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Monday, 15 August 2022
RABEA HANDS and her husband Alex are the proprietors of A Stitch in Twine, an upholstery business located at Hampstead Farm, Binfield Heath. Originally from Cologne, she came to Britain in 1999 to study upholstery at Buckinghamshire University in High Wycombe. She graduated with a BA and then obtained an MA in furniture restoration. While studying, she worked part-time for an upholsterer in Nettlebed and after graduating went full-time. She met Alex at university and the couple now live in Wargrave with their son Logan, 11, dog Button and cat Oreo. They take part in Spartan Obstacle Racing and Rabea competed in the European championships. She also loves baking cakes.
Describe your business
We specialise in traditional upholstery, tailored loose covers and bespoke soft furnishings such as curtains and blinds.
How many people does it employ?
Just Alex and me.
What did you do before you started this business?
After working in Nettlebed, I shared a workshop in Hurst with Alex and then we found an empty shop in High Street, Wargrave.
When did you start your business?
We started properly in Wargrave in 2010 and moved to Hampstead Farm in 2017.
What was your objective?
I’ve always loved fabrics and creating things. Alex had been working in his parents’ furniture business but when they retired he found himself at a bit of a crossroads. We realised we had virtually a blank canvas and decided to go for it.
Who or what influenced you?
Both of us come from families that had been in business for several generations.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
Alex always attributes everything that he ever learned about loose covers to his mother.
What would you do differently if you could start again?
We would have got somebody to do all the paperwork and admin at the start instead of trying to do everything ourselves. Alex would say that he should have believed in himself more.
What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?
At the start of the first lockdown we had a few jobs lined up and because there are just the two of us we were able to continue working but suddenly the phone calls stopped and our suppliers closed temporarily. We also had to take on home-schooling our son (which has given us huge respect for the job that teachers do). Then, as people spent more time at home, we were getting more enquiries every three or four days than we had previously been getting in a month. We’ve had no holidays or time off so it has been mentally draining and stressful.
How is your business doing compared with last year?
We were booked solid in 2021 but things are beginning to calm down now.
How do you market your business?
We haven’t put too much effort into marketing as we have many loyal customers and most new customers come through word of mouth. We do have a website and get customers from Henley Recommendations.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
Being able to control the business rather than it controlling us. Alex enjoys the freedom that enables him to watch Logan play sport.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Being disciplined and planning things like holidays.
Where is your business headed?
Ideally I’d like to employ somebody to give me more time to explore creative ways to reuse surplus fabrics and therefore reduce waste.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
Learning to say no and being totally honest with customers and ourselves.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Start in a small way while you are still working and build up from there. You have to be passionate because if you don’t love what you do you shouldn’t even consider starting a business.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Alex would say undervaluing his skills but I don’t think we’ve made any serious mistakes because I’m always careful to calculate risk.
What three qualities are most important to success?
Quality work, consistency and persistency.
What’s the secret of your success?
Listening to customers and being sensitive to their needs and delivering quality workmanship.
How organised are you?
How do you dress for work each day?
In comfortable, casual clothes. In winter I dress to be warm as it can be quite cold in our big barn workshop.
What can’t you do without every day?
Morning coffee and taking my dog for a walk at lunchtime.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
Most days we bring something in but on some Fridays we might go for a bit of lunch at the Bottle and Glass in Binfield Heath or go to the Loddon Brewery.
Do you continue to study?
I did think about doing a PhD but have not pursued it.
What do you read?
Mainly crime novels and the Henley Standard every week.
How are you planning for retirement?
I’ll always have something to keep me busy. Maybe I’ll open a cake shop. We would like to travel but have no desire to live abroad as we love the four seasons here. If you don’t have winter, you can’t appreciate summer.
24 January 2022