Money makers: a teddy bear start-up

Charlie Morris turned adversity into a thriving business designing and making teddy bears.


Will and Charlie Morris sold 15,000 teddy bears in their first year
(Image credit: im Wileman)

Charlie Morris's hopes of becoming a ballerina were dashedwhen she was caught up in the 1987 King's Cross Tubestation fire she was hospitalised and ended up with a heartmurmur. Her foster parents instead helped her set up ashop selling teddy bears. One day in 2000, Will walked intoher shop looking for a present for his mother, who was ill inhospital. Three years later, they were married. In 2006, Charlieand Will sold their car and three-bedroom house in Leedsand, with £60,000 in seed capital, they moved to Devon soCharlie could start designing her own "Charlie Bears".

"We put money aside for rent and lived on beans on toast for a year," Will tells Laura Onita in The Sunday Times. Thegamble paid off. Together, they sold 15,000 bears in their first year, generating sales of £138,000. Ten years on, and nowbased in Cornwall, the business posted pre-tax profits of £1mon sales of £7.6m, selling a quarter of a million cuddly toysmade in Thailand and Sri Lanka to customers in 37 countries."If you believe in your product, others will too," says Will.Charlie warns aspiring entrepreneurs to be "fully aware thatyou are going to eat, sleep and breathe the business".

Hands-on approach makes a fine gin

Making Dunnet Bay Distillers' signature vodka and gin in Britain's northernmost distillery has its challenges. The temperature can drop to minus 7C, so co-founder Martin Murray has to be careful that the alcohol doesn't become "too louche or hazy", says Matthew Caines in The Sunday Telegraph. "I have to be very hands-on," says Murray. "I'm next to the still throughout most of the distillation, keeping an eye on things and doing regular tastings."

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Luckily, he rarely has to worry about the weather getting too warm. "But where Murray lacks a tan, he does have access to some strong local ingredients," such as roseroot used in its Rock Rose Gin, says Caines. After ten years in the oil industry, Murray, with his wife, Claire, produced their first batch of gin in 2014, which sold out in 48 hours. Pictures of the "striking" white, ceramic bottles began to circulate on social media.

Last year to the end of July, Dunnet Bay turned over £1.2m; a visitors' centre and shop are planned. Being listed on the North Coast 500 a 516-mile cycle route around the north coast helps, says Murray. "We get more people in every day than we could ever imagine. So, we now need a proper shop, because the current one is a bookcase in our office."

Give the workers a stake in the outcome

"There are three basic conditions if you want to work for Jack Stack, and they go for everybody from senior executives down to the people who clean his company's bathrooms," says Peter Carbonara in Forbes. You have to learn how to read the company's financials, be a team-worker, and get into the habit of asking, "what could go wrong"?

Missouri-based vehicle-components remanufacturer, SRC Holdings is a pioneer in "open book management" that is, opening the books to its staff, who are also co-owners in the business. Last year, SRC booked $16m in profits on $532m in sales to customers such as General Motors and John Deere. If you had been able to invest $1,000 in 1983, the year Stack co-founded SRC, your shares would be worth around $4m today, says Carbonara.

But back then, the future of the business looked far from certain after Stack led a management buy-out to save the ailing firm. Involving the employees led to greater trust and innovation, and the model proved so successful that Stack penned two books on the subject: The Great Game Of Business and A Stake In The Outcome. After all, says Stack, now aged 68, "nobody knows the job better than the guy who is doing it".


The modern-day Kerouacs making their fortune on the road

Five years ago, Emily King and Corey Smith, a couple now in their early 30s, bought a 1987 Volkswagen camper van for $3,500 in upstate New York, gave away their business-casual clothes and sold their car. Their plan was to hit the open road, but King's attachment to social media worried Smith. He feared it would detract from the "hippy" experience.

King, a web developer, harboured no such angst. Having just got back from Central America with Smith, she set up social media accounts to document their travels. "The business part of me knew there was potential," she tells Rachel Monroe in The New Yorker. King and Smith were embarking on a career as "vanlifers".

The concept of "vanlife" arose the year before when New Yorker Foster Huntington quit his job to tour the Californian coast in a 1987 VW Syncro, spending his days surfing, exploring and taking pictures. These pictures he uploaded to photo-sharing site Instagram, which was then still in its infancy. Huntington soon garnered a million followers, who admired his bohemian-lifestyle images. In 2012, King and Smith met Huntington in Central America, who suggested they become vanlifers too.

Corporate sponsors pay King and Smith, who they consider to be "microinfluencers", between $500 and $1,500 to display their products in their photos, seen as aspirational by their followers. Top influencers are paid "tens of thousands", but King and Smith aren't there yet, says Monroe.

Still, last year they made $18,000. Their most successful post received over 8,000 "likes". "In the image, the back seat of the van is folded down into a bed; King faces away from the camera, holding a sheet to her chest, her hair cascading down her naked back." "People really want to see beautiful locations," says King of their photos. "They want to see Emily in a bikini," adds Smith. "They want to see a sun flare, they want to see the van. [But] ones of Emily in the van waking up with [their dog] Penny, they crush it."

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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