I am passionate about celebrating independent businesses – after all, The Find Store is one and I know only too well the challenges we face, trying to get seen above the parapet, in a world dominated by big business. Whilst big businesses are the ones with the big budgets, who can pay to be seen in all the ‘right places’ and with all the ‘right people’, small businesses have been working hard behind the scenes and are quietly making their mark. I feel the tide is changing and after everything that is going on in our world today, small business are getting the recognition they deserve. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many advocates of small business over the years, including customers who actively seek out the more ethical, local, and considered options and for that we are eternally grateful. But now it’s time for us to rise above that parapet! Over the next few weeks, I will be bringing you a series of interviews from some fantastic business owners and service providers, who not only fly the flag for independent business but they also choose to march to the beat of their own drum. I love that!
First up in our series is Athena Stonecare. Becca Cranfield, who jointly owns the company with her husband, kindly took part in a (virtual) interview and I think you’ll agree the work they do is so wonderful – preserving natural stoneware and showing its natural beauty. And I think you’ll also agree, it’s so interesting to find out more about who’s behind a business. Enjoy!
TFS: Hello Becca, thank you for agreeing to have this interview with us! For those who aren’t familiar with you and your work, please give us a little description of your business and the work you do.
B: We are specialists in natural stone restoration. This can be anything from transforming a 10-year-old limestone floor in a country house all the way through to making a marble worktop shine again. Natural stone is an investment and we help our clients to make sure it always looks as beautiful as the day it was laid.
TFS: Where are you based?
B: A sleepy little village in Buckinghamshire called Chalfont St. Giles but we work across London and the Home Counties
TFS: Your restoration jobs look amazing! What has been your most challenging project?
B: Working with natural stone always has its challenges. Because each and every slab is different, it means that we always offer a completely bespoke service. Usually the most challenging jobs are the most rewarding. We had a client in a stunning house in London who’d had a brand-new marble floor laid throughout. Unfortunately, an error in installation left the floor uneven meaning that we spent 2 full weeks using very heavy machinery and diamond abrasive to grind the floor completely flat. We then had to refinish the floor and polish it again to look like new. It was all more complicated by the thousands of pounds of silk wallpaper that we had to protect each day! The results were well worth it though!
TFS: What made you decide to set up your own business?
B: My husband actually set up the company four years before he met me. I spent the first 2 years of our relationship nudging him to let me get involved. I always saw such potential in him, with his passion for the work and just so much knowledge that I knew we could do more. After helping out at a night shift on site, we finally had a really long chat about the future of the business and the next day I handed my notice in! I love that we can work on something together that we have a shared energy for.
TFS: What would you say are the biggest challenges of running your own business?
B: It is such a rollercoaster of emotions! When it is your own business everything is always so much more personal. The big wins are always so much sweeter but then when you have a tough day it can feel like your whole world is crashing down. We are, as humans, often bad at congratulating ourselves and so sometimes you focus too much on the mistakes, the errors and the worries of your work and don’t give yourself the space to celebrate the successes. There’s no boss to pat you on the back, so you’ve got to learn to do it yourself.
TFS: What have you found has been the most successful way to promote your work?
B: I focus my energy on building relationships. We don’t have a marketing team or any real marketing budget so I rely on getting to know like minded business owners. I’m passionate about building a network of people that share my ethos and energy for their own companies. By supporting each other we can reach more people.
TFS: It’s no secret that it’s incredibly difficult for business right now, both for independents and the big names. How have you adapted your business model in response to COVID-19?
B: One of the biggest changes that we will be taking forwards into the future is providing virtual quotes. We love having the chance to go to site and meet our clients as we believe in building rapport from the beginning. However, we are committed to reducing the contact time that we spend in the company of others so have started providing more quotes by email using photographs. As a consequence, I’ve been spending more time on the phone to clients too to replace that face to face time and I’m hoping that will still enable us to get to know our customers properly.
TFS: What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of working for yourself?
B: The no.1 advantage for me is being able to be flexible with my time. I’m definitely a morning person so I tend to get up early and work from 6am, allowing myself a break to go to the gym when it’s a little quieter. However, this is also the main disadvantage too as it can be really difficult to know when to stop. I find it really difficult not to work into the evening or reply to an email at weekends. Even taking a holiday can become a bit of an alien concept. I love what we do so much though so whilst I’m enjoying it and as we continue to expand, I can’t see me slowing down any time soon!
TFS: Have you managed to create a work/life balance? If so, any tips?
B: I am definitely not an expert on this! My main advice though would be to create firm rules around when it is time to work and when it’s not. I’ll often say to my husband, can we just be the Cranfields tonight? It is even harder in lockdown but I think having a hobby really helps. I will go for a long run on my own at the weekend and Dave will go and play a round of golf. It seems to allow us both to turn the work ‘switch’ off and then the rest of the weekend becomes family time.
TFS: Finally, what does the future hold for Athena Stonecare? Any plans coming up?
B: One of the things we are most passionate about is educating people about how to look after their natural stone. So many of our clients have never had any guidance on how to do so and they can end up really damaging their stone. We are very soon going to be launching a YouTube channel to share all of our hints and tips – so watch this space!
Check out some examples of the work carried out by Athena Stonecare.
Thank you so much for taking part Becca! I know our readers will find this really interesting and insightful.