With the backing of the Liverpool City Region Enterprise Hub, Jennifer Kay is establishing a strong reputation for offering quality interior design without breaking the bank. Tony McDonough reports
Hiring an expert interior designer to help give your home a makeover has long been a luxury out of the reach of most people – but not any more.
Liverpool entrepreneur Jennifer Kay can offer you just such a service but at a price well within a more modest budget. She can offer you the eye of an expert designer through her online venture, The Mini Interior Design Co.
Now trading for just over two years, the business can boast a string of satisfied customers. But it has been a steep learning curve for Jennifer, a former assistant merchandiser at Shop Direct in Speke.
In the last few weeks she has received a major boost after being recognised in the annual Best of Houzz awards. Each years the home design site looks to recognise the top-rated home pros and most popular designs on Houzz by category. Jennifer won a ‘Best of Houzz 2020’ badge in the Customer Service category.
Crucial to her establishing the business was the support and expertise provided by Liverpool-based The Women’s Organisation via the Liverpool City Region Enterprise Hub programme.
Customers of the The Mini Interior Design Co contact Jennifer through the firm’s website. The process begins with her offering a quote according to the size of the space and requirements. They are then asked to fill in a questionnaire and supply photos of the room or rooms that are to receive the makeover.
“I suggest product ideas for their space and then create a room design idea,” said Jennifer. “I will also give them a shopping list of what they would need to buy and it is up to them what they want to include.
“Hiring an interior designer to actually come to your house and do the full service is very expensive and out of the reach of most people. What I offer at The Mini Interior Design Co is both affordable and accessible.”
Growing up, Jennifer had a keen eye for art and design and so it was no surprise she opted to study for a design degree at Liverpool Hope University. She explained: “Art and design were big passions for me but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to so I enrolled on a general design course.”
She began to develop a strong interest in interior design and completed an online course. Over the next few years she continued to indulge her passion by helping family and friends to transform their homes. All the time she was honing her own design skills.
But, of course, we all have to earn a living, and after university Jennifer embarked on a career as a buyer and merchandiser for Shop Direct, one of the UK’s best-known home shopping businesses.
Jennifer said: “I worked in the home and furniture categories so that was a valuable learning experience for me. It gave me a great perspective on the retail and manufacturing processes. But probably around four years ago the idea of running my own venture really started to appeal.
“I really loved helping family and friends with the design of their homes and it just seemed like a really great idea for a business.”
Following the birth of her son, Franklin, Jennifer spent time on maternity leave away from Shop Direct and began to seriously consider her future. Although she returned to work she decided to go ahead and launch the business.
She added: “I had seen things on social media about The Women’s Organisation and a friend also recommended I should speak to them. By that point, I was clear in my mind about what I wanted to do – but I knew nothing about starting a business.
“I made an appointment at The Women’s Organisation and was introduced to my business advisor, Francine Taylor. She was amazing and, over the next few months, she helped me put my business plan together. I had no idea how detailed that would be. There is so much involved and Francine’s assistance was invaluable.
“I was also able to access a whole range of free courses which helped me equip myself with the skills I needed to start my business. They ranged from confidence-building to book-keeping to marketing.”
The Women’s Organisation was able to offer support to Francine via the Enterprise Hub programme Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Enterprise Hub provides advice, expertise and skills to fledgling entrepreneurs across the Liverpool city region.
Since launching its first phase in December 2015, Enterprise Hub has helped to create more than 1,060 new businesses, with almost 6,000 individuals registering for support. Phase 2 of the programme began in November 2019.
Dream becomes reality
In January 2018, Jennifer took redundancy from Shop Direct and decided that was the perfect time to launch the The Mini Interior Design Co and she began trading the following month. She said: “I’ve had really great customer feedback so far. People tend to be realistic about what they can achieve within their budgets and are happy with the results. You would be surprised what you can achieve.
“In the early days much of my business came via referrals but now I’m getting much more work via Facebook and Google searches. That was another big thing I didn’t know, search engine optimisation, getting your name close to the top of searches. Understanding that has really made a difference.”
While she gradually builds up the business, Jennifer still works part-time as well but aims to change that in the future. She added: “I think this business has lots of potential and I can see a day when I can do this on a full-time basis.
“My advice to anyone thinking about starting a business is go and talk to the Enterprise Hub. The wealth of knowledge they have is unreal and I would have no hesitation in recommending them.”
Francine Taylor, the senior business advisor at The Women’s Organisation who guided Jennifer through the whole process, added: “It’s fantastic to be able to help channel that energy and enthusiasm and create a viable business proposition.
“Jennifer came to us with a great idea. It has been wonderful to watch her grow and learn and develop her business skills. We get immense satisfaction from seeing people such as Jennifer turn their dreams into reality. And they show other people what is possible. I’m sure The Mini Interior Design Co will continue to prosper.”
Those seeking advice from Enterprise Hub to start or grow their new business can continue to receive support online or via phone. For more information click here or contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org