Inspiration. Motivation. Joy!
True stories from real people. People like you & me.
THE CANNY WREATH CO. & THE CANNY CUSTOM CO.
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Ami, what was your lightbulb moment? (The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business.)
It was me husband Andy’s lightbulb moment, actually. It started because I found a photo on Pinterest of a wooden tray with some pine cones and candles on it, like a Christmas decoration for your table or window, and I just loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I saw it in September, I think, and I searched high and low for the perfect tray, because I wanted to make this and put it on me windowsill at Christmas. And I couldn’t find the right tray — everything was just wrong — so I went onto Hobbycraft and I found a tray (obviously I never look at dimensions or anything). And I thought: this is perfect! It’s exactly what I’m looking for. So, me and Andy went to collect it. And me mam came with us.
Turned out, the tray was no good: it was absolutely tiny! But when we were in Hobbycraft, me mam said, ‘Can you make us a wreath for Christmas?’ As I’ve always had a wild imagination and always been creative with anything and everything, I said I’d try.
We got some bits while we were there, and I took everything home and I made her a wreath — and she loved it. And then, me cousin saw it and she loved it and asked if I could make her one. So I did. Then somebody else asked for one after that.
We were in the car, going to drop off me cousin’s wreath, and Andy said, ‘You know, you should try and take this somewhere, do something about it.’
I immediately said no. I didn’t think I was good enough. Like I had no faith at all, in myself. And Andy kept encouraging me, over and over. He believed in me. And I kept giving excuses. ‘I wouldn’t know what to call it. I just don’t think I’m good enough. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere.’
But the more we talked about it, and all the time Andy kept persuading and encouraging me, it just popped into me head one day: The Canny Wreath Co. And that minute, on the 15th of November 2018, my company was born!
When did you know you were onto something good?
So, for family I made everything at the lowest price I could; I didn’t really make any money. And then I put a couple of wreaths on Facebook Marketplace that year. And then I tried me hand at doing a few fresh centrepieces. And people wanted them! All of a sudden we were doing a load of orders. And we did a Christmas Fair. And the fair was terrible. There was no one there. I don’t think they’d done any advertising. And I was really disheartened. And yet, by the end of the day we had sold everything!
Nearer Christmas, once everybody had received their orders — so this was my first month or so — I had sold — not including the Christmas fair purchases, but order-wise — I had done 52 orders! I couldn’t believe it. I cried. I cried a lot. Because I couldn’t believe people wanted me stuff.
The more I was doing, the more ideas came into me head. And that’s obviously when I thought: Right. I’m going to do this for every occasion. I need to be a bit better and what not.
Do you run your business alone or do you have help?
It’s my business, but I do have help. Andy helps a massive great deal. If not for him, I wouldn’t be able to do half the stuff I do. Last Christmas, when our family suffered a loss, without me dad and Andy and Kelly, I wouldn’t have coped. Me dad’s a massive help. If I need him to go and pick something up, straight away he’ll go and get it. Anything: I can just text him and the job’s done. He takes a lot off me shoulders. If I text him or if I let him… but the social media side, the customer service, order taking, things like that — I do it all. I just delegate some jobs as and when I can.
Have you started up other businesses in the past? How did they fare? What did you learn?
When I left school, me and me friend Kerry had a hair and beauty business. She was a qualified hairdresser and we’d both done a beauty course, level 2 and 3, I think, in college. Nail extensions, makeup, etcetera. We set up a business and it was brilliant. We were making lots of money (well, it was a lot of money back then). And then, Kerry had a baby and it was just too much to give 100% to both her baby and her business, especially since she couldn’t afford a child minder and her partner worked too. We were a mobile business. We had a contract in a care home. I would go in every Friday and do the elderly people’s hair, and a few eyebrow waxes, stuff like that. We loved it. It was brilliant. But then it all fizzled out.
Have I learned anything? Probably not to go into business with a friend. As much as I loved every minute of being in business with Kerry, I hated only getting half of the money. I don’t think I would ever go into business with someone again. Unless it was someone who was really good with numbers and they came into my business with a good cash injection and they got a percentage of me business… but it would take a lot for somebody else to be a part of the business.
How do you juggle the time for two businesses and a job?
Having quit my fulltime job a year ago, I now work part-time for the NHS. I’m a healthcare assistant working evenings and nights. We go into care homes and elderly people’s houses to look after patients. It fits in fine, as it doesn’t start until 6pm, so I have the day to do my business. I also just started doing some casual freelance phlebotomy work for a private company. They will text me and say: you have this job at this place, this is how long you’ll be there, we’ll pay you this amount, do you want to do it? And I’ll say yes or no.
How scary was the plunge into working for yourself?
Terrifying. It’s the fear that’s stopping me from quitting me part-time NHS job. I’ve said to meself a million times: I’m going to quit. But it’s scary. If I don’t make any business, then I don’t have any money. This arrangement gives us the comfort of knowing we’ll always have a wage coming in. Especially during a slow month. January and February I’m lucky if I get any orders. I don’t think I’m ready to do it. Quitting me fulltime job was enough for now. And it was a radical change. I went from working five days a week, set hours. You get up, have breakfast, go out to work, and then come home in the evening and your work’s done. Monday to Friday. And your weekends are your own. Now, though, my work’s at home. So I work, some days — especially in the lead-up to Christmas — I work from early morning until early morning. A lot of the time I’m still working at 1.30am. I’m always working. It’s massively changed in that respect. I’ve got all of me work at home. I’m always on me phone because I’m always replying to order queries, or sending over artwork, or giving people ideas (a lot of people ask about gift ideas for their loved ones or for work colleagues, etc.). I’m constantly working. And I reply almost as soon as I receive a query if I can — because if I don’t reply, I won’t get their business.
What effect did the pandemic have on your job and your business?
Being a fulltime NHS employee, I worked through the entire lockdown, when it was really bad, I worked through all of that. And I also had a shop at the time. An actual storefront for The Canny Wreath Company. We opened the shop just after the first lockdown — right in the middle of the pandemic — while I was still working fulltime in absolutely awful Covid conditions. A lot of people, during lockdown, went mad for ‘Support Small Business’ and the lockdown is perhaps the best thing that happened for a lot of small businesses, because people had to stay indoors, so they were bored, so everyone was buying.
We released a new wreath during this time: the Rainbow Rose. And you could choose if you wanted a badge (like an NHS badge) and it was a £5 donation to the NHS with every one sold. People went mad for them. There were lots of people who asked for personalised badges, in memory of their friend or family who had died from Covid, and they bought a rainbow rose wreath to put on their grave. It was really touching. Then it was coming into spring/summer, and people were placing orders for the seasonal wreaths. And then they started ordering Christmas wreaths early, and then they saw the Halloween options — because they were sitting at home and getting bored and thinking: What can I buy next — and they were spending more time on the web — and they started ordering those too. It was brilliant.
Why did you decide to close the shop?
The shopping centre we were in didn’t do any advertising, and because we were at the back, tucked away, there was no footfall. It was a bad location and we had no support from the management from day one. Even after the first couple of months, I was thinking: Should I really be here? No one was coming in. Thankfully we still had online orders, so we stayed afloat. But I ended up using all incoming money to pay for the roof over my shop’s head, for a shop that wasn’t getting any custom. I managed to stick it out for a year, but nothing changed. The rest of the businesses that are still there — it was the same for them.
Where do you promote your business? And how important is word of mouth?
Facebook and Instagram, mainly, and my website — all my orders go through my site. But word of mouth is most important. I get a lot of new customers from others’ recommendations. I have wonderful, loyal customers. Many are locals. Some smaller businesses too. My regular customers are usually the ones who are telling everyone they know about us. And I’m so grateful for them. Whenever I ask the new customer who referred them, if it’s a regular customer, I always try and give that new customer a little discount. Regular customers always get some sort of a deal from us, of course. If they’ve bought more than twice, they’re guaranteed to get a good deal from that moment on.
Is there an unforgettable moment – a highlight – that stands out in your mind?
The biggest highlight has been making a brilliant connection with an Influencer on Instagram. Two years ago, we sent a Christmas wreath to @cleaning_with_mario and it got us a massive Scottish following. And a lot of them are still loyal customers. I would say 90% of our orders — wreaths and custom tumblers, etc. — go to Scotland.
Mario is a genuinely canny guy and he’s made the most incredible difference to us. I gained a load of business, but the most important thing is: I gained a friend. I’ll be forever grateful to him for all he’s done, especially for the way he helped me through a really dark time. He’s lovely and I’m just grateful to have made that connection.
Can you share any lightbulb moments you had once your business was up and running?
A big lightbulb moment happened after that first Christmas. I’d only been set up a couple of months, and I started doing a ton of research. I was constantly wondering: How can I make myself better? What can I do to stand out? Fair enough, you can get a wreath from anywhere, but why is mine different? Why would anyone come to me? That was when I started moving onto the mesh.
Not happy to be mediocre, I was in the loft all on me own, in the freezing cold, with all the cobwebs, and I was up there for hours, just trying different ways to use the mesh… And then we started showing the public. And people started buying them. And I thought: Right, this is the way to go. This is standing out.
My wreaths are more than just green rings with a couple of flowers on them. That’s not what I want. That’s not what I want to be. I want to be different all the time. I’ve got a massive, ridiculous imagination. So if I can put my imagination, and the help of me dad’s because he’s the same, into a wreath, I could potentially make something really good. So that’s when I started getting a little bit adventurous. It was almost Halloween when I started getting half decent at using mesh, and so I painted some zombie hands and I put them on a wreath, together with a ‘BOO’ sign. And people went crazy. And then I made a witch. And the witches are still now to this day me best ever seller. Every year. They’re amazing.
What sparked the idea for The Canny Custom Co.?
Well, last year I was getting some printed metal signs made — from another company — and they made a massive difference to me wreaths. And I had said to me dad, ‘We need to work out how to do this, because I’m paying £9 for one sign for a wreath.’ So I was either losing a load of money or I was massively putting me prices up, and I pride meself on not having huge prices, because I’m not in the game to rip people off. I just want to share and sell my creativity. So after months and months of me and me dad researching — we needed to find the right ink, the right blanks to print onto; we needed to figure the whole process out — we eventually figured it out, more or less, on paper. So I said to me dad: This is what I need: a certain type of printer. But it takes special ink, so I’ll need to get that. I need to be able to design stuff. So I then bought an iPad and an Apple pencil, so I could draw my designs on the iPad. And then I bought a heat press. And I finally found somewhere that could cut and make me blanks to my specifications. And then we practised and I mean, it was terrible! I was so bad at it. But I just kept practising. And then we got the signs. And it was because I didn’t want to pay £9 for one sign, because I knew that if I tried hard enough I could make one meself, which now — they’re flawless! — that I thought: I’m going to launch the sister company now: And so The Canny Custom Co. was born.
What have been your worst moments so far? The times you’ve been at your lowest. When you did not think you would be able to go on.
One of me lowest points happened a couple of years ago. I was trying to tie a bow with me hands, and I couldn’t do it. I mean, I can tie shoes and I can tie a bow — but actually creating a beautiful bow is incredibly difficult. So there I was, sat on the living room floor, and I was getting frustrated, and I was getting worse and worse. And I just said to Andy, ‘I can’t do this. It’s just too much. I can’t do it.’ And it was the stress of knowing that I had to get these done and I had Christmas coming up… That was me first meltdown. Thankfully, Andy encouraged me and persuaded me… And now I absolutely pride meself on how well I can tie a bow.
Another low point happened when we released the Poppy Wreaths. I didn’t expect to sell many and so I wasn’t prepared for the amount of orders that flooded in. (The Poppy Wreaths are £45, and with every one sold we give a £5 donation to the Royal British Legion. And I think that makes a difference — people like to feel like they’re making a difference.) In the first year we donated £195! That’s a lot of handmade wreaths for a small business in one go. I was so proud. But I was exhausted, too. We had it all set up in the kitchen — there were just poppies everywhere — and it was 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, and me and Andy had been working all day, and it got to the point where I just thought: ‘I can’t do another petal. I can’t do it.’ That was before I let anybody really help us, so I was doing everything — absolutely everything. So I cried me eyes out. ‘It’s too much,’ I said. ‘It’s too much to do this on me own, in the house, I can’t do it anymore.’ Of course, as a result of exhaustion, I was over-emotional. And of course, Andy came to the rescue. He always pulls me out of it, every time. He sent us to bed that night, and I woke up the next morning and I was fine.
My worst moment, though, was when me grandma died. Just like that, me world changed. I was incredibly close to her; she’d always been the most important person in me life. She died on the Sunday morning, and I sort of put a barrier up, and I thought: I don’t even want to get out of bed. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to speak to customers. I don’t care what happens to me or to anything else. I don’t care. And me dad pulled us into the shop the next day, on the Monday (when we had a storefront). And it was the best thing he did for us, because he was there with us every day. He made us keep busy… So, yeah, I just wanted to give up, because the thought of me grandma no longer being with us, it was too much. I just thought: I don’t want to do anything. I just want to cry and grieve forever. And I remember me dad saying to us: ‘Forget about your NHS job for now.’ At the same time, in me head I could hear me grandma saying she didn’t want me to do the NHS job. She knew I wouldn’t find fulfilment in it. And she was right. So I just wrote that job off. And me dad made me see it was the right move. He said, ‘You need to remember how proud your grandma was of you and how much she loved all your wreaths and stuff. You can’t let that go to waste, because she would absolutely hate it if you did.’ So that sort of pushed us into focusing on my business. And then, a week later, me grandda said, ‘You know, me and your grandma spoke about things, and she always said she wanted you to make the wreath for her funeral.’ And that’s when I thought to meself: She did. She was proud. And she always used to ask us to make wreaths and things for her. And that was when I fell in love again with me business.
We suffered another blow soon after me grandma’s death: Andy got cancer. And I rebelled again and I didn’t want to do anything except be at home with me husband and just live in a little bubble of the two of us. But then Andy recovered and things started getting better. So I started putting everything I had into the wreaths again. And I always will, because, in my mind, I will always feel like me grandma is sort of pushing us.
Those are me worst moments. Dealing with life when you can’t just phone in sick. You can’t just text all your customers and say Sorry but you’re going to have to wait for however long it takes for me to pull myself out of this. It doesn’t work like that when you own your own business.
How did you climb out of those valleys and overcome the challenges?
With the help of me dad and me business. It was a mental health issue I had to overcome — not financial or physical — so we got the best support around us. Me dad turned into me comfort blanket. From September up until New Year I was with me dad all day, every single day. There wasn’t a single day I wasn’t with him. Andy dealt with an absolute whirlwind of emotions with us. I came home every day and went straight upstairs to bed. I was over-emotional all the time. It wasn’t pretty. I was dying inside and I didn’t know how to cope with it. But because I had a shop, I had to put on a brave face every day. I had the workshop and orders to fulfil. But as soon as I got home, all the pent-up emotion gushed out of me. I used to go up to the bedroom and lie on the bed and cry. And I just, I was torturing meself every day, because I was broken and grieving. The worst I’ve ever grieved for anyone.
And then me and Andy got Covid and had to self-isolate and I was cut off from me dad. And then Andy ended up in hospital and I was in the house on me own. With nobody here. And I suffered. I was worried about Andy, terrified he might die; I hated being away from me dad; I was in torment. It got so bad. After Andy came home and then we found out he had the cancer, and me depression got so bad, Andy said, ‘Enough is enough. We’re getting some help.’ And we reached out and got some help.
It took us a long, long time. At this point I was still off work from the NHS. I went back to work eventually, in June, after I felt confident the tablets had started to work. I decided to go back to work and see how I went. My job is palliative care, so I only lasted about three weeks. I went back too early and I was looking after a dying patient. I couldn’t deal with it; it was just too much. So I took more time off. Because I’ve had that help in between — anti-depressants, intervention, time to heal — I feel like I’ve finally come out the other end. I’m not the same person I was. Definitely not. But I’m back to being at least three-quarters of the person I was. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same. I sometimes feel guilty when I’m happy, and I think I’ll always feel like that. But I can go to work now and I enjoy me job again. I pride meself on my bedside manner with dying patients, and I feel good that I can do that again. I can be around the people I strongly didn’t want to be around. It wasn’t that I hated me job. It was that I was hating what I was feeling when I was there. So much pain. Now I’ve come out of it. It just takes time, it takes support, sometimes it takes intervention from doctors or whatever you need. But mainly, what’s pulled me out of the deepest darkest hole I’ve ever been in, is the support of my loving husband. I owe me whole life to Andy.
Who has been your greatest support?
Andy has been the best support ever. Me dad. Me mam, me sister. Me grandma and grandda. Andy has supported me through the absolute worst and the absolute best. When I’m working, he’ll just pop his head in and give me a quick kiss and say, ‘You know, I’m really proud of you.’ And that just makes me heart full.
Who is your greatest inspiration? Your motivator? Anyone you admire greatly? Why?
To be honest… I’m not blowing me own trumpet, but — meself. My creativity and the joy that I feel when I create something I’ve thought of… I know that sounds a bit big-headed, but I don’t follow or get inspiration from or copy any other wreath business. I don’t use Pinterest anymore. It’s all solely from me head.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve been given so far?
First: know your worth. Second: I used to take an order, make it and then get paid. Or I would make it and it would sit around the house until somebody paid, and I would get frustrated. Until somebody told me: ‘You’ve got a business. Run it like a business. You wouldn’t go into Boots, not pay for your stuff. People pay for your stuff, and then you make it. Simple as that.’ Third, and most important — and I use this sentence nearly every single day — ‘Cash is king.’ There’s no better advice than that.
Do you have any advice for other wanna-be entrepreneurs?
Never give up. Also: don’t expect something to happen within the first week or the first month, or even the first twelve months. Don’t expect to become a millionaire overnight. Don’t expect a quick buck — cos you’ll not get one. Expect to be tired. Ratty. But, you know, yeah, don’t give up. Keep pushing. Believe in your product, whatever it is. If you’re a hairdresser, and you want to start up on your own: believe that you can cut somebody’s hair the best. If you’re a dog walker, believe that you’ll give somebody’s dog the best exercise. If you’re a wreath maker, believe that you can do something different. As long as you believe in yourself, you’ll not give up.
And don’t just do it for money; do it to get your creativity out there.
What would you have done differently?
Handled me money better. I’m terrible with money. Not that I need hundreds of thousands of pounds to be happy. I just need a little bit of spending money here and there… I’m not bothered about ordering a boat load of stock and using a big chunk of money to get that in. It’ll eventually get used.
What was your steepest learning curve? What have you found the most difficult aspect to get your head around?
Hand-tying bows! You’ve got no idea of the absolute carnage that went on in this house while I was trying to hand-tie bows. That’s definitely been the steepest learning curve.
Do you have any advice to pass on to anyone who might be struggling with that very same aspect?
Yes! Get a little — I can’t even remember what it’s called. I’ve got a little stick thing that you can use for ease and quickness to tie a bow, but I mean, that’s all I have, really.
What are your future plans? Are you happy with the size of your business, or do you hope for world domination?
I don’t really plan ahead. I just want to sell a couple of things each month. You know, in the middle of the month where you get a bit skint and you get a bit worried about, you know, petrol. Or feeding the cat. Or whatever it may be that you might not be able to afford. As long as I can have that freedom of being able to nip to the shop and not have to panic about having the cash for whatever you need. I mean, I would love a nice big unit where I could put both of the businesses in — take them out of the house. If I had a plan, that would be it… I don’t want to take over the world. I just want to keep selling me stuff.
Were your start-up costs affordable? Did you have to get a loan?
I’ve never got a loan. I’ve always paid everything out of me own pocket, from me wages. I slowly built everything up. Me stock — the stuff we have now — for both businesses is massive. But it’s taken — this is me fourth Christmas — until last Christmas to really get somewhere with it. Me start-up costs weren’t ‘affordable’ in the sense that I spent a lot of money practising to get things right. The startup costs for The Canny Custom Co. was a fortune, because I had to buy an excellent printer, a heat press, a mug press, special ink, and I had to get blanks, expensive paper, special tape — which is super expensive. It’s a really expensive hobby, I’d say. For me just to buy the tumbler — without the printing on it, as I do all that meself — is expensive. I don’t make much money on them at all. But I just love to do them.
Did you need training of any kind? Or are you just naturally talented?
I’m completely self taught. I know a lot of florists have qualifications, but it doesn’t necessarily make them better. I put all of me into every creation. That’s worth a lot, I think. And I’ve practised and practised and practised until I got it right. And then I kept practising until I made something worth selling. I think that counts for a lot too.
What are your most popular Christmas products?
From The Canny Wreath Co: our wreaths and garlands for doors, mantelpieces, windowsills… I can fulfil any measurements and colours as they’re custom made. There’s a huge variety.
From The Canny Custom Co: our custom-made tumblers make perfect stocking fillers and Secret Santa gifts. A printed, thermo-controlled tumbler with a leak-proof lid and a reusable straw is £18. The variety is endless. There are hundreds of choices. Perfect for someone who absolutely loves a certain TV show, for example, or football, or Disney Princesses — anything, really; any type of personalisation — we can create one for them at no additional cost. A lot of people get Toppers added onto the tumblers, which will be a bit extra, however, the end result is gorgeous!
End of interview.