Top 20 tips for building a great UK-made business
If you are looking to make in the UK, or if you already do, you are likely to be passionate about making your products locally and developing partnerships with UK manufacturers. But do you know what goes into building a great UK-made business?
We hear many common themes from UK brands and businesses about why they do, what they do. From wanting to preserve craftsmanship and keep skills alive, to striving to offer the best quality they can.
Make it British have rounded up the 20 tips for building a great UK-made business and how you can begin your journey to making your business great too!
1. Have a reason why you are building your brand
Julie Deane from The Cambridge Satchel Company never set out to launch a ‘brand’. Her aim was to earn enough money to send her children to a great school. If that meant she had to work really hard and do everything within the business to start with, that’s what she did.
She still continues to be very hands on in her business even today when she is turning over millions.
For me, it was always to sell enough for Emily and Max to go to a great school. It wasn’t world domination….
…So that already puts you in a much stronger position because your whole purpose is, I have to make school fees for my children to go to a good school. If that means, you know, you’ve got to learn to code and do your own website because you have 600 pounds that’s what you’re going to have to do.
2. Have a great story to tell
Jack Millington is the co-founder of Billy Tannery, the first micro goat tannery in the UK. He explains the importance of why you need a genuine story to build your business:
My advice would be before you even start, is to build a business around an interesting story or a genuine story and a genuine need for, for what you’re doing, because it gives you that set of foundation.
Give people a reason for why you’re doing what you’re doing. Then that gives you the opportunity to tell stories and that means you aren’t just launching it.
3. Be prepared to work hard but also enjoy the benefits of being flexible
Kath Whitworth has been running Celtic & Co with her husband for over 30 years, and has built the business around having a family, growing it organically.
Kath Whitworth, Celtic & Co.
We were able to grow the business along with having a family. I was working evenings and weekends, and we’ve been able to do it basically self-funded.
We haven’t had to take a lot of financial risk, which I think, from our point of view has made it a lot more stress-free at least if you know, you’re producing a nice product, you’re treating your stuff fairly and you’re not massively in debt. You can sleep at night.
4. Choose to make in the UK so you can control your production
Why do brands decide to make in the UK? At Make it British we know that there are many different reasons. Paul Smithers of Halcyon Blue discusses why he decided to set up his own factory to make a swimwear brand that he had previously imported from overseas:
Paul Smithers, Halcyon Blue
We decided that we wanted to have our own brands making the same sort of products, but having them made here in England because we could control what we do.
We didn’t have the communication problems. We didn’t have the long transit times. Loss of goods in transit and all those other problems that you have. Plus we really wanted to have a sort of continuity range of products, which is still quite unusual. Companies change their designs every season, but a lot of designs if they sell well, you can sell them year after year.
5. Be realistic about what can and cannot be achieved
Homewares designer Rebecca J Mills, loves the fact she makes in the UK, however she is practical about which parts of her products can and can’t be made here.
Rebecca J Mills Designs
I’ve seen a lot of brands grow and they started UK and then they’ve grown bigger and then they’ve moved to China or India, but I’ve seen quite a few manufacturers and brands coming back to the UK as well.
I think my values lie with UK manufacturing. I don’t see myself ever manufacturing outside of the UK, but there has to be a part that accepts that some parts don’t come from the UK.
6. Do it for other reasons than to just make money
Rich Keegan and Linda Souto Maior of Usual Objections make swimwear in their own micro factory. Their reason to make in the UK was very much focused around sustainability and giving back to their local community.
I think it’s about the craft basically, making stuff, not making a surplus of stuff that’s basically going to go to landfill. You know, you’re working on smaller quantities with a craft and a skill behind it for the people that either care about that, but also can afford it, those who want to spend a bit more money on a garment that’s more ethically and sustainably produced.Rich Keegan & Linda Souto Maior, Usual Objections
We could have easily found manufacturers to make swimwear abroad, but we just wanted something local. I’ve lived in Hackney now for like over 30 years and it just felt important to do something that was going to contribute to our local economy and be able to train local people up. It means a lot to me that we can make something that hasn’t traveled the world at least as little as possible to minimise harm, but also just to be able to give back.
7. Know how long it’s going to take to launch your brand
Sian Reekie, owner of Hettie, had no prior manufacturing experience before launching her brand. She explains just how long it took before she could get her first products into production:
I think it was probably the best part of a year. We didn’t all throw in our jobs to start with. You have to allow for timeframes, you have to allow to get the buying for all your bits or your trims.Sian Reekie, Hettie
It’s not just buying your fabric. We need to buy hardware for the dog collars and the webbing for the bags. We found some beautiful buttons from a lady that hand kiln fires the buttons for our phone cases. So there’s a lot involved before you actually get to properly sit down and somebody to start making you something.
8. Have an understanding of how products are made
Katie Walker is a furniture designer who has learnt how to make her own prototypes so that she can brief them to manufacturers. She explains why it is essential that designers also have an understanding of the manufacturing process:
Everyone wants to be a designer and not a maker. And even if you do want to be a designer, you still really need to really understand how things work and I don’t think I really found that out and understood how to design until I had really got into the workshop and put things together and felt the way to things.Katie Walker, Katie Walker Furniture
9. Do your research first
Matt Booth from Both Barrels is also from a design background but understands the importance of designing products with a UK manufacturers capabilities in mind. He talks about how you can prepare for that first meeting with a new manufacturer:
I think it’s really important to listen to what’s going on in those first conversations. I think if you can turn up with a bit of keenness and with the approach of trying to listen first, I think that’s a good way to go and also understand what the factory’s capabilities are. So there’s quite a long lead time with all the stuff that happens even before you get to that conversation.
I think the other parts of consider here is, if you’re turning up to a manufacturer, you’re also going to need to turn up with some sort of information about materials.Mat Booth, Both Barrels
10. Develop partnerships with UK manufacturers
For Rachael Attwood of childrenswear brand Britannical, things were not so easy as she had no prior experience in developing a product or manufacturing. But she found that UK manufacturers were very supportive and by visiting them she was able to discuss her ideas with them and get to the place she is now with her childrenswear brand.
It was a massive steep learning curve because I had an idea of the stages of CMT, so how a garment is made, but not really in the context of a modern factory and finding a good manufacturer, somebody that was understanding of the needs of the brand.Rachael Attwood, Britannical
It was a process of trial and error that we found plenty of good manufacturers, but perhaps not ones that were so focused on outerwear. So I, in person, chatted to a number of different factory owners and it really was the importance for dialogue. I can’t stress enough just showing my designs saying kind of what I would like to achieve. It was very much a learning curve based on a dialogue and really using the expertise of manufacturers and learning from them.
11. Consider making the products yourself
Some brands that make in the UK decide that the most efficient way to make something is to make it themselves. Steff Macgrath from Something Wicked makes her own lingerie brand and as a result is able to deliver made to order to her customers in a matter of days.
The way that we operate is a very different business model. Everything’s made to order, which means that it’s so much more flexible for stockists and for customers. We sell wholesale and directly to customers on our online boutique as well.Rachael Attwood, Britannical
What we’ve managed to do is just really streamline the production and get it set up in a way that makes it super efficient. So if an order comes in tonight, then tomorrow morning it’ll be cut and made and out the door within 24 hours. There’s no wastage and we just make what we need.
12. Consider your product’s value for money
When it comes to pricing your product offering value for money is so important. With UK-made goods it is often difficult to compete on price, but you can offer quality and products that will stand the test of time, reducing their cost of use over the period of ownership, and of course being less wasteful because you are buying less.
Joel Chudleigh from Made to Last has built his entire business around offering value for money. He explains about the guarantee that he offers his customers:
What we were keen for customers to think about is when you go to our website and you look at any products, you see the price and next to it, you see a guarantee badge, this shows the guarantee length. So then, if the customer starts thinking, okay well, this has got a 15 year guarantee and it costs a thousand pounds, what’s that cost per year? Then they can make that comparison.Joel Chudleigh, Made to Last
It starts the thought process and thinking more deeply about what is value for money and what is product quality. When it comes down to it, the price is the most important thing. We have to make sure that products are affordable and they’re reasonable, good value price, because that’s what people care about. Most people have a budget and they have to stick within that budget.
13. Produce high-quality products that last
Another brand that has always prided itself on its quality and that offers a warranty on their products is Ince Umbrellas, a family-run firm that has been making quality umbrellas in the east end of London for decades. Richard Ince explains how his umbrellas beat those made elsewhere for quality:
It’s the idea of an investment. Obviously they are more expensive being UK made, but we bring a better level of attention to detail. The stitching is stronger. The canopies are tauter and just with those two points, you’ll get a much better umbrella.Richard Ince, James Ince and Sons
14. Educate younger people into the industry
One of the challenges for UK businesses is employing skilled staff that continue to make at a quality level. The solution lies in attracting young people into the industry and teaching them that making things is a worthwhile career.
One person that is doing that is Emma Willis, who has her own factory in Gloucestershire to make the high end shirts that she sells in her Jermyn Street shop in London.
We’ve raised the profile of the seamstresses and businesses and machinists and what skill it takes. And it’s also shown that young people are in the industry. So therefore it’s attracting young people more. We’re approached all the time.Emma Willis MBE, Emma Willis London
15. Marketing your brand is just as important as your making your products
Genevieve Sweeney has achieved quite a bit of press and amassed a large social media following in the first few years of launching her brand, but it didn’t come easily:
I was fine with production and manufacturing, but then realising when you launch your website that no one knows about you, tackling that marketing and PR it’s been really enjoyable, but it’s like learning that, but it’s quite a slow process.Genevieve Sweeney
16. Design with your customer in mind
Samantha Brooke, from knitwear brand Waring Brooke stresses about how important it is to be prepared for hard work, and also make sure that you create products that your customer actually wants to buy:
You have to make a product that is going to sell and at the right price point, because there’s no point in making a beautiful product that’s ridiculously expensive and there’s nobody there to buy it and also be prepared for blood, sweat, and tears.Samantha Brooke, Waring Brooke
17. Whole-selling or discounting might not be good for your brand
When it comes to selling, many UK made brands choose not to discount in sales or wholesale to other stores who might also end up discounting their product, as explained here by Mark Higgs, Brand Manager at Crown Northampton, a footwear brand manufactured in Northampton:
We’re never going to have a sale on our website. We’re not going to do it. You start doing that then people are waiting for sales. And there might be the odd free shipping around certain times, but that’s been very few and far between.Mark Higgs, Crown Northampton
That’s kind of where we’ve got to have the confidence in ourselves that that’s our business model, that’s what we’re sticking to. To be honest, the wholesale model, we could get 20 stockists if we wanted to, send it out, it might go into sale within three months, then it starts bringing down our brand.
18. Small quantities can work to your advantage
One of the great things about making in the UK is that you don’t have to invest in tons of stock, which can be far more profitable for your business, as Emma Mathews from Socko explains:
I’ve got a little limited edition number so that you know that there are only 33 pairs made in this colour and this size and some people totally get that and they really, really like that.
But then as you say, and if you go on the website, some people will be like, well, what’s going on? You know, you’re carrying really low stock, it doesn’t look like the businesses is doing well or making a profit in any way. But actually, it’s more that I’m gearing up for the next collection. So for me to have low quantities is a good thing.Emma Matthews, Socko
19. Make your products great
Whilst there is definitely a growing demand for products that are made in the UK, consumers aren’t stupid, and will not buy something JUST because it’s made here. They will also look at the design and the quality – as well as the price.
Gillian Tusting from leathergoods brand Tusting believes that British-made goods should focus on quality, not just their made in Britain credentials:
It’s a great thing that things are made in the UK and there are so many benefits to the consumer for shopping for things which have been created here. But I don’t believe that that’s all there is to it.Gillian Tusting, Tusting
It’s just not good enough to just be made in the UK, it’s got to be great as well. And, because fundamentally it is expensive to make things in the UK, then doubly it’s got to be great because it’s got to be worth what it costs to make it. The labor to do something really well is a bit more than to do something not very well, but it’s not a massive difference.
So if you’re going to do it in the UK, do it brilliantly. I don’t want anybody to buy British just for the sake of it, you know? And then we all end up with, with rubbish products, you know, that’s just not a solution to anything is it?
20. They just wouldn’t make anywhere else!
And finally, there are so many advantages to making in the UK for small businesses, as summarised by Pippa Dziubinski from babyswear brand The little Art Collection:
I would say that I had underestimated how powerful the made in Britain message is and there is a huge willingness to support small British businesses, especially at the moment.Pippa Dziubinski, The little Art Collection
I think there’s a perception that it’s very expensive to create here, but if you’re producing overseas, once you’ve considered this sort of customs and the shipping costs, it doesn’t actually work out to be much cheaper. And the other thing is that if you are creating something really beautiful, there will always be a customer for your product. There will always be someone who appreciates the value of what you’re selling. So don’t be afraid to price how you need to make it work.
A bonus tip which we just had to include:
21. Captivate your customers with your brand marketing
Brant Richards from menswear brand HebTroCo, gives some great advice about marketing your British-made brand:
People have lots of stuff going on in their lives. Your job in marketing a business is for a brief moment in that person’s day to captivate them enough to make them give you some of their money, that they’ve worked very hard for that your thing. And you have to build up that trust and you have to be really clear and you have to have a really good thing that works well and that’s it.Brant Richards, HebTroCo