Life After Gray’s – Cari & Co
A love for the style of the Victorian era inspired one Gray’s School of Art graduate to set up a unique business in the north-east.
Carolyn Murdoch, who graduated from the Textiles and Surface Design course at Gray’s in 2013, opened Cari & Co in Bieldside in December that year and recently celebrated one year of running her own business.
Initially intending to open a fabric and haberdashery store, Carolyn felt that the premises lent themselves to something more and decided to add a tearoom element to the venture.
She explained: “I spent my final year at university studying the aesthetic – or late Victorian – period and became very interested in the decor wallpaper, prints and ceramics of this time.
“Just as I was leaving Gray’s School of Art, I noticed a shop about to close near my house in Bieldside, and after investigating found I could rent the premises.
“My intention was to open a fabric and haberdashery store but as the shop included two rooms, a kitchen and bathroom, in a moment of madness I decided Cari & Co would also incorporate a Victorian Tearoom – with the added attraction of holding Victorian children’s craft parties, adult sewing classes and private tea parties.”
Although Carolyn focused on textiles during her time at university, she took advantage of the opportunity to try other mediums and in her final year I became particularly interested in ceramics.
“That knowledge it has helped me to be able to brand my own crockery and sculpt special one off pieces that have been sold through the tearoom,” she said.
Talking about the challenges she has come across since running the enterprise, Carolyn said: “There have been many! I had absolutely no experience of running a café before setting up Cari & Co – I had never ever baked one cake in my life let alone decorated one, but through sheer hard work and dedication I feel that the first year has been a success.
“We have been chosen as a finalist in Trend magazine’s new business of the year award and our comments book is filled with praise and delightful comments.
“The best part of having your own company is being your own boss but I love the interaction and ideas from other members of staff and realising I can design and make anything I want to. Also, engaging with new people and existing customers. The worst part is coping with the paperwork and VAT.”
Talking about what advice she would pass on to other graduates thinking of starting up their own business she said: “I think lots of students have their own ideas but it is much harder than you think to get the thing off the ground.
“Every business needs sales and I think that’s what people don’t always realise. It all takes time and that needs to be accounted for in your business plan as you could potentially face weeks of no sales when you start“
“Think carefully before starting and do some market research. Make sure, if it’s a shop, the premises are in a good catchment area. Decide on something that is a bit unusual and hasn’t been done before or, even better, try to start up a business where no stock is needed and it’s your own expertise that is required.
“Be aware of your start-up costs as inevitably there will be something you have forgotten to factor into your business plan. Seek advice from organisations such as Business Gateway, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE) or your bank and speak to other new business start-ups to find out about their experiences.
“I first became involved with SIE while at university and have found their support very beneficial – I can’t speak highly enough of the SIE.”
Communications Officer | Design and Technology