Your Name and Age: My name is Bambi Gardiner and I am 49 years old.
Tell us about your family: I have been married to Charlie for 23 years and we have two fantastic children, Harry (21yrs) and Sophie (17yrs). We live in Sussex with our 3 yellow Labs, 3 horses, 4 alpacas and a chicken called Egg (named by my 4 year old nephew!).
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition? Before getting married I had worked in marketing and PR and I then moved across to work in my husband’s businesses. When the children arrived I juggled working and looking after them with the help of some amazing au pairs over the years.
When did you launch? Oaka Books was born out of my own frustration at the lack of suitable resources for our daughter (who was 13 at the time) to help with her revision for Common Entrance exams. Having spent about a year building up our own resources for her, we finally launched in October 2013.
How did you get started? I spent many, many hours creating my own resources to make her revision clearer, more concise and more engaging. When she finally sat her CE exams, she went from getting Es and Fs in her mocks to getting Bs and even an A in her History exam. She was just so thrilled and for the first time had belief that she actually could achieve. I had so many friends asking me what we had done that we decided to try to work our ‘strategy’ into a more formal learning system for other children to use.
I rather twisted my artist mother’s arm to ‘draw a few images’ for me which turned into her producing around 1,500 illustrations for our first packs! We took our first 9 Topic Packs to the TES Special Educational Needs Show to ‘test’ the market and came back with an overwhelmingly positive response. It was the reaction from teachers and parents that encouraged us to take the plunge and expand our range.
What’s your favourite thing about running your own business: To be honest, I love running this specific business rather than any business. We get such amazing feedback from parents and teachers that you could not help but be passionate it. Having been through such a tough time with our own daughter, I absolutely love that we are producing products that really make a difference to struggling children.
Obviously, running your own business means that you can have an element of freedom with your hours. I like to have time to give to both our children and am very involved in my daughter’s netball career and this gives me the freedom to travel around with her but I always have my phone and laptop with me!
What’s the thing you least enjoy about running your own business: I guess the downside is that you never, ever switch off and you always worry about cashflow.
What has worked well about your business? I am incredibly lucky in that our whole family is very entrepreneurial which means I have lots of support on all fronts. I think one thing that we have got right is staying true to our brand and what we are trying to achieve. We won’t change the world, just changing the world for one pupil at a time is enough.
What’s been your biggest business mistake? How did you deal with it? Fortunately, we have been very lucky so far but that is mainly because I have my husband’s business knowledge behind me. Probably the biggest problem has been working out how to get our brand well known without spending a fortune. In the first year we advertised rather randomly. We then did a survey at an exhibition of which magazines people read to find that not many of the ones we were in were on the list. That has meant that we are now much more focussed with our ad spend.
How do you fit in work with the family? Is your partner supportive of your business? In a rather hectic fashion – organised chaos is probably the best description! Fortunately, my husband is incredibly supportive. I try to answer emails immediately (otherwise I forget them) and have numerous lists. I use an online personal assistant to do some tasks for me which is great and online shopping for everything saves loads of time. When I am in ‘creative’ mode, I love to get up early and get a few hours in before everyone gets up. I try to look back at each day and see what I have actually achieved and I get very frustrated on the days that this does not seem to be very much. It is difficult as you can feel pulled in all directions but I am very aware that, as the children get older, I am needed less and less and so I need to fill that time with something meaningful and, for me, that’s Oaka. But there are never enough hours in the day and I think you just learn to accept that you are not superwoman.
Our website is www.oakabooks.co.uk. Oaka Topic Packs cost £7.97 each from our website and we will give your readers a 15% discount on orders placed before 31st August using this code at checkout: FAMILYFRIENDLY15