Thinking inside box
PUBLISHED: 13:00 24 October 2013
The Empty Box Company has grown and developed over the past 26 years of business, and six years ago owner Giselle Hume, husband James and their three children made the life-changing move from Dorking in Surrey to a remote farmhouse in Milton Abbot near Tavistock. Determined to live the dream, she has worked extremely hard to continue building the business from her Devon base whilst fitting the business around her family's busy new lifestyle. Giselle and James bought a farmhouse with three holiday cottages, 25 acres of land for animals and a barn for the production workshop. "It was ultimately a life change for us - now we have got the benefit of working from a beautiful environment and bringing up our three children, Raffy, 6, Selwin, 14 and Bethany, 18, in the countryside."
Giselle and James converted the cow shed into a production workshop overlooking the Tamar Valley, where her team produce beautiful, high-end boxes of all shapes and sizes. She focuses on product development and marketing, whilst her husband James manages the production side of things. “It was a wacky idea originally, when we came out of college. We had both always been into theatre and we found this old fashioned hat box, so we decided to revive it and our business grew from that,” explains Giselle. “We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London to do our research so we use traditional designs for storage boxes, and incorporate the Edwardian imagery associated with boxes.”
It’s a simple concept, which soon evolved into making wedding dress boxes with special pH neutral board to prevent discolouration. The key to James and Giselle’s success comes from targeting a niche market whilst being adaptable: “We can hand make anything, from an order of 200 big boxes to a single bespoke box with specific measurements. Chinese manufacturers simply can’t do that.” The Empty Box Company has about 200 different designs, and each product has its own use.
“It may be time-consuming but we have got production down to a very fine art so manufacturing is very efficient.” Each box is carefully handmade – depending on size, they take between 30 to 60 minutes to make: “It is a bit like an elf’s workshop in here!” Giselle explains that her team is fairly innovative and they are always looking for new and better ways to do things. “And because we’ve been in business so long now, things are coming full circle – we have one customer who put her wedding dress away in one of our boxes years ago and now it is time for her daughter to do the same!”
Giselle enjoys looking out for fresh, new paper designs: “I get excited when I discover some of the more unusual designs that really stand out,” says Giselle who scours the best designers for something that little bit different, including The Designer’s Guild, Osborne & Little and Sandersons. “Most reps live near London, but some of them try and tie in visits to us with a surf trip to Cornwall!” The trade side of the business has now grown to 70% of production, and some exciting special projects have arisen in recent months. “We have made bespoke hat boxes for ITV1’s Mr Selfridge, and this autumn some of our boxes will be appearing on ITV1’s Downton Abbey.”