Ami Hansen is an intrepid, bubbly Geordie living in Blyth, U.K. Just over three years ago, with no training and a demanding fulltime NHS job, she started up The Canny Wreath Co. — creating beautiful handmade bespoke wreaths.
But she didn’t stop there. Quickly she branched out into garlands, centerpieces and door hangings… not just for Christmas but for every occasion!
Bursting with ideas, it wasn’t long before Ami launched a sister company: The Canny Custom Co. — her outlet for bespoke printing. The range includes her ever-popular custom-made thermos-controlled tumblers with fabulous toppers, as well as t-shirts, baubles, dog treat tins, bags, keyrings and pillowcases.
Whether you’re thinking of starting up a business, or you’re just in need of motivation to take the plunge into the unknown, you will be inspired by Ami’s story. Read about her journey: how she quit her fulltime job and battled through depression and grief to follow her creative passions.
Below are excerpts from my in-depth interview with Ami, as well as fabulous Christmas decor options & Christmas stocking fillers for everyone!
Ami, what was your lightbulb moment?
It was me husband Andy’s lightbulb moment, actually. It all started with a Pinterest photo of a wooden tray with pine cones and candles. As soon as I saw it, I decided I would make something similar as a Christmas decoration. That’s how I ended up at Hobbycraft with me mam and Andy. As it turned out, the tray never got made as I couldn’t find the perfect size. But it had sparked something inside me, because while we were in the shop, me mam said, ‘Can you make us a wreath for Christmas?’ and I immediately said I’d try. I’ve always been creative, so I thought: why not?
We got some bits while we were there, and I took everything home and made me mam a wreath — and she loved it. And then, me cousin saw it and asked me to make her one. Then somebody else asked for one after that… Throughout all of this, I was just doing it as a hobby.
Then, one day, Andy said, ‘You should try and take this somewhere.’
I immediately said no. I didn’t think I was good enough. I had no faith at all in meself. But Andy kept encouraging me. He believed in me from the get go. And I kept giving excuses: ‘I wouldn’t know what to call it. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere…’
But Andy saw something I didn’t. So he kept trying to persuade me to do something with it, and he kept on encouraging me. I mean, he just harped on and on. I guess, maybe because of that, I did have sort of a lightbulb moment, because it just popped into me head one day: The Canny Wreath Co. That minute, on the 15th of November 2018, my company was born!
When did you know you were onto something good?
When people were willing to pay for something I’d made! I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden we were doing loads of orders. Nearer Christmas — in my first month — I received orders for, and made and delivered, 52 wreaths! I was gobsmacked. Then, after Christmas, the ideas just kept coming. And that’s when I thought: Right. I’m going to do this for every occasion.
I didn’t think I was good enough.
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.
How has your day-to-day life changed?
I went from working Monday to Friday, set hours, and your weekends are your own. But now me work’s at home, so a lot of the time I’m still working at 1.30am. My life has massively changed in that respect. I’m always on me phone because I’m always replying to order queries, or sending over artwork, or giving people ideas for gifts. I’m just constantly working.
Is there an unforgettable moment 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. 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.
What effect did the pandemic have on your job and your business?
I was a fulltime NHS employee, so I worked through the entire lockdown, in awful Covid conditions. A lot of people, during that time, went mad for ‘Support Small Business’ and my business boomed, 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 we gave a £5 donation to the NHS with every one sold. People went mad for them. Then it was coming into spring and 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, and they started ordering those too. It was brilliant.
How do you juggle the time for two businesses and a job?
I quit my fulltime job a year ago and now work part-time as a healthcare assistant for the NHS. It fits in fine as it doesn’t start until 6pm, so I have the day to do my business. I must admit, though, I work long hours on my own business. During the lead-up to Christmas and other busy seasons, I usually end up working from early morning until early morning.
What can I do to stand out?
How important is word of mouth?
Incredibly important! I get a lot of new customers from 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.
Any memorable lightbulb moments 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 was constantly wondering: What can I do to stand out? That was when I started moving onto the mesh. Not happy to be mediocre, I was up in the loft all on me own, in the freezing cold, with all the cobwebs, and I stayed there for hours, just trying different ways to use the mesh… I wanted my wreaths to be more than just green rings with a couple of flowers on them. I wanted to be different. With Halloween in mind, I painted some zombie hands and put them on a wreath, together with a ‘BOO’ sign. And people went crazy. And I thought: Right, this is the way to go. This is standing out.
Was there ever a time you did not think you would be able to go on?
Two deeply personal family issues knocked me for six: the death of me closest relative, and Andy being diagnosed with cancer. They happened right on top of one another and I struggled to keep going with me business. But I had a lot of support and people around me who believed in me, and so I managed to carry on. Nothing really compares to these two instances, but two ‘minor’ (in the big scheme of things) situations also got me down, due to extreme exhaustion…
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 by hand 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.’ 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. 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. 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 fatigue, 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.
What sparked the idea for The Canny Custom Co.?
I was getting some printed metal signs made by another company, for me wreaths, and I said to me dad, ‘We need to work out how to do this, because I’m paying £9 for one sign.’ 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. So, after months of research, we eventually figured out the whole process, and I bought everything I needed to make the signs. And then I practised and it was terrible! I was so bad at it. But I just kept practising — and now they’re flawless! And that’s how The Canny Custom Co. came to be. All because I didn’t want to pay nine quid for one sign, because I knew that if I tried hard enough I could make one meself.
Were your start-up costs affordable? Did you have to get a loan?
I’ve never got a loan. I’ve always paid for 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. It cost me a fortune to launch The Canny Custom Co. because I had to buy expensive, quality materials and equipment. 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.
Who has been your greatest support?
Andy has been the best support ever. And 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.
KNOW YOUR WORTH
What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?
First: Know your worth. Second: I used to take an order and 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 and not pay for your stuff. People order and pay for your stuff, and then you make it. Simple as that.’ Third, and this is the most important bit of advice: Cash is king.
What are your future plans?
I would love a nice big unit where I could put both of the businesses in. That would be it… I don’t want to take over the world. I just want to keep selling me stuff.
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 and ratty. But don’t give up. Keep pushing. And 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… As long as you believe in yourself, you’ll not give up. Oh, and don’t just do it for money; do it to get your creativity out there.
What has been your steepest learning curve?
Hand-tying beautiful 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 most difficult thing.
Did you need training of any kind? Or are you just naturally talented?
I’m completely self taught. Qualifications don’t necessarily make people better. Natural talent counts for a lot. 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.
And finally, Ami, what are your most popular products?
From The Canny Wreath Co: 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, and there are hundreds of choices. A lot of people get Toppers added onto the tumblers, which will be a bit extra, however, the end result is gorgeous!
(And so is Ami — absolutely gorgeous and just plain canny. It was a delight to interview her.)
By the way, ‘canny’, in Geordie slang, means: lovely or nice. e.g. If you met a nice person, you’d say she’s canny. Or you could say, ‘Look at this canny little cupcake.’ Or: ‘Wow. What a canny wreath!’
Did you enjoy the Excerpt?
WHETHER YOU THINK YOU CAN OR THINK YOU CANNY — YOU’RE RIGHT.
PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT EXCELLENCE.
BELIEVE YOU CAN — WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT. DARE TO BE YOU.
KNOW YOUR WORTH.
RUN YOUR BUSINESS LIKE A BUSINESS.
CASH IS KING.
NEVER GIVE UP.
BELIEVE IN YOUR PRODUCT.
WORK YOUR PASSION.
KEEP GOING. KEEP PUSHING. YOU CAN DO IT!
A SUPPORTIVE PARTNER, FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER IS INVALUABLE.
If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.
COMING UP . . .
Next week: A fearless CEO who deals in beautiful authentic handmade gifts you’ll want for yourself.
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