FROM YOU TO ME are the creator of high quality, beautiful and emotive gifts that are loved and shared by families and friends all over the world. Based near Bath, our family run company has grown from its early beginnings with a range of four journals to an international brand with a current portfolio of over 150 journals, books and stationery, many of which can be personalised, but all providing gifts for both special occasions as well as just because someone cares.

We recently celebrated our 15th birthday and, as we moved to our new Studio (with wild-swimming for when it gets warmer) it was a good time to reflect on the stories behind our success.

There have been many highs for our business, but also many challenges. Highs like winning the UK Gift Association’s Gift of the Year award as well as the USA’s Best New Product at the New York Stationery Show for our Journals of a Lifetime in our first year of trading. Two of our new ranges are finalists again for the Gift of the Year in 2022 and we are also a finalist for the Bookseller’s British Book Awards in the Small Press category.

These industry accolades are superb. The recognition for our strategy, our team and our ways of working is fabulous and, in addition, they give us great exposure and help to give consumers and our trade customers confidence working with us and in our products.

However, the lows have been hard. The world’s biggest recession; our printer going into liquidation one week before a delivery of books; getting snowed in at four trade shows; our first book fair when visitors were kept away because of a volcanic ash cloud; the retail high street changing beyond recognition; and the uncertainty of, and chaos resulting from, BREXIT. Most of these situations were without precedent and they aren’t something you can prepare for.

As if this list of issues wasn’t enough, I then got diagnosed with cancer and assuming nothing else could be thrown at us, the global pandemic hit. This not only closed most of our customers, throttled the supply-chain and drastically increased costs, but also reduced creativity whilst the team was working from home. Of course, I didn’t expect running a business to be easy, but I could never have predicted these challenges!

I founded the business with my partner Helen Stephens who is Creative Director. We both had strong senior leadership experience from multi-national businesses, but neither of us had worked in publishing before. Consequently, we’ve done it all differently. This included having a baby together in the first year of trading, so nothing like making it easy for ourselves!

We started the business focussing on making it lean, outsourcing many processes to experts. It is important for us to be agile and adapt to the ever-changing demands of our customers so outsourcing many activities frees us up to concentrate on these core activities. We involve all our own people in most aspects and this meant they could adapt their roles during the lockdowns and no one was furloughed.

With managed warehouses in the UK and USA, our distribution model allows us to sell to different markets as well as directly to the end consumer through our international websites. This solution allows our customers to be very diverse: from smaller independent gift & book shops to garden centres; from specialist retailers like baby shops & online marketplaces to large high street multiples. We have also built strong relationships with distributors, overseas partners, and licensees.

A very important market during the pandemic was online and with many smaller retailers setting up their own web-shops, our bespoke software enabled us to support these evolving businesses with drop-ship and personalisation solutions. Selling and managing in this way across many different markets means when one area is struggling there is another we can work closely and sensitively with to grow.

We have worked hard since we started, had difficulties, but there are many things to be grateful for.

We work with some amazing people who not only stimulate us to do and achieve things we didn’t know we were capable of, but who have also become lifelong friends. We’ve discovered skills we didn’t know we had and won awards and medals that we didn’t know existed. We have had great fun, laughs and tears through the sharing of fabulous, touching stories with customers from all over the world. Our products have been translated into many languages and we get emails and letters from celebrities, royalty, politicians and wonderful people of all ages telling us how much they love our products.

We are proud, not only of the people around us, but of ourselves.

The truth is, setting up and running your own business is a bit of every extreme with lots of stuff in the middle. It is said that 60% of new businesses fail in the first 3 years, so to make it to 15 feels like a great achievement. To be honest, it doesn’t feel that long (unless you count the last 2 years which have felt like forever), but that’s probably because we’ve always sought out new ways to work that are innovative and exciting.

What have we learnt?

Watch the cash flow but don’t be afraid to spend; if it doesn’t add value to your strategic direction, outsource it; recruit people who have the same values as you, are better than you and care about them; never work your birthday; make sure you laugh as much as possible; don’t fear making a mistake, just learn and move on; give it a go; and take your dog to work.

I am so proud of what we do and what we’ve achieved. FROM YOU TO ME is about creating and capturing stories and moments, so to stop for a moment to look at our own story, our achievements as well as our difficult times makes me realise what an amazing journey we’ve been on and it’s one that’s continuing.

We’re having an incredibly busy start to our 16th year, relocating to a creative studio, recruiting new team members and lots of projects and products in progress. We’re very grateful that we survived the pandemic, although very sad that some of our wonderful customers didn’t. We’re delighted to be back together again as a team and excited for the next 15 years.

Well, it surely can’t be as challenging as the last 15 I thought and with that Russia invaded Ukraine, energy prices rocketed and the price of everything increased ...


Neil, Managing Director