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Where and how to best sell your products

with Bread & Jam

 

Bread & Jam sell beautifully designed, meaningful gifts and have caught the eyes of huge retailers and wholesalers such as Anthropologie, Fortnum & Mason, as well as online retailers, Etsy and notonthehighstreet. Founded by husband and wife team, Catherine and Jamie in 2012, they work from their converted farmhouse in Cumbria and share the lessons they have learnt after nearly a decade of selling on different platforms. 

When Jamie’s design agency went down in the 2008 financial crash, him and Catherine found themselves freelancing without much income and two young children, ‘We knew we worked well together, decided to pool our resources and within a month we’d launched Bread & Jam.’

Their USP is selling products to make you feel good about life and to make people happy. Their current bestseller is a notepad called, ‘Moan and move on’, to write your latest gripe which can be torn up and thrown away, ‘We’re not afraid to have a moan but if it’s not important, don’t dwell on it, bin it and move on. It resonated with a lot of people during lockdown.’

After setting up on global online marketplaces, Etsy and Folksy, where people come together to sell, buy and collect unique items, it wasn’t long before notonthehighstreet contacted them to sell with them in September 2012.

Jamie said: ‘It went crackers once we sold on notonthehighstreet. In our busiest year, we had 600 orders in a single day. It was stressful coming in on a Monday and realising you had several thousand orders to pack up and get out, but we did it!’

'Judge each opportunity as it comes along rather than having a blanket response to each one. Take the time to work out what’s in it for you, that way you’ll reap the benefits. The same goes for any collaborations, promotions, or marketing opportunities, a lot may come in which are useless, but don’t ignore them all. Some things are worth investigating and could be amazing.'

Despite having just a small amount of stock and a single member of staff, they could see how lucrative the world of online was so they made some calls, took more staff on, worked longer hours and got the orders out. Jamie said: ‘That’s the beauty of staying small, you can react to situations, even if it means you’re packing late into the night or asking your staff to come in at 6am with bacon butties! We had the equipment so we could turn things around relatively quickly. We were working on manual letter presses and block printing, but when our order numbers were going up, we moved over to digital. It was a quick way of getting our orders up without affecting the quality too much.’

During the pandemic, Bread & Jam improved their retail website and offerings, ‘Whilst we were busy with our UK sales channels, we found we were neglecting our wholesale website and relied on a few wholesalers consistently placing large orders, it was important to gain some new wholesalers so we decided to combine our wholesale and retail websites to better serve both types of customer.’

With the business growing, Bread & Jam’s online presence was making serious noise and when their dream high street retailer approached them, things ramped up a notch, ‘Anthropologie EU wanted to sell one of our products so we cracked out a deal because we knew what it would do for our brand credibility, we didn’t hesitate.’

Being a small business, Jamie did make a few mistakes early on, he said: ‘We dropped a few clangers with Anthropologie early on because we ended up pricing our products and they came back and said ‘Does that include delivery, shipping and VAT?’ I think they thought we were quite naive, but we soon learned when it hurt our pockets!’

Bread & Jam suddenly had to be mindful of their shipping costs to the US and learnt quickly to be prepared for the pitfalls, ‘Shipping overseas is a complete minefield and scary with all the exchange rates and if you mess up a percentage point it can cost you so we learnt very quickly to be more thorough. When it comes to wholesale, there are lots of hoops to jump through.’

Six months later, Anthropologie US asked if they could stock one particular Bread & Jam product, before asking them if they would like to collaborate with them on other products, ‘We ended up doing some bespoke products with them and worked with them for two and a half years.’

But when it comes to collaborations, Bread & Jam felt there were highs, but more lows, ‘We were in awe of the fact that they had asked us to collaborate but we were also very comfortable designing in our studio so it was out of our comfort zone doing a huge collaboration because we’d never done anything on that level before.’

Bread & Jam found it difficult to have a conversation with Anthropologie US in terms of what they were asking for, ‘They were asking us to design things around their current trends and we’re not trend led, we’re more tone of voice led, so we parted ways.’

The couple admit it was a ‘complete eye opener’ working with bigger organisations, ‘We had a 100-page supplier’s manual on how their business worked and their guidelines on how they would like their product to be sold to them.’

They had to ramp up their production, learn how to ship their products into distribution centres and be aware of all the clauses should any products be damaged or lost in transit. ‘There was a lot to get our heads around and it was scary sending thousands of pounds worth of stock out and you want to get paid for it.’

Aware of their limitations, they decided the demands were just a bit too high for a newly formed company, ‘We enjoyed it and it was lucrative for two and a half years, but it was very demanding. We found we couldn’t service them as well as we would have wanted to so we parted ways. Perversely, we’re now in a much better place to be able to do just that.’

Last January, after not working for Anthropologie US for 18 months, the company wanted to work with them again and Jamie and Catherine were keen to do it, but then COVID hit globally and Anthropologie US had to make staff cutbacks and the person they were dealing with left, so it wasn’t possible.

 When Bread & Jam moved studios last Christmas, they had to let go of their staff due to the distance involved in travelling to the new studio, ‘As hard as it was, we found we had more freedom without the constraints of staff. We are now involved in everything again, we know which areas of the business need working on and don’t rely on anyone else.’

A dream of Bread & Jam was always to have a bricks and mortar shop, ‘We had a really strong online presence and a good wholesale backbone to support a shop.’

After finding a semi ruined manor house, with just a tea room trading there, they were about to move in in October 2019 and launch a shop and cafe there, but it all fell through two weeks before, ‘We had given notice on our studio, but within five weeks we’d built a log cabin in the land next to our house. It’s strange because six months after moving in, we would have had to close anyway due to COVID restrictions!’

Bread & Jam have been approached by Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges, ‘We met Fortnums at a London trade show called Top Drawer. We got chatting and they wanted us to have a concession in their store at Christmas to sell our test tube sets with messages inside, they wanted us to produce a customised version for them that we could personalise in store.’

'The couple admit it was a ‘complete eye opener’ working with bigger organisations, ‘We had a 100-page supplier's manual on how their business worked and their guidelines on how they would like their product to be sold to them.’

Although it felt like an incredible opportunity, the logistics were a worry, ‘We knew we’d be on call 24/7 and felt we couldn’t deliver on that huge commitment being so far away from London.’

The timing wasn’t right either, ‘Christmas is our busiest time, so we couldn’t be up in Cumbria and in London, we knew we could hire in staff but we’d heard horror stories about people not turning up. We were nervous about other people manning our concession and we knew the staffing costs wouldn’t be worth it. Also if anything went wrong, we’d have to be in London and it was becoming a logistical nightmare which could affect our retail business. It was an amicable agreement on both parts though.’

The brand realised that when dealing with bigger retailers’ demands, the more they were being pulled away from the things they loved, ‘Suddenly the bigger we got, the more we were shuffling paperwork and managing staff and it’s not where we wanted to be. Now we’re back creating things and having more control again and it’s a lovely place to be.’

The retail and wholesale side of the businesses meant that Bread & Jam physically couldn’t turn those orders around, ‘The numbers were so high that it meant we had to move away from the production side and become managers overnight because the combination of retail and wholesale was too much.’

One lesson they have learned when dealing with bigger retailers is to go into it with your eyes open, ‘There are unscrupulous retailers that will get you on board, take your ideas and then trade on without you. Stores have tried to do that to us and then asked to work with us again. It’s weird for us to agree, but perhaps it’s a learning curve for them and they won’t do it to anyone else!’

Bread & Jam are hugely supportive of businesses who have had work copied, ‘We’re happy to go on a rant about how unacceptable it is if it means that company will pull back from the brink.’

Key takeaways:

1. Go for it: ‘Our advice to small businesses being approached by high street retailers is to go for it because you never know where it’s going to lead.’

2. Judge each opportunity: ‘Judge each opportunity as it comes along rather than having a blanket response to each one. Take the time to work out what’s in it for you, that way you’ll reap the benefits. The same goes for any collaborations, promotions, or marketing opportunities, a lot may come in which are useless, but don’t ignore them all. Some things are worth investigating and could be amazing.’

3. Just keep going: ‘Lots of things can go wrong when taking up new opportunities, but understand that mistakes happen and be prepared to make them selling both online and to retailers.’

4. Overshare: ‘Use your website and Instagram to express your authenticity. We are big over-sharers and want our identity to help us connect with our customers – both retail and online – and help them feel at ease when shopping with us. A lot of people like to buy small but also like to know about your lifestyle, that way they know where their money is going and not simply lining the pockets of shareholders.’

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