Its satchels are in eight windows at Bloomingdales and selling in Saks Fifth Avenue. It broke sales of $400,000 in the US in February. Not bad for a company started by an anxious mother with £600 collateral from a ‘factory’ otherwise known as her kitchen table!There are no airs and graces from Cambridge University alumna Julie Deane – also a chartered accountant – who started The Cambridge Satchel Company enterprise in 2007 when her daughter was being bullied at school. She needed to fund a private education and came up with the idea of creating the kind of satchel Harry Potter and Hermione might use at Hogwarts.
Fast forward four and a bit years and the magic endures. The UK company’s sales in January 2011 topped £200k per month; by December that had risen to £1m a month – and February saw the £1.5m landmark being passed.
Deane says that when Urban Outfitters called to ask if they could visit and if the company had a London showroom she told them: “No – but we have a kitchen table in Fen Ditton and you’re welcome to come for a cup of tea.”
Astute use of social media and international networking and a ballsy approach to cajoling free promotion and publicity out of well targeted contacts have maintained a frugal ‘every penny counts’ approach to growing the business. It has also won the company a lot of friends in high places. China could be the next major market to fall as the company pushes into Beijing.
Now Bloomingdales is using its own contacts to push the Cambridge satchels into territories such as Kuwait and Dubai to add Middle East penetration to the recipe started at the Cambridgeshire kitchen table.
“The whole enterprise has just sky-rocketed and we have had a lot of fun along the way,” said Deane.
One of the most illuminating moments came during New York Fashion Week. Deane had decided a nice new range of fluorescent satchels would sell well and used her powers of persuasion with guests in the front row to carry the accessories.
“When the lights went down and the photographer’s cameras started flashing all you could see in the front row was our satchels.”
• Julie Deane was named Businesswoman of the Year 2010 in the Cambridge News Excellence Awards and last year the company won Small Business of the Year in the same competition.
Award winning success stories
Business Weekly and the Cambridge News are collaborating on a week of celebration for local business, the highlights of which are the respective Awards ceremonies. Business Weekly’s is at Queens’ College on Tuesday, March 20 and the Cambridge News Business Excellence Awards two nights later at King’s. Both are sold out. Over the next week, writers from both media will be focusing on past winners and how they have fared since their Awards successes.