Gruff Vaughan tells the story behind Storm & Shelter, the Cardiff content production agency which spawned from a 200-mile charity walk back in 2012…
Tell us about Storm & Shelter – what does the company do?
Storm & Shelter is a content production company; a close-knit troupe of video production specialists who work together and collaborate with agencies, labels, brands and broadcasters to consult, create and deliver effective video content that’s politely stuffed into people’s eyes and ears.
We emerged together from the fiery embers of a number of stressful yet successful collaborative projects in 2013, and since starting the company, we haven’t looked back. Whilst our collective sense of humour may indeed be questionable, we like to think our work speaks for itself.
In the 3 years that we’ve been (professionally) arsing around with cameras, we’ve made friends with big brands like BT, H&M and Yamaha whilst helping them to communicate their messages to the world, had the pleasure of delivering TV and online campaigns for a plethora of businesses and charities, and stretched our creative muscles by crafting beautiful music videos with some crazy-talented signed and unsigned artists.
How did the company come about? What is the story behind the company?
Back in 2012, my father organised a 200-mile charity walk from North Wales to South Wales in aid of the Welsh Air Ambulance, bringing together a load of Welsh-language celebrities to complete the 25-mile-a-day challenge.
I was a freelance web developer and graphic designer at the time, so he roped me in as creative director to put together a brand and a website to push the campaign forward, and I also ended up being the photographer for the week, uploading around 300 photos per day to the campaign’s Facebook page. We raised around £75,000 in that week, so we decided to make it an annual thing!
The subsequent year, seeing as the social media content had gone down so well, I decided we needed to up our game and produce some video content for the event. I had so much on my plate that I had to pull a team together in order to get everything done.
I’d met Josh when we were both freelancing at a creative agency in Cardiff Bay. His passion for filmmaking was blindingly obvious as soon as I met him, so it was a no-brainer. Nick and I were on the same audio production course at USW.
So, I roped them in as freelancers and set them to work! We worked closely together in the run-up to that year’s event to produce a load of content to build some hype, so by the time it was upon us, we had some semblance of a workflow in order.
Covering the event itself meant filming from 6am until around 7pm, taking an hour or so for dinner, then jumping straight on the edit until 2am (including smashing out Welsh and English subtitles and graphics!) so that we could release a 5-minute highlights video of each day the very next morning.
We did this for eight days in a row, and managed not to kill each other, so we thought “Hey, why not do this as a thing?”, so we started a company. To pull off that type of project takes a certain mentality; one that we all just so happened to share.
Over 4 years of these charity events (that we continued to film!), we managed to raise over £400,000 for the Wales Air Ambulance as well as raising significant awareness of changes in organ donation rules in Wales, saving lives in the process. It’s something we all worked really bloody hard on, so I’m immensely proud of what we achieved.
Did you receive any support in terms of advice/funding? Just how beneficial was it if so?
We’ve always been aware of the support offered by the Welsh Government through Business Wales etc, but the biggest resource by far for us has always been the internet. There’s so much information available at your fingertips!
It baffles me when people don’t do as much Googling as physically possible when faced with the prospect of the unknown. I think being able to use search engines effectively to find exactly what you need is an underrated skill; one that’s crucial to master if you’re considering starting your own business.
Financially, we’ve twice received support from Finance Wales in the form of microloans, which allowed us to buy the equipment needed for us to increase the quality of our production output. They’ve always been great. They took a punt and offered us decent interest rates when the banks turned their noses.
Why did you choose to set up the business in Cardiff? What attracted you to the city?
Thankfully, the three of us were already living and working in Cardiff at the time and were able to use our friends, family and existing connections to support us through those initial stages of the business.
You’ll find most UK video production companies in London, but Cardiff is only a short 2-hour trip up the M4 and has much, much lower overheads in comparison, which is obviously crucial when you’re building a business from the ground up. I often use the phrase “London quality for Welsh prices” which always gets a giggle from the client. I won’t be adopting that as the company tagline just yet, though!
What is your USP? What differentiates you from other companies in your industry?
I think it’s the fact that we’re not afraid to inject some personality into what we do. Professionalism is important, sure, but so is sincerity. We’re a weird bunch of people and we tend not to hide that fact!
When you look at any of the content we put out on our social media, or if you come for a meeting with us to discuss a project, we’re entirely ourselves and it’s obvious that we love what we do. I really think that makes the difference.
Why do you think Cardiff’s creative sector is growing so rapidly at the moment? What makes it such a great place for creative businesses to start and grow?
Collaboration has been a very strong undercurrent to Storm & Shelter’s success as a business. We’ve always cosied up to talented people around us, sharing our skills and our passion to create some of our best work. I think Cardiff is one of those places where people love to share and collaborate, and with the talent coming out of the local universities, it’s a hotbed of creative potential.
Just how much has the company grown since its launch?
We started the company as a trio working around a tiny desk in Josh’s bedroom. We put in a £7,000 personal investment which went towards buying our first professional camera, and from there we’ve grown organically, almost exclusively by word of mouth and referrals from our clients.
People seem to really enjoy working with us! We’ve since outgrown two offices and have just hired our seventh member of staff, including our new creative director, Jess, who gave up a job at Red Bull in Austria to come back to Cardiff to join us.
Our turnover has grown year-on-year—we’re on course to smash through that quarter of a million mark by the end of our current financial year. I can distinctly remember the smell of Josh’s dirty laundry during those first few months in his bedroom, so to be talking these kinds of numbers just a few years on makes me really proud of the effort we’ve all put in to get to this point.
Looking forward, what are your plans for the company?
We’ve got no interest in slowing down. We’re all in this for the long-term. We want to become one of the leading content production companies in the UK, if not the world, so there’s going to be a lot of hard work involved. We’re truly relishing the challenge.
Finally, if you could give three nuggets of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, what would they be?