Decisions: Julie Deane, Cambridge Satchel Company

The founder of the satchel company on why the bags have exploded in popularity, working with family and why you can't necessarily trust your manufacturer.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

MY BEST DECISION...

Was choosing not to listen to my first manufacturer's advice. When I started the business three years ago, I scoured the country looking for a traditional satchel maker. After three months I found one but he told me that demand for satchels had dropped and nobody would buy any. Now we have orders for 25,000, we sell across the world and expect to turn over between £8m and £10m this year.

I'm also proud the satchels are made in Britain. People buy the bags and know they are helping to sustain jobs here. Our three manufacturers still use the same knives that were used to cut the satchel leather years ago. Two months ago we also opened our own factory in Wigston, near Leicester, which makes 500 bags a day and we're hoping that will go up to 800 soon.

Another great decision was to involve my mum in the business. She's got great common sense and is marvellous with people. She's in her seventies, but this is her first job. She loves the fact that she's now a company director and works really hard. This business means the world to her.

MY WORST DECISION...

Was putting my trust in a manufacturer which later set up in competition with us. We'd been working with the company for almost a year before we realised anything was wrong and I was devastated. We work so closely with our manufacturers that it felt like such a betrayal.

I also wish I'd set up my own factory sooner, but it took the bad experience with a manufacturer to realise that. I had to withdraw all my orders from the company, leaving me with an enormous capacity deficit. The thought that I might have to go through it all again one day spurred me into action and within a week I'd put in an offer for a factory.

Another bad decision was not moving out of my kitchen sooner. Until last summer it was just me, my mum and another employee, and when things really started to take off we couldn't keep up with demand. Now we employ 35 staff between the office and factory.

I'd like to dedicate more time to encouraging people to start their own business: you don't need a huge amount of money - I started with £600.

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