Celebrating women: Little Bundle Box’s Fiona Atchison

Working with your family is the dream, isn’t it? Well, it is for Fiona Atchison and her daughter Debbie Harvey-Barnes. They’re the amazing women behind Little Bundle Box, baby gifts that you can have presented in a beautiful small case to keep forever.

Anyone starting a business has to be admired, but what makes this story more inspirational is that Fiona, who lives in Ayrshire, is doing it when most of us are thinking of putting our feet up and enjoying Judge Rinder each afternoon with a cup of tea and a nice chocolate HobNob.

The former – deep breath – shoe-shop assistant, riding instructor, market stall seller, wine bar owner, special needs instructor, occupational therapist and, finally, social services manager took early retirement at the age of 55.

However, she was bored and listless – until her adorable granddaughter Ariana came along and sparked an idea off…

“I never imagined that in my 60th year, I’d be in business with Debbie and on the threshold of a whole new career in the baby gift industry,” she says.

Here, Fiona tells us more about how Little Bundle Box got started, how they found funding and what it’s really like working with your daughter…

How did Little Bundle Box start?

When I took early retirement at the “tender” age of 55, it was simply because I felt burnt out and the opportunity to take my accrued pension as a lump sum provided the means to jump.

I enjoyed the stress-free days for a while but as a trained occupational therapist, I know only too well how a lack of purposeful activity can erode confidence and self-worth. So although I met friends (ladies who lunch, obviously) and attended the odd event, my days lacked structure. I helped my second husband John a little with the accounts in his printing business but there was no other role for me there.

A short stint helping a free magazine gain advertising alleviated some of the boredom, but it was with joy and a new sense of purpose when Debbie, after several fraught years of IVF treatment, gave birth to our gorgeous granddaughter, Ariana in 2016.

The problem was that Debbie and her husband Rowan lived in Melbourne. I went there a few days after Ariana’s birth to help out and stayed for seven weeks. During this time, gifts arrived and Debbie amassed all manner of baby keepsakes. On one of our pram walks, we began discussing keepsake cases and imagined starting our own baby gift business.

I began researching suppliers and manufactures as soon as I got home, but this was no easy task. It took months trying to source companies dealing in small cases and samples from China and Europe proved to be disappointing. It was only when Debbie and Rowan returned to the UK to be close to family and friends that our business idea began to gain momentum. Debbie’s creative skills meant she was able to design our white keepsake case in two sizes and negotiate with a company in the UK to help produce them to our specifications.

It was wonderful to finally have the product we’d dreamed of.

How did you finance Little Bundle Box?

I got in touch with the Ayrshire branch of Business Gateway and attended some of their free business courses. It took many weeks to complete all the grant stages and to produce financial forecasts and marketing plans. I applied for grant assistance to buy the services of a professional photographer for our website and to hire a stand at a large baby show. Amazingly, we were successful and were given 50% of the costs, which really helped launch the business.

Little Bundle Box finally launched at the Scottish Exhibition Centre Baby & Toddler Show in April 2018. It was a fantastic three days for us and we signed up straight away for the following year.

How do you find your products?

We research and handpick our products by visiting trade shows and meeting with manufacturers and suppliers. For instance the leather luggage tags attached to our keepsake cases are hand-made in Manchester by a gentleman in his 80s who is a master leather craftsman. Each item in our gift bundles has been tried and tested by us to offer our customers something we would want to buy. From hand-made teethers, cuddly toys, delicious Champagne truffles for parents, to organic wash and soft cotton clothing, we know our gifts are beautiful, useful and great value, too.

What is it like working with your daughter?

Debbie and I have a very special and close relationship. I was just 20 when she was born and she remained an only child.

In hindsight, I know I was jumping blindly into a marriage that didn’t feel right and when Debbie was 15, her father and I split up. He moved abroad with someone else and it was a very difficult period for us, both emotionally and financially, but we pushed through together and came out the other side. I think that experience is what makes us a good business team today because we know first-hand about hard work and resilience. Not that we agree on everything – we don’t and at those times we will discuss the issue until we find a compromise.

What would you say to other women wanting to start a business in later life?

My message here for other “women of a certain age” is: never think it’s too late to start anew. Life is full of surprises and my once jaded self is now full of passion and excitement for Little Bundle Box.

It’s been a long road to get to this point, but every day is different and full of purpose. So if you have the kernel of an idea or a new job leap in mind, or perhaps you’re thinking about taking up a new pastime, my advice is to go for it! Age is irrelevant – you just need energy and conviction and the rest will follow. See you out there!

 Little Baby Bundle delivers around the world. To find out more, click here. You can also meet Fiona and Debbie at the Bumps, Babies & Beyond Show in Oxford on the 10 February and in Leicester on 3 March, as well as at The Baby & Toddler Show at the SEC in Glasgow from 26-28 April.

Don’t miss the first in 50Sense’s Celebrating Women series – Celebrating Women: Designer Amanda Harrison. And if you know any inspiring women you think should be featured, let me know at [email protected]. Women can do amazing things when we support each other.

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