We caught up with Ellen to discover the inspiration for her wonderful homeware store Rhubarb and Hare.
Who or what inspired you to set up your business?
I’ve always loved interior design and homewares. My mother was an amazing interior designer and our childhood home was beautiful. She instilled into me the importance of not just designing a room but creating an atmosphere to make guests feel welcome, at home, or at ease, restful. And I love to do this.
When we moved out from London to a thatched cottage in the country, my homemaking nesting went into overdrive. Friends and visitors began asking where I’d found this vase or that cushion. When we moved into our present home, a beautiful three hundred-year-old cottage in a small village outside Saffron Walden, I began sourcing various items for the cottage and found all these amazing makers and designers in the UK creating the most beautiful and high quality items that were utterly gorgeous and just too good not to share. The idea of Rhubarb & Hare was born. It’s a homeware store with a modern country aesthetic that only sells products from UK makers and small businesses. Most of our products are handmade and made to my specifications so they are completely unique.
What do you love most about your work?
I love working for myself and I love doing something I feel so passionately about. The thrill of other people loving the products I’ve handpicked never gets old and I receive such wonderful emails back from customers who are in love with their cushions or handmade mug and that makes me so happy. Also every sale not only supports me but the small makers I work with. And that makes me feel really proud.
What do you think is the secret of success?
The store has only been running for a year so I still have so much to learn but for me the two key takeaways I have learnt to be true so far are :
1) Trust your gut instinct and your passion. In my case it always turns out to be right. And those moments when I have second guessed myself or wavered is when I have made mistakes.
2) There are days when you’re spinning plates and the To Do list feels too long and you don’t know where to start or how to keep pushing forward. On these days I make sure I remind myself of why I am working so hard, and how lucky I am in to be in such a position to be doing something I love and feel so passionate about. Then I make sure I do at least one thing every day to keep pushing forward. It could be as simple as an Instagram post or emailing a maker I have found and fallen in love with. Whatever it is and how insignificant it feels it all adds up so just keep going.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I don’t really have a typical day which is one of the things I love about working for myself. First thing in the morning, before I even get out bed, I always post on Instagram and check in to see what is happening. After dropping the littles off at their village school I walk up to the store which is on a farm at the other end of the village. There I do my packing of orders before dashing to the local post office in the next village along. Then usually it’s a quick lunch back at the cottage before I take our puppy out for a walk across the fields. This is great thinking time for me and often I get inspiration for blogs or social posts whilst I’m chatting away to the pup! If there’s time afterwards this is when I write my blogs or newsletters before dashing to pick the littles back up from school. I do often work in the evenings too to pick up things I didn’t complete during the day or I’m too excited to leave till tomorrow!
Who or what can’t you work without?
Instagram is a major tool for me and the store. It is where I connect with my community and have daily chats which are just invaluable to me as an online business. It is also where I find some of my makers. I start researching something I want for my own cottage, and end up down an Insta rabbit hole of gorgeous accounts and before you know it, I’ve found a new maker who I fall in love with and know my customers will too so I make contact. It’s also great for just general interiors research though I don’t really follow trends when it comes to the store as I prefer to find items which I think are classic and will stand the test of time. I’m not a fan of fast fashion in any sense.
What advice would you give to others thinking of starting a business?
Listen to your heart. If you feel passionately about something then others will do too. Do the research and start planning. Rhubarb & Hare started off as a side hustle alongside my day job – when you are passionate and excited about your business you will find all sorts of snatched time in your day to make it work.
Also online groups have been invaluable to me. There are loads on Facebook and Instagram that helped with the fundamentals of setting up an online business but also with my mindset that was the biggest block to launching! Some of the amazing women who run these groups have written books and I have a pile by my bedside that I constantly reach for when I hit a particular barrier or question. As ever it’s always comforting to know you are not alone and part of a community of amazing women all building businesses as well as juggling children, elderly parents, running households etc and if they’ve done it, you can too!