Deborah and Verity Sparks are the mother-and-daughter duo behind Sparks & Daughters. Born in the British countryside when Deborah began making personalised aprons at the family kitchen table over a decade ago, the business has since moved from strength to strength, a testament to their exemplary aesthetics and entrepreneurial acumen.
Having passed the million mark on apron sales, they currently stock a range of lifestyle products focused on the “milestones and moments” that mark a family’s journey. Deborah and Verity credit their continued commitment to a family-owned and operated business model for the extraordinary success of their venture as well as their ability to identify a comfortable work-life balance.
Not only does last year’s rebrand from Sparks Clothing to Sparks & Daughters better reflect their origin story and long-term vision, but it also highlights their unique positioning in a competitive niche market. With the family ethos at its core, their brand identity engenders trust and, interestingly, increases their desirability as a place to work as well.
Now focused entirely on e-commerce, the company’s seamless transition to online shopping exemplifies their forward-facing outlook and readiness to change. Through the artful curation of their Facebook and Instagram feeds, Sparks & Daughters has captured the attention of their social-media-savvy consumer base.
Deborah and Verity Sparks sat down with Tharawat Magazine to discuss why their marketing emphasises family, how they’ve incorporated technology to improve operations and what the future of Sparks & Daughters will look like.
How did Sparks & Daughters begin and why aprons?
Deborah: When I was thinking of leaving my office job to start my own business, a lot of thought went into the personalised gift market. To me, it had to be something that came from the heart and something that I loved.
You obviously think of your potential customer and what they would love. As a family, we love cooking. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and I thought it would be a beautiful idea to create a personalised apron for someone you love.
How did you get involved, Verity?
Verity: I was still at school when Mum started the business. I saw it as a fun thing to do in my spare time. I was helping her out with orders, and I fell in love with the business as well. Eventually, mum realised I was spending all of my spare time working in the business and decided to make me a partner in it.
Deborah: Any spare moment she had, she was in the business. I knew she was just as passionate as I was, and we should work together.
Were there any pivotal moments when you realised you were onto something big?
Deborah: Growing the business has had a considerable learning curve. You have to learn things you’re not trained in or not comfortable with, and you have to push yourself to master those aspects as well. We were just designers to start with.
Verity: When we first started, we just enjoyed doing creative designs and hoped they would sell. Then the sales team grew, and we had to scale accordingly. We had to learn about employing a team, writing out contracts, building a website and coping with massive sales at peak times.
Deborah: When you get further into the business, you realise you can’t do everything yourself and have to employ people with specific skills. You also learn to delegate, which we weren’t good at in the beginning. Looking back now, I can see that the business improved when we started delegating more efficiently.
Growing the business has had a considerable learning curve. You have to learn things you’re not trained in or not comfortable with, and you have to push yourself to master those aspects as well.
What prompted the rebranding decision to Sparks & Daughters?
Deborah: We felt we weren’t representing ourselves the best we could. Our former name ‘Sparks Clothing’ represented our surname and what we were selling, but it wasn’t saying anything about the people behind the brand. There are a lot of brands that use ‘& Sons’, but very few include ‘& Daughters.’ We realised we weren’t sharing with our customers a unique part of our story. Once we rebranded, it felt right – it felt like us.
Verity: I think people enjoy buying into the family aspect, too. They’re not just buying from a faceless company. They feel like they’re supporting us and our family – and they are because our family relies solely on this business.
Deborah: Customers now are much more aware of who they’re buying from and want to buy from businesses that care about their products and their customers.
When did you realise it was time to go digital with an online shop and how did you initiate the process?
Deborah: My husband built our very first website, and Verity’s husband is now designing the new website and working in the business.
Verity: My husband is not a coder or a website designer, but he taught himself when we had a baby and needed to job-share. He decided he was going to build a more customer-friendly website, with one-click purchasing and the ability to quickly personalise orders.
The difference from 12 years ago is that customers were still wary of online shopping back then. People are much savvier now – we all are – it has become second nature.
Which challenges did you encounter in relation to e-commerce and how did you overcome them?
Deborah: The difference from 12 years ago is that customers were still wary of online shopping back then. People are much savvier now – we all are – it has become second nature. The main challenge is always making sure the website is quick and easy to navigate, especially the mobile version. Most of our customers order online from their phones, so making sure the website is completely compatible with smartphones is crucial.
Your products are highly personalised, and the quality and love you put into them are emphasised. How did your marketing strategy change once you moved online?
Verity: Social media is a fundamental tool for us to reach our customers. Instagram is very visual and an easy platform for our customers to purchase from, especially when it comes to impulse purchases. The ability to tag products in a post enables customers to just tap and buy it straight away. Our target market is Instagram and social media users – that’s where we focus a lot of our efforts.
Deborah: I believe it comes back to the product as well. You always have to have the customer in mind – what they want, who they’re buying for and what they would like to give them.
Does the fact that your company is family-run influence the consumers’ decision-making process?
Deborah: Absolutely. Being family-owned and run is all about keeping it authentic. Our customers know that what we do comes from the heart. We design everything ourselves. We don’t outsource anything. It’s about our family, and that’s important to us.
Verity: Knowing that we are a family business engenders trust in our brand. They know we’re hands-on in this business, and we’re here every day.
Is being family-owned a factor in attracting employees as well?
Verity: Many of our employees shared that it’s hard to find a family business like ours. They work hard and actually enjoy coming to work. They don’t feel like a number on a spreadsheet. They feel like they’re part of our family.
Deborah: Now that we’re Sparks & Daughters, I think that really speaks to people, too. We’ve noticed when interviewing people that candidates are often interested in working for us because they love our story. They are motivated by the idea of working for a family business.
Are you thinking of Sparks & Daughters as a multigenerational business?
Verity: Absolutely. My daughter Tilly is very creative – she loves drawing and designing. There are so many ways that she could join the business one day if she wanted to.
Deborah: As a grandmother and a mother, it would obviously be lovely to see the company passed down to a third generation. In a way, Tilly has been involved in it since she was born – strapped to her mother in a baby sling while she worked. She visits the studio quite a lot. She’ll feel more involved as she gets older and maybe do a few odd jobs here and there, but we’ll see how it goes.
What is your greatest wish for Sparks & Daughters?
Deborah: My greatest wish is that we carry on and create a business that people want to work in. It’s not just about creating beautiful products for the customer; it’s also about creating a lovely environment for our employees.
Verity: We’ve achieved so many milestones already, and I don’t think this is the end, but if Tilly were to join the business, that would be the cherry on top.