Visual excellence in digital print production and installation for luxury brands.
ESM is a creative production house that has pushed the boundaries in digital print production and estate visual merchandising services to deliver holistic marketing support for luxury brands. We produce multi-facet visual campaigns and event projects from design and production to deployment and nationwide installation.
How did it all begin?
I now relish being my own boss, but in the beginning I was reluctant to start our own business, but I was frustrated spending my time correcting easily avoidable issues and apologising for poor customer service when I knew that better was possible. My husband was already self-employed, so I was concerned about giving up the security of a regular salary, but with his support we founded ESM and have never looked back. Apart from our passion and drive, we started with nothing – no existing contracts, no sales funnel, and no capital. We opened our business bank account with a £400 cheque for our first paying job and promptly withdrew the money the following day to pay for food and essentials. Now 15 years on we have built a robust business with an enviable client list and industry reputation. I would recommend to anyone with enough drive and resilience to do the same. I have not regretted a day.
What sets your business apart?
ESM is a ‘right-first-time, every-time’ business. Everyone is passionate about detail and takes pride in the work that we do and the brands we represent. We take the time to ‘plan to succeed,’ which means we stay nimble and reactive to the surprises that client demands and business in general throws at us, ensuring we never fail to deliver and delight our customers which in turns drives retention and growth through recommendation and evolution.
What is the concept behind your business or the problem you’re solving?
The cornerstone of ESM Is honesty. Clear, thoughtful communication is paramount, and customers can tangibly feel and appreciate the value-added service we provide. Too many other companies in our field try to mystify the production process with terminology or hide behind spurious savings data. We wanted to be different and refreshing. We believe customers want more open and ethical partnerships.
Where to next/What is your brand vision?
ESM is a “best kept secret” and has grown through a curated sales approach to key brands and through recommendation. Now is the time to widen our community to support other luxury brands in our prevailing sectors and beyond.
What do you feel passionate about/what drives you?
“What does good look like?” – I strive to create and deliver a service that is exceptional.
Share an example of early life that has shaped you?
When I was only 10 months old my parents moved from their lifelong home in London to the beautiful north coast of Cornwall, as they wanted me to have the opportunity to grow up in the countryside with access to the coast and wide open natural spaces. This move took a great deal of sacrifice and life was not easy with many financial struggles along the way, but this taught me resilience and how that to reap great benefits you need to work hard and take a few risks!
Highlights of your business journey so far?
There have been many exciting business achievements over the years from industry recognition, such as our Solution Award for Innovation, through to moving into our latest 4800Sq foot factory space – a really impressive site that has been great for us. But, some of our proudest moments are the campaigns and brands we have been involved with such as the launch of Givenchy’s L’Interdit fragrance, inspired by Audrey Hepburn, the arrival of Fenty in the UK, and the 25ft high decorated Christmas tree on the concourse at Kings Cross Station, which we created and installed in 2019 for Rituals Cosmetics. And I have been lucky enough to enjoy all these moments working alongside my husband and step-daughters – needless to say we have certainly had some mad moments and laughs along the way!
Key lessons you have learned along the way?
Resilience is key, but it is also vital to always have a plan B, C and D…business is forever changing, and you need to be able to weather those changes and adapt. I also think it is important to appreciate great connections and value those relationships, treating everyone with respect and kindness whenever you can.
Best piece of advice you have received?
I answered the phone to a very senior marketing woman from a well-known brand early in my working career and instantly apologised that I was not the person she was calling for saying: “I’m sorry, it’s only Karen.” She told me to never apologise for it being “me.”
Advice to an aspiring entrepreneur or woman just starting her career?
Be yourself. Be happy to be honest. Don’t be afraid to ask. And never forget to listen. Don’t lose your passion…..or your sense of humour!
What funding route have you chosen for your business and why?
SASS pension scheme in the early days. Now we always aim to actively retain profit within the business for future investments.
Some of the challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?
Print production has always been a male dominated world. In my first job role I was the only female member of staff in a 100+ strong print company not in a secretarial role. So, throughout my career, I have had to regularly demonstrate that I have the same technical understanding of complex manufacturing processes of my older male peers. While heading up our business I have had to learn to combine a firm hand with a lightness of touch that displays strength but that cannot be misconstrued as aggression. Another challenge we faced came about 10 years ago when we were enjoying our first period of real business growth and success and it suddenly dawned on us that the majority of our turnover was coming from one dominant client. This put the company in a very vulnerable position. Since then, we have always remembered the importance of an evenly spread of spend across our customer base with no one customer being more than 30% of our annual revenue. This means it is even more important to maintain and build a strong contact network and sales funnel to ensure your business is robust.
Why is it important to support women-led business?
Women have so many roles to play in society, so to take on yet another as a business leader is a mountain to climb, so support is all the more important.