Louise Walsh started her franchise of The Christmas Decorators in 2014, with the goal of pursuing a business opportunity which allowed her to make a higher income, have greater flexibility over her time and achieve a better work-life balance.
“I was coming up to 50 and was either going to retire or do something else. I always wanted to start my own business but had not done it yet, so I felt this could be my last chance.”
Louise decided to try her hand at entrepreneurship, starting a franchise of a seasonal Christmas decorations business. The Christmas Decorators designs, sources and installs high-spec decorations for homes, retail and commercial premises across the UK.
Commented Louise: “Our service appeals to discerning customers with a hectic lifestyle, the last thing they want to be doing in their free time is climbing up a ladder and stringing up lights, only to take them down a few weeks later. We take all of the stress away from preparing a home or office for the festive season.”
How it happened
It all started in 2014 while Louise was working a full-time job in operations and management at University of Birmingham. When Louise’s parents sadly passed away, she was left with an inheritance. After her parent’s passing, she was facing a fork in the road and was weighing up what she should do with her inheritance. Around this time was considering starting her own business.
“I wanted to use my inheritance to pursue a business opportunity that could secure my long-term financial future. It was important for the business to fit around my lifestyle and give me a better work life balance, so I decided to choose a seasonal franchise business,” said Louise.
“What attracted me most of all to this type of business was the idea that I could have more control over my time and the flexibility to take chunks of time off throughout the year.
“But it’s not easy. We have to do a whole year’s worth of work in a short window of time, but I like it because I thrive on having that sense of time pressure. We have a very intense work period when we must complete the majority of our work, but then this is followed by extended periods of time away from the business during quieter times of the year.
“It is a challenge to say the least, but there are many other types of businesses, such as bars and restaurants, which also have to do the majority of their trading during holiday periods in order to survive.”
For the first year, Louise didn’t give her job up right away and instead worked on the business during her spare time and at weekends. She felt it was important to test the idea first before giving up the security of her employment income.
A growing business
“The first year was tough as I was balancing running the business with my full-time job. Our first season was very successful, and we worked with many great clients, such as Sainsburys and Birmingham Library. After that, I carried on at my full-time job until the following September and then left to focus full time on the business in time for the second season,” said Louise.
Now in its fifth year of business, The Christmas Decorators has an impressive client list, including the likes of Birmingham Airport, Warwick Castle and Harrods, as well as a host of other celebrities and professional footballers.
“People often ask what prompted me to go into this business. I tell them I love Christmas, it fits very well with my skillset as I have a background in catering and operations management, and it’s a lucrative business opportunity. There is a growing trend across the UK for companies and families to put more effort into their festive decorations and many of them do not have the tools needed to do it, such as cherry pickers and large ladders.
“There are two prongs to the business’s income, with around 80% of our projects being in the commercial sector and 20% being residential homes, which extends our season. Being seasonal, every January we put aside all our business expenses for the year so we know we can’t spend it.
And it has been highly successful to date, with Louise’s franchise recently securing a five-year lease on a 6,430 sq ft warehouse in Bracebridge Street, just outside Birmingham city centre after a period of exciting business growth.
The move allows The Christmas Decorators to consolidate several regional outlets into one central location based in Birmingham. The new warehouse will be used to store a vast selection of items including handmade ribbons, garlands, baubles, floral pieces and lavish Christmas trees, with plans to convert part of the new facility into a showroom.
“It is very rewarding, and I still get excited when I see a project come together.”
Views on money
“For me having money provides security. As I’ve gotten older, I have become more risk averse and aware of the need to plan ahead,” said Louise.
“I initially came to see Lucent after I had started my business. At that time, I was thinking a lot about my pensions and the need to make sure I was preparing for my unknown future by putting enough money aside. I had never met with a financial advisor, so I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It is useful as you feel someone is keeping you on track and prompting you to make good decisions.
“In hindsight, I would have worked with a financial adviser at an earlier stage in my life. When I first started my business, I did not seek professional financial advice. Luckily things worked out well for me, but it would have been helpful seeking advice before getting started.
“I would happily recommend my Financial Advisor Steven Rowe and his company Lucent Financial Planning to anyone. You have this image in your mind of what a financial adviser will be like – unapproachable, stuffy and serious. But the team at Lucent are great and you feel they have your best interest at heart. My experience has made me feel reassured because before meeting with them I didn’t know if I had enough money for retirement, whereas I now feel much more confident.”
Lucent Financial Planning is a Chartered financial advice firm located in Solihull, West Midlands, which specialises in retirement planning, pension transfers and investments. As an independent financial advice firm, Lucent only gets paid by the customer.
For more information please visit www.lucentfinancialplanning.co.uk, or alternatively contact them on 0121 705 1000.