Luke Ellis, a recent graduate, award winner of the Davies Group Business School Prize and business owner talks to Angela Lawrence, Business Management Course Leader, about the success of the business that he grew alongside his studies.
I started the business, Churnet Valley Garden Furniture in 2012 from my Dad’s garden shed. I had a vision that I could design, create and make the best garden furniture in the UK. I guess I was the drive and brains behind the operation and my Dad was a good all rounder, a hard worker with loads of experience over the years as a handy man. I’d worked for 10 years in an engineering role so I had gained all of the skills needed for design and precision work
I won’t lie, it was hard work studying, growing the business and bringing up my two sons as a single Dad with sole custody. The boys are 8 and 9 now and can both be a handful. I have struggled to balance things at times, but somehow I always manage to pull it off.
I pushed the business in every way I could think of; it became both my hobby and my passion. I started off exhibiting at my local village carnival in 2012 and four years later I am winning an award for the best garden furniture stand at the Ideal Home Show in Manchester and I’m on target for a quarter of a million pounds turnover this year. I’ve made products for JD Sports, H&M and completed a huge project making and installing Christmas market chalets for a French market group last winter.
My goal is to maximise my current capacity at my workshop by growing the business to a level where it is big enough to run independently and consistently. I have always had a passion for the food industry, so I think that will be my next venture – to get something running in the winter months, when garden furniture isn’t exactly on people’s minds.
Keeping it in the family
I also want to return to university and do an MBA, and then open my own consultancy business. I bought my Dad out of Churnet Valley Garden Furniture in 2015 and this year my younger brother has invested time and money in order to prove himself and earn a share of the company.
Seeing my boys grow up into good kids makes me proud every day. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved academically, of getting a 1st class honours degree, of winning the student award for the best overall performance on the BA (Hons) Business Management and Enterprise course, and of the way in which my company has grown and developed. We recently ran a Facebook competition to win a garden Love Seat. It reached over 60,000 people and got over 800 page likes in just three days! So we must be doing something right.