Taking a step back from the huge silver garland surrounding her front door, Sophie Marriott breathed a sigh of relief.
The 29-year-old, from Grays, Essex, had spent two days creating her bespoke festive archway — complete with spray-painted metallic fir branches, 40 white baubles and a scattering of Instagrammable snowflakes, glittery pine cones and fairy lights.
Within minutes, she was inundated with enquiries from customers willing to fork out £1k for their own custom garlands — and Sophie ended up having to delete the post as it was getting too much attention.
“It’s gone absolutely crazy,” Sophie confessed. “People are going all-out this year because of the disappointment of 2020. We’ve already made £10k from the garlands and are struggling to keep up with demand for our £50 handmade wreaths.”
The stunning creation is a far-cry from the modest organza bows that kickstarted her decor company five years ago.
After leaving school at 16, Sophie completed a business management apprenticeship at an accountancy firm in Basildon — where she worked for seven years.
“I always knew I wanted to have my own business,” she said. “Back then, I was just making bows as a hobby. I’d see something I liked on Pinterest and recreate it with cheap ribbons I’d buy from wholesalers like Holstens. It was just for me and I was making it up as I went along.
In 2016, Sophie welcomed her son Alfie with now-husband Lloyd, 32, who she’s been with since she was 14.
In order to make some extra money ahead of the festive season, Sophie started selling her door ribbons around her local area by sharing her products on Facebook and attending a local Christmas fayre.
She explained: “I charged £30 to make and install them. I bought the organza and lights for £5 each from wholesale. The door bows were £30 so I was making a profit of £20.”
That first year, Sophie sold 30 door bows, which brought home £600.
Chuffed with how well they’d gone down, Sophie began researching how she could branch out into wedding decorations.
According to Hitched, the UK wedding industry is worth £10 billion and the average couple spends £885 on stationery and decorations.
Sophie used £25k of the inheritance money her grandparents had left her in their will to launch her business properly.
She spent £4k on a professional website designer and £1k on a Corel Draw software programme, which allowed her to design her own logo and leaflets. The vast majority of her investment went on the decorations themselves.
She added: “At the start, we were spending about £1,000 every month depending on what clients asked for.”
In order to get the word out, Sophie attended fairs through Main Wedding Event Shows, which travels around Essex, Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Kent, Oxfordshire and Suffolk.
She explained: “The first wedding we did was at the Old Rectory in Laindon. We started out really small with chair covers and sashes. We would have got a few hundred pounds for it but I knew straight away that I wanted to stay working in this industry.”
As the months passed, Sophie started getting clients mostly through word of mouth – and in December 2018, she moved into her first warehouse in Wickford.
“It’s 1200sqft and I never dreamed we’d fill it as quickly as we have,” she said. “We have 15 different types of centrepieces and flower arches. We also have photo booths, sweet carts and bespoke mirrors.
“Using Corel Design, I create logos for couples’ weddings and laser-cut their place names, too.
“Next year, I’ve got a wedding down in Exeter where the bride has spent £10,000 on our most expensive package.
“She’s paying for me and four members of my staff to go down there and stay in a hotel and set it all up. Then we’ll travel back up and do another wedding the next day.”
This year alone, Sophie and her team have decorated 350 weddings and turned over £170k — which takes the company’s overall turnover to £311k.
As the business has expanded so quickly, Sophie no longer has to rely on wholesalers and instead imports her decorations herself abroad — and currently has £250k worth of stock in the warehouse.
That said, it hasn’t been all smooth-sailing and COVID threatened to put an end to the business entirely.
Sophie is just one in 400,000 people who work in the wedding industry, who found their income frozen overnight.
In December 2020, it was estimated that the sector had lost £430m as a result of cancelled and postponed weddings.
“The pandemic brought everything to a standstill,” Sophie said. “We ended up turning over just £15k in lockdown. We were relying on Lloyd’s income and the government grant covered the rent on the warehouse.
“I ended up having to get a £35k bounceback loan which I’m now stuck with for six years and most of that was spent refunding people. I didn’t want to hold back deposits because I felt for the people as their events couldn’t go ahead.”
Although Christmas decorations are normally a big source of income for the company, Sophie says sales rapidly declined in 2020 as they were unable to go to markets and fairs.
She recalled: “Last year, we probably made £1,000 on Christmas decor.
“We tried selling some on Etsy but we didn’t get many orders as it’s quite pricey for what customers wanted to pay online.”
However, the pandemic did inspire Sophie and her manager Cheryl to come up with a new source of festive income in the form of igloos.
“One of my brides wanted one for her wedding,” Sophie said. “We got the sense that people just wanted to experience something different.”
Together, they bought four igloos — costing £450 each – and kitted them out with soft furnishings from B&M.
She explained: “They start at £385 for a cosy Christmas cinema package but customers get it for two nights. It comes completely decorated, too.”
This December, the four igloos are booked solidly for the month and will bring in £3k from being installed in customers’ back gardens.
Meanwhile, the company is focusing on their bespoke garland services this Christmas. They no longer need to promote themselves at markets because all their bookings come through social media.
“I didn’t know how to use Instagram properly until about a year ago,” Sophie confessed. “It was all trial and error and I scoped out what other companies were doing.
“I now pay £200 on sponsored ads and Instagram is how the Towie producers found us.”
Last April, Sophie was commissioned to create a Bridgerton-inspired set for the reality show.
Sophie added: “We dressed the whole set from 5am in the morning until 7pm at night.”
And the project was such a success that Sophie was asked to decorate Chloe Sims’ 40th birthday last month, which involved creating a stunning floral wall, five gorgeous centrepieces and a balloon arch.
She added: “She advertised everything which meant we reached thousands of people on social media.”
And Chloe was so pleased with the work that she’s asked Sophie to decorate her table this Christmas – and co-star Amy Childs has done the same.
Sophie added: “I’m a total perfectionist in my work — that’s why I’ve got the celebrity clients I have!”
But above all, Sophie knows that her grandparents, Ruby and Fred Northfield, would be proud of what she’s accomplished with the money they left her.
“They didn’t know what I was going to use the money for as they had severe dementia,” she said. “They didn’t know their own names or know us at that time sadly. It was a very hard time but I think they’d be proud of how well I’ve done. The business supports my family and that’s the most important thing.”
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