Start-up stories: BearHugs Gifts

Start-up stories: BearHugs Gifts

Who wouldn’t want a job where they could declare themselves the ‘chief sender of hugs’? Meet Faye, who’s fashioned a business from a gift she received when she was ill…

Tell us about your business, what does it do?

BearHugs offers a range of ‘hug-in-a-box’ gift boxes designed to deliver all the warmth and comfort of a hug when you can't be there personally. BearHugs gift hampers, filled with treats, are packaged with care and reveal outstretched paws and a ‘Consider this a BearHug’ message on opening. Every BearHugs gift box can be perfectly tailored to the preferences of your loved one and sent directly to their doorstep with a personalised photo notecard. The items in BearHugs boxes are lovingly made by talented British independent makers.


What did you do before you started this business?

Before BearHugs I was a Speech and Language Therapist. I trained in Sheffield and worked in the Outer Hebrides.


What inspired you to start up?

There’s two parts to this story! The first part is that, while working as a Speech and Language Therapist, I fell seriously ill and had to leave my job. I needed to create a way to work that was on my own terms and allowed me to work around my health. In terms of BearHugs specifically, I was inspired by a friend of mine. When I was feeling particularly poorly, she sent me a care package full of specifically-chosen items designed to brighten my day. I saw the impact that these acts of kindness can have first-hand and wanted to try and create a way to help others do the same.


Where do you get advice, support or help?

The Prince’s Trust helped me when I was first getting started. I had regular meetings with my mentor, Greg, and he was always willing to listen to any questions or problems I might have. I’ve also tried to keep in touch with people who are doing things in a way I admire so that I can ask them for help if I needed. University of Sheffield Enterprise have been really helpful too- offering guidance and sign-posting to people who can help with more specific queries.  I also share an office space with Ruth Bright of Bright Futures – and I find bouncing my ideas and problems off her each day incredibly helpful!


Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?

After completing The Prince’s Trust enterprise programme, I was given a £500 pound grant to buy some initial materials to help with prototyping. A year later, I won a £5000 grant from the University of Sheffield and Santander. Aside from that, since the very beginning, I’ve had to try and scale things up organically.


What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Winning the Duke of York Young Entrepeneur Award felt like a huge achievement. On a personal level, I feel really proud of the staff I’ve brought on to be part of Team BearHugs. They couldn’t be more talented and lovely. As a team we are particularly proud of the relationship we have forged with the charity PostPals, where for every 50 BearHugs sold we send a special BearHugs box to a poorly child or their sibling.


How do you differentiate your business from others?

We have a really personal relationship with our customers. BearHugs are often sent in sensitive situations and we pride ourselves on making sure both the senders and recipients of BearHugs boxes feel they have been treated kindly and appropriately. We receive a lot of emails from customers about the service we provide and we don’t take that for granted.

Not only that, but in addition to a whole bunch of unique items made specifically for BearHugs, we also have our bespoke BearHugs box design, with outstretched paws upon opening the box!


What’s it like to be your own boss?

It’s great in the sense that, if it’s 11pm and I have an idea, I can be in the office working away until I’m done. On the downside, when it’s 11pm and I probably need to rest, there’s nobody tell me to stop working! It’s great being in charge of what direction your company moves in,


Where do you see your business in 5 years time?

It’s really important to me that BearHugs is able to offer part-time, flexible working opportunities to people living with chronic illness. That is something we’ve started offering but is something that I hope to pursue much more in the next five years. We are in the process of looking for another bigger office at the moment, so who knows what size place we will be in in five years!


What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

I would say that it’s about being comfortable with finding your own way to do things. There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of advice to give, and it’s good to hear and take on board, but you can’t be too hard on yourself for not doing everything the way other people think you should. It’s about finding your own path to be able to achieve what you want to achieve.


Why did you enter the BQ Emerging Entrepreneur Awards?

A lovely friend of mine, Jill White, who is a wonderful champions for young entrepreneurs recommended I apply.


What would it mean to you to win an award?

It would mean a huge amount to win this award, there are so many incredible entrepreneurs across the UK and to have the work I have done at BearHugs be recognised among them would be amazing.