Siobhan Lam, founder of April and The Bear.
It has always been a personal view of mine that the best businesses come from solving a problem. Making peoples lives easier. Amazon for example, I know when I’m looking for a book, it takes me all of 60 seconds to shop and purchase, and voilá a few days later its’ at my door. No more searching endlessly in book shops. Problem solved. Siobhan Lam had a problem three years ago when she purchased her first property. Finding affordable, cool, stylish product for her home was tricky. So with her background in fashion buying she embarked on setting up April & the Bear. An online interiors site stocking lots of original, fun, beautiful home-wares. Here Siobhan talks to House Edit about inspirational woman in business, the importance of supporting one another and not taking yourself too seriously.
You set up April & the Bear nearly three years ago now. Can you tell us how the idea came about?
My business started three years ago and at the time I had just bought my first house. The house was very poorly decorated and was in fact three bedsits. It didn’t look like a great property, but the size was good and their was plenty of potential. But this meant that we had to readjust, because we weren’t expecting to buy a do’er up’er. My husband & I both had full time jobs and didn’t really expect to be doing DIY for the next few years. So it meant a lot of work, a lot of research, and for me personally, I had always loved interiors. At the time it was very difficult to find key pieces that we wanted to put in the house. We didn’t want to fill it with generic stuff.
Working as a fashion buyer for Arnotts, on trips abroad I would always see fantastic interior stores in Berlin & London and I’d wonder why we didn’t have that option here. So basically the idea for April & The Bear came from a necessity. I wanted to fill up my home with pieces that were beautiful, unique and also affordable. We didn’t have a huge budget and of course there are brands out there that have stunning products, but with stunning price tags also. So that’s how the business started. I started blogging about our DIY exploits, which people really reacted well to. I think a lot of people around my age were doing kind of the same thing, or had the idea to do something similar. So they were really invested in the blog, and then when we launched the shop, it kind of very slowly took off. People really embraced it and Irish press were very kind to us. They featured a lot of our products. It’s so important to us, because without the support of Irish press, people wouldn’t find us and we wouldn’t be where we are now.
2. As well as your online shop, you also offer a consultancy service. how did the interior consultancy come about and how do you juggle the two?
A client asked if I would have a look at her house, it was a dream job, we had very similar style and aesthetic. She loved the pieces that I suggested and from there she referred me to some of her friends & family and other work then started to come my way. It’s kind of taken off in a great way. Our service is unique in that it is very affordable. When we meet with clients we talk about interiors that they love, I then go away and create a mood board for them. Once we agree the direction the house is going to go in, I go away and create a mood board for each room. I then compile a shopping list and hand everything over to the client and they then do all the shopping themselves. I think what clients really like, is that they don’t have to spend so much money straight away. They can decide them selves when it suits them. For the visual aspect, we tell them where to place the furniture, all the colour palettes, the curtains, everything. Essentially they just shop and put it where we say, which makes it a very simple process. So in terms of juggling the shop and the interior consultancy, April and the Bear is an online entity only which is fantastic. There are certain days where it is quite tricky, you might have deadlines with clients, but also lots of orders might come in, but generally it’s good in terms of balancing it.
3. What is April & the Bears USP and what differentiates you from other online retailers?
USP: We don’t take our selves too seriously, we like to tell stories and name our art prints. I’m a big believer in terms of interiors in surrounding yourself with things that you love. We buy every single product with love and a huge amount of attention and also with a light hearted fun factor. We stock these amazing animal sculptures. It’s that kind of fun element we never want to loose sight of. Interiors can be very serious and beautiful and very expensive, but for me it’s really important to remember it’s fun. You should definitely never get stressed out over what colour to paint the wall. Have fun with it, play, paint is temporary.
4. Since opening your own business, what has been your biggest learning curve?
One of the things that really surprised me when I opened was the support from other female entrepreneurs. I was so overwhelmed by how wonderful so many people were in terms of telling their friends or a simple post on Instagram can be incredibly effective. So at the beginning it was so fantastic to get that level of support from certain people.
5. When you were embarking on your new business, what was the best piece of advice that you were given?
My mum & dad are both entrepreneurs so I really admire them, and my mum in particular. Mum is very strong, and really encouraged me when starting April and the Bear, but always says trust your gut and believe in yourself.
6. Your biggest inspiration?
My Mum, definitely but I adore strong woman. I have a Pinterest board of inspirational woman! Net a porter founder Natalie Massenet is a huge inspiration of mine. I think she’s incredible. Creative director of J CREW Jenna Lyons, Stella McCartney, Tina Fay. I just think woman that do something a little bit different, who are very talented and not afraid to show that are hugely inspirational.
7. Your favourite ‘App’ ?
Instagram for business and pleasure. Personally I am a very visual person, it’s something I respond to. For the kind of business that I have it’s definitely the best way to speak to your customers and to people that follow your brand. It’s instantaneous, people don’t have to read text and I really feel like Instagram depicts a true version of your business.
8. What has been the most difficult aspect of being your own boss and equally the most rewarding?
I do find it very difficult to switch off especially with the online store. I don’t know if it only applies to online entities any more because we live in a very media savvy world. Everyone expects constant interaction with you. People buy things late at night, I do myself, so you are instantly notified. Your social media needs to be on all the time including the weekends. I think as-well the uncertainty of working for yourself. You might have quieter periods, then incredibly busy periods, but it’s just those moments, when you’re thinking what’s lined for the next week, can be quite daunting.
9. What advice would you have for other woman who might be thinking about starting their own business?
You need to think about your lifestyle and the risks, but also think about what’s the worst that can happen. You may loose a small investment initially, but at least you tried. The other thing I would say is to speak to people. Speak to other woman in business that you know are in a similar industry to you or reach out to people that you admire. I have received so many emails from woman who are thinking about starting their own business, saying hey, I like your brand, could you give some advice on x, y and z. I’m always happy to get back to them, because we need to support each other, woman need to support each other. That’s something I would definitely recommend and join a business network, like Woman in Business. I found it to be really good in terms of meeting other people like me, not necessarily the same industry, but people who are determined to go there own route. It introduced me to some really great people like Jennie McGinn from OPSH and Chupi the jeweller who were so helpful.
You can find out more about Siobhan & her business April and the Bear here.