Celebrating our clients: Tiny Box Company

Published by Alison Jones on 12 August 2021

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Tiny Box Company is built on the ethos that luxury and beauty need not be compromised when making ethical packaging choices. That is why jewellery designers, craft businesses, hobbyists and household brands turn to the Sussex-based company for planet-friendly bespoke packaging.

It was a business that very nearly didn’t happen, as Rachel Watkyn, the managing director of Tiny Box Company, explains.

The inspiration for Tiny Box Company was found in war-torn Sierra Leone when Rachel, a high-flying senior executive for a global software company, was posted to the country in the early 2000s. She was not prepared for the poverty, the plight of its people and the ineffectiveness of international aid efforts. Put starkly, aid was failing to reach those that desperately needed it.

“The people I met didn’t want handouts,” explains Rachel, “they wanted a more sustainable solution. Sierra Leoneans are incredibly creative, producing beautiful pieces of handmade jewellery and that is where an idea for a new business started.”

However, on returning to the UK for a routine operation, Rachel’s world was turned upside down. The operation very quickly went wrong, leaving her bed-ridden for almost a year suffering from regular and frightening seizures. She lost everything – her job, home, and four years of her life.

In 2004, living with her parents and beginning to rebuild her life, she revisited the idea of hand-made jewellery from Sierra Leone and other artisan jewellers.

“It was following a conversation with my sister that the journey moved away from jewellery to packaging,” explains Rachel. “She said ‘you can’t put beautiful pieces of jewellery in cheap plastic boxes’, and nor did I want the minimum order requirements of thousands when just 50 or so were needed.

“After considerable research, I kept drawing a blank. There wasn’t anyone creating the packaging that I was looking for – bespoke, small and environmentally friendly. And that is where Tiny Box Company was born, in the back bedroom of my parents’ house.”

Today, Tiny Box Company employs over 90 people, has a turnover of more than £10 million, and with more than 40,000 customers worldwide including some of the world’s most recognisable brands. Tiny Box Company is now big business.

Dragons Den

Tiny Box Company captured the eye of the BBC Dragon’s Den in its infancy when Rachel’s business partner, unbeknown to her, put the company forward for investment and participation in the popular TV show.

“The first I knew was when the producers called me, inviting me onto the programme and asking how we would use the money,” says Rachel. “It was a nerve-wracking experience, but we eventually secured investment from two of the dragons. It helped raise the profile of the business immeasurably, giving us immediate credibility.”

The Dragons have allowed Rachel to grow and expand the business as she wanted, providing advice or support only when it was needed or requested.

The timing and product offering from Tiny Box Company has been well-placed to ride the rising e-commerce wave, with platforms like Etsy fostering independent artisan producers looking for small-scale packaging sitting alongside household brands that increasingly want environmentally friendly and bespoke packaging to enhance their own brand. The business has grown at a steady 46% year-on-year and with no debt.

COVID impact

Rachel’s commitment to her staff and the business is underpinned by being debt-free. “Should there ever be a downturn we could protect everyone,” she says.  “But when the government announced the first lockdown on 23 March 2020, it left a solid imprint.”

Rachel literally watched the business she had spent years building disappear.

“When we looked at the numbers, we realised that we could survive for about five months,” says Rachel. “But something wasn’t quite right. Something was missing. It was then that we realised an order for £500,000 of stock had not yet been captured in our financial reports. We were suddenly in a very dark place.”

And so too were many thousands of the business’ customers – particularly the hobbyists and sole traders with no online platform on which to sell their products.

“Within four weeks we created an online marketplace where our customers could sell directly to customers and we could dispatch for them – a cross between Amazon and Etsy. And then followed orders for packaging for COVID testing kits. In the space for a few short months, we went from one extreme, seeing the business all but disappear, to the other where we were completely flat out.”

Passion and ambition

Rachel Watkyn, Managing Director, Tiny Box Company

Rachel is passionate about small businesses and the contribution they bring to the UK economy and society, holding a clinic every Thursday afternoon where she is available to answer questions and provide help and support to entrepreneurs. She is particularly keen to empower women, giving them the confidence to start and build their own businesses.

Rachel’s passion and success has been recognised when in 2020 she was the winner of the NatWest Everywomen Award. “When you’re privileged or lucky enough it is a good thing to give back, and if I can help other businesses on that journey, well that has to be a good thing.”

Tiny Box Company has big plans for its future, currently exploring a new dedicated manufacturing plant in Sussex to meet the growing demand for bespoke and environmental packaging, reducing its reliance on an international supply chain whilst providing a one-stop-shop for its customers.

“It is early days yet,” says Rachel, “but Tiny Box Company is soon to be a massive box company.”

We have been supporting Rachel and Tiny Box Company for the last year as the business continues its journey in a post-Brexit and post-COVID landscape.

“Kreston Reeves offer a refreshing, no-nonsense approach when looking at the business holistically rather than just a financial accounting perspective. They understand the business in a wider framework rather than just the numbers behind it. What is particularly outstanding is the personal contact with senior partners, they provide the sort of honest, clear guidance that has helped me make the right financial decisions to drive our growth.”

Alison Jones, Partner at Kreston Reeves and leading the team advising Tiny Box Company said: “Rachel is an inspiration to entrepreneurs across the UK. She has built a business from the ground up through some of the most challenging economic environments ever seen. It is a journey that still has some way to go and we are delighted to support her and Tiny Box Company.”

Learn more about Tiny Box Company.

This year Kreston Reeves is celebrating 200 years of history. We are using the significant milestone as an opportunity to celebrate our clients, our colleagues, and our communities! Find out more

"Kreston Reeves offer a refreshing, no nonsense approach when looking at the business holistically rather than just a financial accounting perspective. They understand the business in a wider framework father than just the numbers behind it. What is particularly outstanding is the personal contact with senior partners, they provide the sort of honest, clear guidance that has helped me make the right financial decisions to drive our growth."

Rachel Watkyn, Managing Director, Tiny Box Company

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