Luxury home décor and fragrance business, ALTERIOR and Puddles, originally began life as two unconnected businesses. The founders, Laura Bentley and Carly Asquith, were childhood friends who went their separate ways after leaving school. However, unbeknown to them, they were both spending time creating businesses which would one day come together.
Puddle Duck Wax Melts began life in 2019 when Laura, following the purchase of her house, began seeking out fragrances to create her dream home environment. She’d recently had a baby and was concerned about the toxins found in many products, so began researching alternatives. Her answer was to create her own range of soy wax melts.
“I started creating wax melts, initially with just five fragrances which I made for family and friends. Sales grew through word of mouth until I started a Facebook page. That led to customers much further afield, along with repeat orders. One of my customers now buys twice a week without fail!”
Since those early days, Laura’s range has grown considerably and now totals over 140 fragrances. She’s also in the process of developing an eco-range of soy wax candles with blends of essential oils.
Meanwhile, Carly began working life as a primary school teacher, but the death of a close friend in 2020 led to her spending evenings working on a creative business to help her with grieving.
Carly’s original product was family prints for the home, later moving to vinyl stickers for wine glasses, water bottles and keepsake boxes. Then, in January 2021, she began looking into eco-friendly safe alternatives to resin.
“I came across jesmonite, a non-toxic acrylic based resin, which is similar to ceramic when it comes out of the mould. My product range includes trays ornaments, plant pots, reed diffusers and Christmas baubles. The colours can be mixed to order, matching a customer’s colour scheme, and nothing goes to waste. Anything left over can be reused in other pieces.”
When Laura and Carly reconnected after the loss of Carly’s friend, they soon realised that they had complementary products and similar business goals, with sustainability at the forefront of both their brands. They began chatting about a 12-month plan to bring the two businesses together in a partnership and became so excited that they fast-tracked the decision and began working on it almost immediately.
“Our products fit so well, and we felt that working together was the only way we could scale our businesses. We decided that it was now or never and just needed a space to work from.”
After looking at a variety of business premises, they moved into a Business Village unit, doubling as a workspace, in September 2021.
“We felt there were opportunities for growth in The Business Village and had a good feeling when we looked around. Other places wanted to tie us into contracts and leases, which was a risk for such a new business, but here we have both flexible terms and business support. Kevin Steel, the Business Development Manager here has put us in touch with so many useful contacts already. He immediately suggested we enrol on the Scaleup360 business support project which The Business Village is helping deliver in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, getting help from Kevin is like having a ‘Dragon’ on board.”
Carly and Laura are now in the process of merging their website and social media accounts into one brand and learning how to make each other’s products. With ambitious growth plans and business support from the ScaleUp 360 programme, they’re already expecting to need a bigger unit within the next year.
“ScaleUp 360 has already given us focus and direction. We were asked to create three, five and ten year goals on a recent workshop. It was really good to see them written down as it gave us a timeline of where we are going in the business.”
They also cite ScaleUp 360 in helping them discover their ‘why’ for the business.
“We both came from backgrounds with very little money. Other friends had nice homes which felt safe and cosy, and we knew we wanted that for ourselves in the future. The products we create are at affordable prices, meaning that anyone can buy them and develop a lovely décor in their home.”
With big ambitions for the future, Laura and Carly say that ScaleUp 360 opened their minds to other ideas. Their immediate plan is to complete the rebrand which will bring the two businesses together and secure their products in several retail outlets. Longer-term, they will be looking for training and support on international trade, shipping abroad and legal matters.
Laura and Carly are also keen to inspire other budding business owners and have a firm belief that they are proof you can make something of yourself regardless of background.
“I used to hate Sunday evenings, knowing that I was going to work on Monday. Now I really love my job and don’t want to go home. We end up staying late because time just flies without realising.”
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