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I turned luxury cashmere blankets into international brand Travelwrap from home

By Jasmine Birtles For Thisismoney.co.uk

Published: 09:33 EST, 13 October 2015 | Updated: 04:02 EST, 14 October 2015

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Could you turn a hobby or interest into a money spinner? Would you like to set up a business from home and perhaps even turn it into a runaway success?

In our new series, columnist Jasmine Birtles, of Moneymagpie.com, reveals the stories of people who have turned bright ideas into winning businesses from home - Kitchen Table Earners.

In this first article, she meets Niamh Barker, who turned cashmere wraps into an international brand with an turnover of hundreds of thousands of pounds - and some famous fans - with Britain's own royal baby Prince George having his own wrap.

Kitchen Table Earners: Jasmine Birtles meets entrepreneurs who have  got their ideas of the ground

Kitchen Table Earners: Jasmine Birtles meets entrepreneurs who have  got their ideas of the ground

Eight years ago, Niamh Barker, 50, set up the Travelwrap Company in her spare room at home in the New Forest, Hampshire. 

It is now an international brand, with her cosy cashmere wraps beloved of celebs and royals alike.

It has an annual turnover of £350,000 with three parallel websites for UK, American and Australian customers, and 50 per cent of the business is now done online around the world.  

Success: Niamh set up her business in her spare room, and it now has an annual turnover of £350,000

Success: Niamh set up her business in her spare room, and it now has an annual turnover of £350,000

What is the business?

The Travelwrap Company produces, according to Niamh, 'special high-end blankets for girls.' The core business sells high quality, cashmere wraps – the kind of item you would take with you on a plane or car journey - in a variety of colours and designs. It now also produces some accessories such as scarves and socks.

Fans of the brand include Caitlin Moran, Jo Malone, Anya Hindmarch and the Duchess of Cambridge. 

Even Prince George has his own ‘My Little Travelwrap’!

How did it start?

Niamh says: 'I was working for Pfitzer as head of UK medical affairs,and I enjoyed it but I got tired of travelling, particularly with a large family.

'So when they offered redundancy I took it and decided to go on my own. I thought, I love cashmere and travel, wouldn’t it be nice to have a good wrap as opposed to those nasty little blankets they give you on airplanes that you don’t know who else has been sick on before you.'

Royal approval: Prince George has a Travelwrap

Royal approval: Prince George has a Travelwrap

She then researched the business for 18 months to find the right mill finally deciding on a Scottish mill that she still uses. 

'The Scottish heritage is our USP. Americans, particularly, love what we do. 

'Originally I imagined that we would sell mostly through shops and even have our own shops around the country, but our profit margin is too small to allow that so over time we moved more to ecommerce and now concentrate on online sales.'

What were the hurdles?

'When I look back on the journey I’ve taken, I was so naïve, really clueless, particularly about the financial side. 

'I didn’t know what a profit margin was or anything. It’s been a hard, painful journey. One year we lost £25,000 without even knowing!'

Two years ago, though, the company was accepted on the Goldman Sachs 10ksb scheme which helps small businesses move forward. They helped her put together a business growth plan and also provided a mentor who came to Niamh’s home to help with strategy. 

She says: 'He told me that if I had been his MD he would have sacked me on the spot, as he said it was impossible to run a company like this. He made me cry but he was right.'

Niamh says that with the help of her mentor the company has gone from showing ‘financial dyslexia to financial obsession’, as her psychiatrist husband describes it. 

'I now keep a really firm eye on all the money. We have a management meeting every month to discuss financial targets and revenues and a strategy meeting every three months. I probably spend one to two days a week just on the financial stuff.'

Financial obsession: Niamh keeps a firm eye on all the money after a talking to from her business mentor

Financial obsession: Niamh keeps a firm eye on all the money after a talking to from her business mentor

How has it succeeded?

Niamh says: 'Someone said to me at the start, ‘forget about doing bigger, just do better. We do one thing best in the world and we keep refining and improving what have. 

For example, we now have a reconditioning service for each wrap so it’s a ‘lifetime of love’ for them, and we also have a monogramming service which the Americans love. It was hard to get that one right at first, as the monogram needs to look good front and back and wool is hard to monogram, but after a lot of effort we managed it.'

Six of the best: Major household names are among Britain's small, medium yet most vibrant businesses.

Interestingly, her competitors actually helped her brand to move forward as well. 

She explains: 'It has been very difficult for me to get IP (intellectual property) on the brand so we’ve had US companies trying to copy us, but actually, one of them, which had Angelina Jolie modeling one of their ‘travel wraps’ as they call them, actually promoted us because people would Google "travel wrap" and we came up top of the list!'

What’s in the future?

For Niamh, the future is global. She says: 'I want the Travelwrap Company to be an internationally-recognised brand. Although it’s lovely to go into Fenwicks and see my wraps next to the big designer names, I know that ecommerce is the way to go. People are changing the way they shop. They’re more confident about purchasing online from another country now.

'My aim is to have parallel websites in every currency and to be sending out wraps to each country either from here or through a local fulfillment agency.'

Jasmine Birtles is the founder of money-making website Moneymagpie.com. Get more ideas for making money and setting up your own business each week from her newsletter here  

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