated by my partner’s customers or associates, and he donated some of his workshop tools to me to get me started.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE THINKING OF A SIMILAR BUSINESS?
I think probably just to give it a go, to get yourself and your products out there and seek that feedback from the public. Initially, I remember feeling quite apprehensive, and probably a little risk averse, about taking that step towards making Sash Cow more of a public venture, but the feedback and interest so far has been great.
I would recommend going to somewhere like Business Gateway first to talk to one of the advisors as there tend to be quite specific requirements from funding channels which you might not qualify for if you have already started trading.