When it comes to design, people have distinct tastes, which makes it difficult for retailers to accommodate. So when a customer is looking for decorative, ornamental objects – especially for big events – it’s not always easy for them to find exactly what they are looking for. Retailers produce thousands of designs to try and accommodate as many tastes as possible, and as a result, competition is at an all time high.
So how does a design outlet stand out from the crowd at such a competitive time? One option is with original, bespoke design. When a customer chooses bespoke, they are choosing unique. This can be beneficial for the design outlet as it can give them a competitive edge over others in the industry, offering something that is unlike other, similar products.
This was why Dominic and Helen Sharland started their own bespoke stationery and accessories design brand in the mid-2000s. We spoke to Dominic, Cutture’s CEO and Co-founder to find out more about their journey and road to success.
Let’s start by describing in your words what your company is and what it does?
Our company is Cutture (http://www.cutture.com), founded by myself and my wife, Helen. We specialise in laser cut, hand-finished stationery and accessories for events and weddings. We have a bespoke service where we design and produce unique pieces, and we offer pre-designed wedding stationery, which is ready to purchase immediately. We also operate Laser Bureau by Cutture, a laser-cutting service for the print industry.
What do you think makes it distinct to any other companies – what’s its USP?
We are one of the few companies in the UK to have a Motioncutter, that’s our laser cutter. This enables us to produce intricate, high quality laser cut stationery – combine that with the exceptional talents of our designers and this results in our USP; unique pieces that, whenever possible, exceed client expectations.
What is your personal background?
Helen and I met at University, where we were both studying interior architecture. When we graduated, the UK was in recession and few companies were hiring, so we both worked as freelancers initially. Helen began working at Allies and Morrison architects within their model making department and I too worked for the firm. It was here we trained as professional model makers. Alongside this work we decided to set up our own interior architecture company. The business really took off, so I continued to run it, with Helen becoming part time in her job to help fund the start-up. By 2006 we had two separate companies having also developed a model-making service for local architects and we were now full time on the businesses, with another partner.
What inspired you to start the company?
In 2006, we decided to buy a Universal laser cutter to help with the model-making and started to see other possibilities. We experimented with graphic design and laser cutting and began producing bespoke stationery, taking images or places from people’s lives and recreating them via illustration and laser cutting. The reaction was fantastic. Things developed from there into what Cutture is today and, as we invested in more laser cutters, we also started laser cutting and finishing for print businesses. Cutture was born and we’ve not looked back.
What is the story of the company from launch until now? How big is the company now?
From then until now we opened a London studio, then as we bought more machines, in 2016 we opened a production facility in Bedfordshire. The company has grown from just the two of us to a team of eight full time staff, plus an army of freelancers. And from humble beginnings, our client list now includes Harrods and Ferrari, plus we have worked in partnership with luxury brands, such as shoe-designer Emmy London with whom we recently launched a range of wedding stationery.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your company?
Opening our production facility was challenging but obviously a hugely exciting and landmark moment for the business. We had to find the right premises for the right price, fit out the facility, recruit a production manager locally, keep the regular work going, seek new work to fit the expansion and move our family out of London and into Bedfordshire, all in a fairly short time-frame!
What’s your biggest milestone/ which are you most proud of?
Gaining investment was a huge moment for us. It allowed us to develop Cutture as we wanted to, but also demonstrated that our belief in the business was shared by others.
What is your business model? How have you monetised your product?
Due to the nature of our work being entirely bespoke, it did take a few years to really monetise the product. As we design and manufacture in house, it was all too easy to apply lots of processes to our work but doing this would make it difficult to make money. We already valued the design time from our previous company and have been very strict on not offering free pitching from the beginning, however it took a while to monetise the production process. After a huge amount of number crunching we made the decision this really was a high-end product with multiple print processes and short print runs and therefore had to be in the luxury price bracket. So now we have a model which is priced in a bespoke fashion according to design and print spec, and it works. It helps that we have great relationships with our suppliers and obviously work with them to get the best costs for our clients too which all helps in making a bespoke business viable.
What’s the next step for growth – is the intention to grow the business independently, or look for an exit via acquisition or similar?
We are independently growing the business and will continue to do so whilst we enter the second phase of funding.
Will you be looking for more funding?
We are always exploring funding opportunities, there are many options out there at the moment which require campaigns to be built, if the right opportunity works for our brand we will always be open to this.