Anne Davies is owner of ‘Room to Grow’ and its sibling ‘Ollie and Leila’. Both these Yorkshire-based companies specialise in children’s bedroom furniture. Leeds Living caught up with Anne to find out more about this Yorkshire businesswoman.
Anne says she had always wanted her own business, but this was galvanised when she moved back to Yorkshire. She grew up in Ilkley and it seemed natural to return after a personal life change.
She had begun to focus on a business model for women’s sports bags, but it was whilst working at a small company in Ilkley, ‘Room To Grow’, that her ambition was really fired. The business had recently launched online but the owner had other business interests and didn’t want to invest further. With her sales and marketing background, Anne could see it had great potential, so when it went up for sale in 2012, she knew she had to take the plunge. She says: “I could see that Room to Grow could really take off, given a bit of love, product overhaul and a re-brand with the investment in a new website.”
Looking back, Anne admits there was a certain amount of naivety involved in buying the company at that time. She knows it was a, “very steep learning curve” but five years on, her business is going from strength to strength. She has rebranded ‘Room to Grow’ as an online retailer and leading children’s bedroom specialist. “You go into any big retailer and they only stock a handful of children’s beds – floor space for children’s bedrooms is an afterthought.” Anne turns that thinking on its head and focuses on what children want.
A mother herself, she listens to other parents and tries to develop the concepts that they want to see. Of course, the kids are always a “key part of the decision process” and for Anne, one of the best rewards is knowing that the child is “going to love their new bed.” She gets a lot of help in the ideas department from her own daughter, Elena . Ten-year-old Elena loves hosting sleepovers to “show off her bedroom” and this passion has influenced some of Room to Grow’s products. Many of the bunk and pull out beds have been designed with children’s slumber parties in mind.
Room to Grow has filled a gap in the market, as children’s bedrooms are now given higher status in the modern household. Anne recalls how commonplace it was to see children playing out on the streets, but today’s parents are less comfortable with that idea. She recognises that this means bedrooms have become ‘a sanctuary’ for children. It’s their space to play and ‘take pride in’ – so having the right design is a massive part of that. The wide range of furniture available at Room to Grow reflects the diversity of children’s needs. Some like to have a desk and chair under the bed whereas others are all about playing and want all the extra space they can get for their toys.
The growth of the business has allowed Anne to become more involved with design and sourcing new products, one of the best parts of the job. With a growing team working in customer services and marketing, she now has time to attend trade fairs across the UK and Europe. When she started out, suppliers brought their ideas and products to the table, but these days Anne has a hand in the design process. This means she gets to take customers’ ideas, create sketches and see them become a reality. With a strong network of suppliers, Room to Grow normally brings out around six to ten new beds a year, so there’s plenty to be excited about. Anne’s sibling site, Ollie & Leila, offers premium products, some of which are handmade in the UK, which means the business gets to showcase the best of British workmanship. Her European suppliers also help her to diversify the range and stay at the top of her game.
Children’s bedrooms are no stranger to trends and as a sector leader Room to Grow is constantly innovating. Anne explains that mid-sleeper beds are becoming more popular as they provide an effective use of space in today’s smaller modern houses. Triple Bunk beds with a double bed below are also soaring in popularity, as it’s often the children, “who end up moving out of their bedroom when the grandparents come to stay!”
The mention of families drew a question about Anne’s support system, and she readily acknowledges amazing support from friends and family, especially as sounding boards for new ideas or tackling emerging challenges. As with all working parents, she finds that childcare can be tricky, which is why she is so pleased her mum is always there where needed, to step in with invaluable help.
There is no hesitation when asked whether anyone influenced her business acumen. She explained that when she left university, her boss taught her so much about running a business and driving it forward, lessons she has never forgotten and which she has put to very good use!
When asked about diversifying, Anne asserts that she has no plans to leave Room to Grow or Ollie & Leila behind because they will always be very much her own, but she recognised that there may be opportunities to expand and diversify to other furniture types one day. Considering this, Anne revealed that she has a 5-year plan to grow extensively, perhaps even to open a store in Yorkshire.
Anne muses that when she took over the company she naively thought it would give her more time with her daughter as she grew up. But that was a complete misconception! Like many who run their own business, Anne says she works all hours and never totally switches off. Despite this, Anne’s daughter understands the importance of the business and even gets involved with photo-shoots. Anne feels it’s important to provide a good role model for Elena as a working mother. But when she does take a break, they like to spend their time at the cinema or shopping – although Elena does sometimes have to drag her away from the bedroom section of the department store!
What about Anne’s own interests? Well, she declared a love of travel and – when she has time – she intends to work through her list of places to visit. New Zealand, Dubai and Brazil are high on that list.
Anne always has the women’s sports bag enterprise at the back of her mind, so who knows? One day, she may find she has the will to take that on board. One day she may have even more room to grow.
Esther is a contributor for Leeds Living, covering events all across the City, on topics such as eat/drink, retail therapy and culture.