The Curtain Studio

Drapery business draws on the skills of Superfast Business

The business

The Curtain Studio is an established family-run business which specialises in making bespoke, hand-sewn curtains, blinds and soft furnishings. Based in Compton, South Devon, the company has built a discerning retail and commercial client base in the 25 years since it was established.

As well as private property owners, many of these customers are hoteliers and holiday-let businesses – an important factor in The Curtain Studio’s trading cycle, as it creates peak demand for the company’s services and products in spring and October, when clients are refurbishing their properties ahead of the all-important holiday seasons.

The Curtain Studio has acquired a strong reputation for the quality of its tailored soft-furnishing service, which ranges from initial consultation and measurement to final fitting. It also offers an upholstery and re-covering service.

In 2012, Kirk Timms joined his wife Marion as a partner in the business, following his retirement from a career in sales and marketing.

“We felt that the business had reached a kind of plateau, and that if I came in there was an opportunity to develop it slowly, at our own pace,” he says. By mid-2013, the company’s client-base had grown to almost 400, mainly on the strength of traditional, print-based marketing campaigns, mailshots and word-of-mouth recommendations.

The opportunity

While the company had previously toyed with the idea of a website, and even got as far as approaching a web designer, its digital presence was practically non-existent. Kirk says that with the business ticking over nicely, there had been enough to keep it occupied on a day-to-day basis.

However, two things brought about a sea-change in its approach to the web:  a growing feeling that The Curtain Studio had reached saturation with its existing customer base, and should look for ways to pursue moderate growth in a wider market; and discovering the existence of the Superfast Business advice programme at a networking event, which swiftly led to a meeting with a business adviser.

“That initial meeting immediately opened our eyes to how we could be using a digital strategy in the business,” says Kirk. “We resurrected some ideas that we had set aside a couple of years earlier. We aren’t technocrats at all, and it was exciting to be able to pinpoint how the business would benefit from higher broadband speeds and developing a web presence.”

Following the meeting, which included an on-site diagnostic and established the company’s eligibility to join the programme, the Superfast Business adviser drew up a support plan which included putting The Curtain Studio in touch with a web design expert, and attending an event about the business benefits of high-speed broadband .

“That first meeting really introduced us to more ways in which we could use new digital technologies to develop our business,” says Kirk. “Once we’d established that we qualified for the programme, the opportunities opened up: the more input you can get from experts, the better. And we could see that we would be getting the best advice to develop an online marketing strategy in an economical way.”

The solution

As part of the support plan, it was agreed that The Curtain Studio would initially develop its website with the designer it had previously approached. Kirk liked their ideas for a visual approach – vital for an image-led business – and felt they had already established a strong creative relationship.

Once the site was up and running, Superfast Business and its independent web design expert would return to help the company explore ways in which depth could be added, and develop a strategy for hands-on operation – including a plan to exploit the untapped world of social media. This eventually evolved through a series of one-to-one meetings with both adviser and expert.

“Once we’d made the decision to go digital, the business got busy!” says Kirk. “The support plan gave us a focus on how our business could move into the electronic world, and it was extremely helpful to have Superfast Business in the background all the way, briefing us on what we should be asking our web designer to do and getting us to bat the ball back and forth until we were happy. Their advice was excellent.”

The site went live in January 2014. The Curtain Studio was very happy with it and at a further meeting, the Superfast Business adviser was sufficiently impressed to make a new set of recommendations based on optimisation for social media, after which the company embarked on a Facebook-based marketing strategy.

“That was a whirlwind afternoon for us in terms of the ideas he was coming up with,” Kirk recalls. “Our heads were buzzing, in a good way. We have never been social media users so it was a daunting prospect. But our adviser was so knowledgeable. His expertise was extremely valuable for us.”

Business benefits

Kirk says it is still early days to establish the volume of new business being delivered by its first journey into social media – but he is confident that the digital strategy is already saving the company money.

“We’re still getting our online profile built up, but we have definitely had some enquiries through Facebook,” he says. “Customers can tell their friends and family about their experience with us, and make recommendations in ways that weren't possible before. And we’re working with our designer to incorporate Google Maps on our site, so that we can build our profile in our geographical area.

In spring, Kirk would traditionally be planning a traditional paper-based mailshot to The Curtain Studio’s customers, reminding them of its existence. Thanks to the business’s new web strategy, this is now something that can be done electronically, via email, at no cost. Kirk estimates this will save the company up to £500 per campaign.

What next?

Kirk says The Curtain Studio does not have massive ambitions for its web strategy. It is more about adding another channel to streamline an already successful business and top up its customer base, making it less reliant on seasonal repeat orders.

“As an SME, we have received fantastic support and expertise from the Superfast Business programme,” he says. “And it has been fully funded. We could easily have gone to an independent consultant, which would have cost us to begin with, who would have referred us to an expensive web designer, which would then have cost us thousands.

“There has been a lot of vital hand-holding and steering us in the right direction."

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