OxLEP Business help eco-friendly merchandiser who took a big hit during the pandemic.
Carol Ingram started her career in a small, local company selling branded merchandise. “I was fortunate to arrive at a time when the business was taking off. The business grew and staff members were increased. I was there for seven years. I got to understand the industry and it was a fun and creative environment to be in. I left the business and went to work in London for an agency where I became head of sales. But I soon became disheartened with everything. I was tired of the long commute and needed to find a different solution.”
That’s when Carol decided to start her own business, supplying ethically sourced and eco-friendly merchandise. For the past eight years, the business has been an ongoing success with an excellent turnover - then the pandemic struck.
“The merchandise I supply was no longer required for the customer base I work with. Gyms, hospitality and corporate events all stopped during the lockdown and I found myself with no work.”
Support across the board
Carol struggled to find Government support but things turned a corner when she discovered OxLEP Business. She explained: “It’s been a tough time because I fell through all the gaps when it came to getting support from the Government. I heard about OxLEP through social media, and I took part in a couple of content courses with Mavverik, who work closely with OxLEP."
"I also signed up to receive some free coaching. I had excellent support and advice - they really helped me to see where the gaps in my business were and highlighted areas that could be improved. This was extremely helpful for me to develop my ideas and guide me towards the grant application with eScalate. It was excellent.”
"The eScalate grant funding has enabled me to fund a new, bespoke website. I now have a content writer on board and a product photographer who will manage all of the photography with a personal branding photoshoot. This will enable me to digitally stand head and shoulders above the competition. It will also enable me to employ someone because I’m getting a lot busier, and I want to grow the business as this was also a part of the grant qualification."
"eScalate made me look at everything and strip my business back to see what I was doing with it, so it was a great process. There was value added in more than one way, it wasn’t just a financial reward.”
Carol also took part in the OxLEP Peer Networks programme. She joined The ‘Walnut’ group which was set up purely for those who weren’t eligible for the other peer programme groups. “OxLEP set this group up because they found there was a group of people, like myself, who they really wanted to help, but they didn’t tick the boxes. There was a really interesting mix of intelligent and inspiring people. It was just so great OxLEP were willing to accommodate us.”
A brilliant recovery and looking to the future
“The future is looking very positive. I feel like the support I’ve received has restarted my business again. I believe with the advice I’ve received from OxLEP, it’s going to thrive above and beyond where it was before. It’s created a new lease of life for the business, as well as reigniting my passion for it. I’ve also just learnt that I’ve won a silver awarded CSR accreditation for my sustainable, reusable and recyclable merchandise products, which is absolutely amazing!"
"I will continue to look to OxLEP for support in the future. I’ve just signed up for some further coaching. I completely see the value in this type of support now. Until you need it, you don’t know what it offers and exactly how much it can help and assist you.”
Visit Firefly Merchandise's website here.