If We Can You Can: Alex Muller-Nicholson of Rosarts

If We Can You Can: Alex Muller-Nicholson of Rosarts

With less than two weeks left to apply for If We Can You Can, BQ meets another of this year's entrants, Alex Muller-Nicholson, to talk about her business and what inspires her.

What did you do before setting up your business? 

I used to be a primary school teacher – I’ve always loved working with children and helping them learn. I then spent a couple of years looking after my little girl after she was born before launching Rosarts in 2015.

 

What inspired you to set up your business?

Two things really. In 2013 I lost my father and had my daughter within a matter of months. I was seven months pregnant and my Dad was at home unwell, but I never really knew how unwell he was until it happened. The last conversation I actually had with my Dad was a conversation along the lines of “do something you love with your life Alex, you only get one crack at it so just go out there and do whatever you want to.”

We’d been talking about how he’d had such an interesting life and how I felt trapped in my teaching career and about to have a baby – I felt really stuck in my circumstances. After he died, and I then had a newborn baby to contend with, I turned back to painting, writing and drawing as it was something I had always loved to do. This time it really helped me through that tough part of my life. I remembered that conversation as I continued to paint and write, and realising that it was something I really loved, decided to walk away from teaching and create my own business following a passion I’ve always had.

It was a scary decision, but I knew if I didn’t do it then, I would never do it at all. I began to turn my ideas into a product, and people seemed to really love the personal, meaningful touches that I incorporated into the prints as I began to introduce them to the public. My dad and my little girl were the inspiration for me setting up Rosarts; when I’m older, I want her to have that same conversation with me, and know that I did something with my life that I loved, and that I tried my best to follow my dream through hard work and the courage to give it a go.

 

What makes this business different?

The core concept behind my business is that customers engage more with a product that’s meaningful to them. I strive to deliver value to my customers on a deeper level. My ‘storified art’ prints bring stories and artwork together to create unique, personal and interesting prints that stand out in the sea of generic artwork gifts. My work tells the stories of customers’ life experiences. We all have a story, and that should be celebrated! Customers have told me that the prints I’ve made them have been the best gifts they’d ever received, because both the story and artwork was relevant, meaningful and struck a real chord within their families. I believe that there’s a real opportunity to add meaning to the personalised product market – my customers so far have given incredibly positive feedback and I think also that through engaging with me as the business owner and artist, they feel like they’ve been able to take part in the creative process too, which I believe customers are increasingly keen to do now.

 

What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?

I’ve been hiding behind my business for this whole first year. I’m not really a ‘business’ person – I have no prior business experience or training – I’m just an ex-teacher and a mum from Hartlepool! It’s time to change the perception I have of myself. I entered the If We Can You Can Challenge because it’s an amazing opportunity, but also because I want to show myself (and my Dad) that I can do this, that I am doing this. I can create and run a business, it’s just having the drive and the support and the courage to give it a go. I want to prove to myself and my family that if you work hard, learn and seek out opportunity, then you can make your passion into a reality. I love my work, and I love what I’m learning about business through just doing it, and I’m really hoping to continue to build Rosarts into something bigger.

 

Where do you see your business in three years’ time?

Ideally, I’ll be operating from my own premises – at the moment I work mainly from home which isn’t always easy. I’d love to have my own space to produce my prints in-house in order to work in larger quantities. Hopefully I’ll be working with a retailer too at that point with my product being more widely available to the market than it currently is. Also I’d like to be in a position to have taken on a couple of members of staff so that I can grow my team and be able to expand my school workshops project, which is currently in its initial phase.

 

What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?

The most rewarding part of my journey so far is the feedback that I’ve been given from my customers. They really take the time to get in touch with me and tell me how much they love their artwork, how they really appreciate the effort that’s gone into it to make it personal and meaningful. I love to know I’ve made something that’s made a difference to them, and that they really value the product I’m trying to make everyone aware of! I did my first ever school workshop last week and afterwards parents sought me out on Facebook to send messages of appreciation and encouragement for the work I’d done with their children – that’s the best kind of reward. It pushes me to keep going to know that people believe in what I’m doing and that it’s not just an idea that only I think is good.

 

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is getting comfortable with the uncertainty and adjusting to the financial changes running a start-up business brings. It’s a big change going from a salaried position with a steady income each month to working for yourself and not always being able to guarantee that financial security. It can be tough, but I never expected this to be an easy ride. I believe in my product and I’m determined to take the rough with the smooth – if you’re starting a business from scratch I think you have to be prepared to adjust and cut your cloth accordingly. The lean model applies to all walks of my life now! It is do-able, but you definitely need to be ready for that challenge, because it’s a real one.

 

Who/what gave you support or advice?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be taken on as a chiclet in the Entrepreneurial Spark programme in Newcastle, and my enabler Melissa has been really supportive and given me lots of advice, along with Clare, Carl and all the other Entrepreneurial Spark and NatWest team. They’re really motivational and help me to see things in a way that I probably wouldn’t do if I was just on my own at home all the time so having that support in place is invaluable as I learn how to push forward with my business each day.

 

What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?

If you love what you do and you think others will too, then just do it. Give it a go, but do all your homework first and make sure you’re ready for the challenges, because it’s not an easy ride. It’s challenging but worth it. Seek out the help you need from the brilliant resources we have here in the north east and just give it your best go, because if you have that idea and you do nothing with it, you’ll regret that 100 times more than if you try it and it bombs. Learn as much as you can and then just go for it!

 

The If We Can You Can Challenge is a competition that recognises and celebrates the best of the North East’s 0-3 year old businesses. 

The competition is now open to all pre-start business ideas or start-ups established in the North East, regardless of the business leader’s age or experience.

For information on how to apply, the competition and its benefits please visitwww.ifwecanyoucan.co.uk Deadline for entries is 16th of October 2016.