Standing out with sheer determination: Simon Bourne from the Hand Dyed Shoe Co

Standing out with sheer determination: Simon Bourne from the Hand Dyed Shoe Co
Lorna Bladen

Posted: Tue 7th May 2019

With entries from small businesses across the UK, Simon Bourne, founder of the Hand Dyed Shoe Co, was crowned the winner of Klarna's 'Smoooth Stores' competition.

We met with Simon to find out about his entrepreneurial journey and what it means to win prizes including £10,000 cash, mentoring from Klarna senior executives and free use of Klarna's Pay later service for 12 months.

This post is sponsored by Klarna.

What inspired you to start the Hand Dyed Shoe Co?

I had always been looking for a reason to be my own boss but it was 2014 when I got that lightbulb moment!

I was selling hand-dyed leather sofas and one day midst throwing out waste leather into the bin, it seemed like there was an opportunity to re-purpose these off-cuts into shoes.

Within the early stages of starting the business, it really helped that I'm a jack of all trades. From being a journalist to selling furniture to building websites, I've done a lot of jobs in a relatively short period of time. Ultimately, this has given me a broad package of skills that is helping me run a well rounded business, as I know that I can turn my eye from product design through to sales.

Fast forward two years and over one hundred prototypes had crossed my palms before the company truly launched.

I'm really proud of some of the things that I've achieved. I'm lucky, but I've created my own luck.

Why shoes?

It's not just about shoes for me; it's more about the creativity that goes into the product. The fact that they are bespoke and you get a choice of style. I'm building a culture and a community, more than just a brand that sells shoes.

I've always loved fashion; it's all about personality. You could say I'm a very expressive person. I have tattoos and a curly moustache. I put myself out there on purpose to stand out from the crowd.

Through my twenties and teenage years, I was never as confident as I am now. It was only when I started the business that I understood myself and my own mentality. I'm comfortable being different; I like it.

How do you put customer experience first?

I've worked for big and small businesses. My philosophy out of both experiences is that it should always be about the customer.

The secret to sales is about the people element. It gets me excited. I always ask myself, 'what experience can I give someone to give them a smile?'.

I would recommend other small businesses looking at ways to impress customers beyond the norm or their usual expectations. For example, what can you do to encourage customers to write a positive review? That is where I've set the bar. If that person is not beaming from every touchpoint they've had with my business, then we're not satisfied.

Do you have tips for how a small business can excel?

No matter what business you run, it's all about the experience.

Anybody could buy a pair of shoes anywhere. It's a congested industry and I ask myself 'how the hell am I going to stand out in the North East of England?'.

My product is also outside of the normal price point for our target demographic but the reason that I make it work is the customer service. People buy from people. Small businesses really need to understand that.

A word of advice, use your own values and principles. Get yourself out there and make yourself interesting.

Simon Bourne, The Hand Dyed Shoe Co

Who inspires you?

It sounds cliche but it's my wife, mum and sister. They are three of the most important people in my life.

Why did you apply to the Smoooth Stores competition?

I've built a fantastic following on social media and it was actually one of my followers that saw the competition and shared it with me because they thought it would be a good fit!

It was absolutely lovely of them to think of me and one day I had a bit of time spare and thought 'why not?' And here I am!

What are you going to do with the prizes?

The mentoring is key for me.

I'm not a business by a stereotypical sense. I do need some guidance and I want to grow my beautiful small business into what I believe could be a global brand.

I've got ideas about where to spend the £10,000. We'll see!

If you knew what you know now, would you have done anything differently?

Probably not as it's all been beautifully organic.

My personal goal is to make the Hand Dyed Shoe Co a brand with worldwide potential. I don't necessarily mean that I want to become a person that sells lots of shoes, but instead someone that is influencing change and mentalities.

I would love to employ more people who feel that they lack confidence and don't have purpose. I've been there in that boat and would love to inspire people to do their own thing.

What are your final words of advice?

It's easy for people to say that you can't, but you need to force yourself to get on with it. I've never been to university. What I have achieved is all from sheer determination.

Lorna Bladen
Head of Marketing at Enterprise Nation. I specialise in community growth and engagement - email and content marketing - social media strategy - and building collaborative partnerships. What do I love doing? Connecting with start-ups and small businesses and shining a spotlight on them.

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