Strictly, Dragons’ Den and fitting in the day job: Sara Davies’ busy life

‘I’m just the figurehead – my husband runs the show’: so says North East entrepreneur turned TV Star Sara Davies to business writer Coreena Ford.

Sara Davies was already on her way to becoming a household name thanks to her appearance on Dragons’ Den over the last three years.

The last year, however, has seen her star soar after becoming part Strictly Come Dancing’s class of 2021, in a partnership with professional dancer Aljaz Škorjanec that has seen her enjoy the time of her life on a non-stop rollercoaster of TV appearances and guest presenting slots in between dance training sessions.

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The founder of Crafter’s Companion is currently halfway through the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour, travelling all over the UK with the rest of the cast, performing two shows a day to packed audiences.The rest of the cast don’t realise that she is also juggling an already punishing schedule with her work commitments as creative director of the County Durham business.

While taking part in Strictly, she also set her alarm for 1am on more than one occasion to broadcast live crafting shows to the US – before starting training for the day.

“I’m burning the candle at both ends at the moment,” she said. “We do the show on a night, everyone’s pumped full of adrenalin on an absolute high, partying after we get back in…and then I’ll be thinking: ‘Bloomin’ heck, I’ve got a 9 o’clock in the morning’. We’re having issues with container shipments being delayed out of China, so we’re having to rework purchase order numbers, so I’m juggling all of that and I’ve got board meetings to prep for in a couple of weeks.

“If only they all knew, the other side of my life that I’m going through at the moment. It’s a differerent world, and a merger of the two worlds colliding.

“The great thing is, I’m not the most organised person in the world. I can juggle a lot but I’ve always had a fantastic PA, Rachel, who’s on maternity leave at the moment and Katy who we’ve hired in her absence has been phenomenal.

“She’s in the loop on all the emails and meetings I should know about, filters through everything I need to know, so it’s a really efficient way of working. You find you can have the same impact on the business in far less time, which means when I come back into the business I can get involved in more stuff. That’s the aspiration anyway.”

Sara famously launched the company with a simple envelope maker – the prototype of which was made by her father – in 2005 while she was still at York University. It went down a storm when she went on a TV shopping channel, and the company has never looked back.

Sarah threw a Sweet 16th birthday party for Crafter’s staff last year, celebrating huge growth which has seen it grow to around 200 employees in the UK and US, selling papercraft products in more than 40 countries worldwide through its online business and bricks-and-mortar shops.

With Sara fronting all the social media accounts and TV shows, not many people realise that it’s actually her husband Simon who is at the helm of the business.

Sara Davies, founder of Crafter’s Companion, Dragons’ Den entrepreneur and star of Strictly Come Dancing (Image: Crafter’s Companion)

Simon has been Crafter’s Companion CEO ever since leaving his job at Akzo Nobel in Felling, Gateshead, around 13 years ago, to help Sara grow the company, giving them a much better quality of life together as a couple.

She revealed: “Simon does everything. People think that I am the business and I run the business. I don’t. Simon runs the business, I’m just the figurehead.

“I like to think that I’m the driving force behind the business and Simon’s the one who keeps the engine and wheels turning. The staff all joke, saying Sara runs at 100 miles an hour, leaves a massive trail of destruction behind her. Simon comes a long with a dustpan and brush and sweeps up the pieces – and that pretty much sums up how it works.

“I was 15 when we met – we’ve been together 22 years now – and he’s just my soul mate. When I started the business he had a proper job in inverted commas, a good salary that would pay our bills which meant I didn’t need to take a salary from the business and I could reinvest everything to make the business more successful.

“Three years into the business, it had grown a lot and things were quite stressful. I was travelling with work a lot and was away at weekends at consumer shows and he was travelling a lot with his work with Akzo Nobel too, flying out to Holland a few times a month. We were like ships passing in the night and never spent quality time together.

“He used to take all his holidays to come and do trade shows with me. I remember he came home one night and said ‘I’ve looked at the finances and worked everything out. We can pay off our mortgage and live on £11,000 a year salary each. I’m leaving work and I’m coming to join the business’.

“I would never in a million years have ever asked him that, to give up his career so I could have mine. However there’s no way I could do what I do in the business without him having done that. He joined a few months later and we’ve never looked back since.

“We had one rule. He said: ‘If you spend all day every day looking over my shoulder, second guessing what I’m doing, it’s going to royally p*** me off, and we won’t achieve anything and free up your time’. So from that day I’ve stepped out of his way – I still don’t really know a lot of what he does every day, but I don’t need to. I trust that he’s going to run my business better than anybody else would. It works a treat.”

One of the reasons Crafter’s Companion has grown to a £38m turnover business is through Sara’s showcasing of the brand on regular appearances on shopping channels around the world.

The pandemic’s grounding of air traffic in 2020 led to the firm making the decision to create new TV studios at its Newton Aycliffe head office. Once the Strictly tour is over Sara said she can’t wait to step up broadcasting from the studios.

She said “I’m definitely going to have withdrawal symptoms when the tour comes to an end, but I’m looking forward to throwing myself back into it. I’m still, after all these years, so in love with the business.

“For us, things changed a lot during lockdown and the way people shopped changed . We took out all the shop fittings at our offices and converted the shop into two massive TV studios, and that’s been invaluable for us. For all the TV we do for America and Germany, we haven’t travelled in two years now.

“We’re able to broadcast out of those studios to anywhere in the world and that has really changed the face of the business and opened up new opportunities. We started Crafter’s TV, broadcasting on Facebook, YouTube, all over the world from there.

“We invested close to £500,000 on the staff, the infrastructure, so this year is about capitalising to get a return on that investment. This month we’ve stepped up our live broadcast schedule even further and started to bring in other companies, getting them to showcase their products, so we definitely have plans to do even more of that over the next year.

“There will definitely be more opportunities too. Without a shadow of a doubt there’ll be more consolidation in the industry – there’s a lot of smaller companies who aren’t managing to ride the challenging economic times.

“Also, a lot of people got very excited at the start of the pandemic, when everyone was at home and people took up crafting, but it was a short term bubble and we’re now dealing with the aftermath of that and trying to convert the customers who got into craft, into longer term customers. We’ve got strategies in place to do that but others maybe don’t, and there will be some who fall by the wayside.”

While learning an Argentinian Tango over four days might not present obvious takeaways for the world of business, Sara says the Strictly experience has taught her a lot about herself, how to live in the present moment and how to manage time.

“I learned even better how to decompartmentalise my time and juggle it better. I just think a positive mind set will enable you to do absolutely anything.

“People say ‘you’re so positive all the time about everything’ and I think yes, being miserable or worried about stuff takes so much negative energy that you can’t afford to expend on it, so the days where I had to do a lot of TV appearances and training I thought there’s no point feeling sorry for myself, struggling, wondering how I can do it. I have to do it, so I just get on and do it – and having that mindset means you just get through it. I have to admit I look back now and really don’t know how I managed to juggle everything while I was doing Strictly but I did it, and know now how I can do it.”

Ahead of the Strictly tour, the latest series of Dragons’ Den has started and Sara also spent a few days guest presenting on Morning Live on BBC1 – and she hints more presenting could come in the future.

She said: “I really enjoy it but it’s hard because I know every day I take out to present is a day I’m not having an impact on the business, so I feel like it’s taking a day off for me. It just has to be one of those things I do on the side. And I get asked to do an awful lot of other TV work, especially since Strictly, they want me to go on all sorts of shows and I can’t do it all.

“I’m happy to do a couple of other TV projects but it has to be the right stuff. To be honest, how wonderful for me to be in this situation where I can pick and choose what the right things are – there’s millions of people who would give their right arm to be where I am right now so I’m making the most of it!

“And no, I can’t tell you more – you’ll have to wait and see.”

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Coreena FordChronicle and Journal business writer