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[Interview] A day in the life of… entrepreneur Samantha Johnson

Revitalising craftsmanship: Samantha Johnson’s visionary approach to local retail manufacturing post-COVID As an industry, we’re still reeling from the ripple effects of the pandemic and the… View Article


[Interview] A day in the life of… entrepreneur Samantha Johnson

Revitalising craftsmanship: Samantha Johnson’s visionary approach to local retail manufacturing post-COVID

As an industry, we’re still reeling from the ripple effects of the pandemic and the Suez Canal blockage, and businesses have had to navigate unprecedented challenges.

For many, being agile has created momentum, and that is certainly true for Samantha Johnson, Managing Director of Avalon Home and Pintail Candles. Global disruptions were the catalyst for a significant strategic pivot—from her career trajectory to the way she runs her new ventures. With a rich academic background in law (Cambridge) and criminology (Oxford), and a robust career that peaked in a pivotal role at Hobbycraft, Samantha’s journey is marked by a rigorous approach to data and efficiency, essential in steering two thriving businesses.

A new chapter: Avalon Home and Pintail Candles

Amidst a global supply chain upheaval, Samantha launched Avalon Home in April 2023, reviving a century-old family business specialising in bespoke table linens. The entrepreneurial narrative expanded with the acquisition of Pintail Candles in June 2023, known for its distinctive candle tins since 1993.

Both businesses, nestled in the heart of Cumbria, embody a commitment to local craftsmanship, with a dedicated team of 15 staff members driving forward a vision of bespoke homewares and candles.

From factory floors to artisan workshops

A pivotal element of Samantha’s strategy is transforming traditional perceptions of manufacturing environments. “We operate not in factories, but workshops,” Samantha explains. This distinction underscores the artisanal quality and craftsmanship inherent in their products. Each workshop is a hub of creativity and meticulous handiwork, reflecting the shift from mass production to a more personalised, craft-oriented manufacturing approach.

“In our workshops, artists craft each product with care and creativity, infusing each piece with a level of attention that elevates it beyond mere manufacturing,” she adds.

Samantha’s businesses not only focus on producing quality goods but also celebrate the art of making. This approach resonates deeply with consumers who increasingly value provenance, craftsmanship, and sustainability. By marrying traditional skills with modern efficiencies, Avalon Home and Pintail Candles strike a balance that appeals to contemporary markets while preserving local artisan traditions.

“Our artists bring decades of skill to each item, making our products unique not just in their quality, but in their story,” Samantha notes.

Navigating challenges with agile manufacturing

The decision to shift towards local manufacturing emerged from necessity and strategic vision. “The launch of Avalon Home was a direct response to the disruptions we experienced during the pandemic and the Suez crisis,” Samantha recalls. The rapid growth at Hobbycraft, quadrupling in online sales, showcased the potential but also highlighted the limitations of a sluggish global supply chain reliant on 18-month lead times typical in global manufacturing.

Frustration within her team grew as they struggled to capitalise on market trends quickly. “It became clear that the traditional model of sourcing from far afield wasn’t just slow; it was unsustainable,” Samantha recalls. The instability in global logistics, exacerbated by her spouse’s close involvement in the field, highlighted the vulnerabilities of their existing supply chains.

The decision to bring manufacturing closer to home wasn’t just a logistical one; it was a cultural shift towards supporting local craftsmanship and reducing lead times dramatically.

“We have a rich textile heritage in the North West, and there’s no reason we can’t harness that to produce quality, bespoke items right here,” she states. This move has not only allowed Avalon Home and Pintail Candles to react more dynamically to market trends but also fostered employment in rural communities, an outcome Samantha is particularly passionate about.

“Reshoring wasn’t just about tapping into local talent or speeding up our production cycle,” Samantha emphasizes. “It was about making a strategic, commercially viable decision that allowed us to iterate products more quickly, test more effectively, and find gaps in the market with agility that overseas suppliers simply couldn’t match.”

Today, Samantha’s companies are a testament to the power of local manufacturing, proving that with the right vision and leadership, businesses can turn significant global challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation.

The future: expanding reach.

Looking ahead, Samantha envisions further expansion within the UK and into international markets, focusing on bespoke and environmentally sustainable products.

“We plan to deepen our commitment to local manufacturing, potentially increasing our workforce and continuing to innovate in how we produce and what we create,” she says. This vision is not just about growth but setting new standards in the industry for quality and sustainability.”

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