Entrepreneur Series - Emma Bridgewater: family gift to family business

A good business is built on the foundation of customer need.

Struggling to find a suitable cup and saucer for her mother’s birthday twenty two years ago, Emma decided to make her own. Two decades later, the Bridgewater pottery brand is a multi-million pound business and is known around the world for its quintessential Britishness and eye-catching design.

For Emma, this ‘Britishness’ is hugely important. And not just from a brand point of view. It’s where her passion lies – in the heart of the pottery industry in the UK. “It's the Staffordshire traditions and the Stoke-on-Trent people. I felt a very clear longing to light one of those [pottery] factories up again, fill it with people and fire up the kilns”.

But Emma recognises that the stability of her business and also that of Britain’s ceramic industry relies on training and constant upskilling. That’s why she sees real value in apprenticeship schemes. “We employ about 300 people and have apprentice schemes in place to train youngsters. But, I have a strong feeling that we've still got a good 20 years’ worth of time to transfer skills and we're very aware of that”.

“I read English literature at London University which was no kind of preparation for the business. But I have that steely focus. My husband trained as a designer so he brings a terrific skill set and a panache and energy to the designing.”

Running a family business doesn’t come without its challenges. Emma accepts that management is hard and that business life is full of peaks and troughs. What she stands by though is a good foundation. Get the numbers right and everything else should follow.

“It took me ages to get the accounts together. That sounds really boring, but it's one of the most important things. Don't stop until you find the person who can help set you up and reflect what's really going on. In my case, the early years were much too vague. Our business only got going when we got on top of that. We grew 17 per cent last year and we're already trading well up on last year this year. The company is going where the vision is. I feel as if the right things are happening.”

Getting the right people on board, with fresh ideas, always helps as well. “We've embarked on a new branding exercise, as we haven’t thought about brand recently. It’s interesting having someone come in from outside and say ‘you've hardly started’. It’s really exciting.”

Building your own business takes time, patience and, as Emma says, a steely focus. But the benefits can be long-lasting. Owning your own business means you can build the company you want, employ the right people to help create your vision, to make the product that you really care about. All sorts of positivity flows from this.

Emma’s top business tips

1. Ask for help

People are remarkably generous with their experience and time. When you’ve identified a weakness, ask for help and advice.

2. Get up and go

I was quite slow getting off the mark. Although I established the brand very quickly I should have got clued up quicker.

3. Be passionate

Don't be cynical, be sure that your heart is in your project. Make sure it's something that you really care about, if you do, you’ll find a way to succeed.

4. Business structure

Consider the personal advantages to be had from owning your business. My uncle had his own business and I saw early on that he was living the dream and enjoying every day!

Owning your own business means you can build the company you want, employ the right people to help create your vision, to make the product that you really care about. All sorts of positivity flows from this.

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