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Evolution and Diversification

by Andy Field

Published: July 2017

"Sometimes the desire to grow and expand your business can be overwhelming" Andy Field, Designate Products

‘Too much!’ Looking back it is little wonder that these were the first words burbled back at us by our youngest child.  Words that are still used all too frequently, whether in anger, frustration or as a personal joke shared between a husband and wife who have known each other for 34 years and who, together, have run a creative business for 17 of them.

It was at BCTF in April this year that I had our, all too brief, annual catch up with Angie who kindly offered me the chance to submit an article for this most excellent of publications. We were honoured to have a feature on our business, Designate Products, within the printed version of craft&design back in March 2009, /features/202/designate-products, and as I contemplated over what the focus of this article should be, I kept returning to the chaotic days leading up to BCTF and those words…’Too much!’ Since the article in 2009 our business has evolved in many ways with diversification playing a large part in its evolution.



We still produce our range of creative interior accessories, supplying retailers and galleries throughout the UK. To source the necessary materials we’re still reclaiming, recycling and reusing. Then, during 2012, in the midst of recession and suffering from a multitude of repetitive strain injuries, an opportunity saw us take on an unwanted and much-maligned public house, conveniently located next door to our workshops. Designate @ The Gate was born! Our aim was to transform the building into both our home and a fully licensed arts venue that would become a hub for all things creative. Whether it be hosting craft workshops, exhibitions, showing film, live music, events, food or drink. However, in reality, due to a dangerous mix of inexperience and naivety, the following four years became… well…..too much! Thinking we had to conform to others' ideals to succeed, our ethos got lost.  Feeling broken, both physically and emotionally, it was again time to reassess. We had lost balance and through some harsh, difficult and forced decision making we tried to take back control.

Scaling back rather than forcing expansion has resulted in a much more effective business model. We have dramatically cut down our costs, eliminated waste yet clawed back time in order to be more productive for both our business and family. Designate @ The Gate now opens its doors on the third weekend of every month with each month having a different theme. This allows a focus for ideas and creativity.  New products are made for every opening and displayed throughout the venue which becomes a pop-up gallery, shop, bar and café, styled to showcase the venue, which is available to hire at all other times. Craft workshops are held for adults, kids and families every month and can be combined to form part of our event packages.

Sometimes the desire to grow and expand your business can be overwhelming. It can cloud your judgement. That perceived definition of success, high turnover, growing customer base, bigger workforce is something many strive for, and can be achievable…..for a few. The costs, however, can be so much greater. Stress, fatigue and injury are common symptoms for the self- employed and, if not recognised, can have devastating consequences.

So having the ability and willingness to adapt, change and diversify within your business is key to growth, no matter what form that growth takes. I firmly believe that this is what sets the creative industries apart. The designers and makers, the small independent businesses and the people that work in them all share that desire to make change and offer something new. BCTF, together with many other creative gatherings, are incredibly important in allowing time to spend in the company of like-minded individuals who are always keen to share their experiences, good and bad!

So I return to the days running up to BCTF, wondering if things have actually changed for the better or not;

A manic week in the workshop producing an entire exhibition stand’s worth of products, whilst keeping to deadlines for orders, yet not really knowing how we were getting the stand, and products, to Harrogate;  Last minute borrowing of watertight-ish trailer for the 2.5 hour journey to Harrogate; Fairly pleasant stand build, minimal disagreements in product positioning, then a two and a half hour journey back for afternoon hen party booking making burlesque fascinators; On to Sheffield for evening of visual inspiration ending at 3am in our Air BnB accommodation to find the owners cat had disgraced himself in our suitcase (exhibition clothes luckily hung on rail!) Up at 6am to travel back to Harrogate and look professional for three days in between five more 2.5 hour trips up and down the M1……

Too much?  

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