This year we are proud to be celebrating our 20th year in business. That’s not only 20 years of developing changing bags, but 20 years of working with the same person everyday. Mel & Suzi started Storksak 2 decades ago with both shared inspirations (and frustrations). Two mothers, one a law teacher, the other a designer, talk to us about the world of business, their relationship, and everything that goes with it.
Melanie Marshall and Suzi Bergman co-owners of Storksak were pioneers of the ‘stylish changing bag’. From their kitchen tables to their office in North London - along with their fantastically loyal team, they not only became, but maintained their place as the go-to brand for new parents looking for luxury, style and quality. How do they do it? Well, it’s apparently like a marriage, a friendship, a journey, a way of life.
“When I stood up at Suzi’s 40th birthday, over ten years ago now, to Suzi’s horror, I held up a photo of us hand in hand walking down the aisle. Some rather uncomfortable sounds echoed over my outpouring of love, friendship and frustrations. Sounds like most relationships? When you go into business, you don’t have the foresight of knowing how long it will last, will it even last? Suzi and I have very different skills, which is generally considered the best mix, however, what you don’t know when you partner with someone, is how you’ll deal with the stresses along the way.”
- Mel, Co-Founder of Storksak
“Sharing the same drive really helps, not just creatively, but in terms of how you want to live your life. We both had different careers, mine in law, and Mel in design, but were both frustrated by the crazy hours and inflexible attitudes to working women. When we started it was pretty much frowned upon to even do a half day’s work from home! Both with young kids, and more babies to come, we needed flexibility, and were determined to get it. We said that when our business was up and running, we would offer that to all our staff, which we did from day one.”
- Suzi, Co-Founder of Storksak
It's a huge challenge to decide to go into business with a friend, but there are four things that got them to where we are today; honesty, reinvention, humour & a team effort. We hear from Mel about how these things have steered them and their business to continued success.
This is not as easy as it sounds, but it’s so important. During a difficult time we made a pledge, that however difficult the conversation, we would always have it, and we did. From discussing how much salary we took or not, to whether we could employ a family member, we always spoke up and openly with one another. When we first started, we desperately needed some investment to pay for the PR. We had preorders from Selfridges and Harrods, but they were just promises, and non-binding. That, coupled with a bit of bragging got us our small bank loan to start the business and we couldn’t have been more excited.
Suzi and I sadly both lost our mothers at different times in our lives, but both are lucky with exceptional fathers who’ve steered us along the way. The best piece of advice given by my dad was “trust each other and be honest with each other always.” It’s been interesting to think about the words of wisdom they’ve given and how most of the time they’ve been right! A bit old-school, but spot on.
Today is different, but quite similar in many aspects. You can never take your eye off things, and even with a solid base and functioning team which means we don’t have to do the picking and packing any longer, you are always ‘switched on’. We always approach challenges in the same way, and have learnt to understand each other better with the experience we've gained through the years.
This is a tricky one and something that comes over time. Sadly not every idea is going to be a best seller and not shying away from having to ditch something and change is an important aspect of growing a successful business. It’s also pretty much impossible to have the same game plan (especially for this long!) If we think back, so much has changed in our business and globally in retail over the last 20 years and we have had to change and adapt over time to reflect this.
We are not a trend led business but we still have to adapt to the changes we see around us to drive our business forward. We always try to listen and learn from people around us, whether that is the wider team, an article we read online or simply some inspiration from the high street! We also know when we need to step back and let others drive certain aspects, we can’t do it all!
Working as a team is simply the key. Building a good team, who (hopefully) respects and trusts us is the route to our business and has got us to where we are today. As our business is based on making products, the factories and the people in them are just as important to us as our immediate team in North London. We have spent years building these important relationships with our suppliers and we are proud of the friendships we have developed. We are proud that most of our nine strong team have been with us from the start and seen us go through both highs and lows, the continuity is wonderful.
Lastly as we all know, a sense of humour goes a massively long, long way. You just can’t and shouldn't take it all too seriously, no matter how hard it gets sometimes you just have to laugh! You never know where things might land and so being able to see the absurd and funny side of things really helps keep up moral for us and for our team too. Have you heard the one about the man who goes into a bar….?
A personal note from Mel & Suzi
We are so proud to be celebrating our 20th year in business! Thank you so much for supporting Storksak over the years. For us personally, Storksak has been a home, not just a business. It’s given a home to our wonderful team and given Suzi and myself the space to bring up our children, whilst continuing with our careers.
Flexible working is so close to our hearts, as we know that without this, parents are shut out of the workplace. We put this in place on day one, and continue to this day. Thanks again for your support, in helping our small business thrive which has meant we’ve been able to play our small part in offering a more gentle and compassionate working environment.