I have long admired Melbourne designer and businesswoman Cindy-Lee Davies, who has done so incredibly well with her home-grown design studio Lightly!
Cindy-Lee launched Lightly in July 2005, whilst still working as a lighting consultant for Euroluce lighting. A year later, in 2006, she left the day job and went out on her own – and hasn’t looked back. Based from a colourful studio and showroom in Collingwood, Lightly now designs and manufactures a varied collection of over 100 products for the home, and stocks retailers across Australia and internationally. The business has even collaborated with major international brands including Anthropologie and Kate Spade! Cindy-Lee still designs every item herself, supported by a close-knit team of just 4 staff. For a small team, they sure get a lot done!
In recent years Lightly has extended their business with the addition of a retail showroom, stocking Lightly products alongside a stylish edit of homewares and designer pieces by both local and international brands. It’s such a brilliant, eyepoppingly colourful space, well worth a visit if you haven’t discovered it yet! (Address at the bottom of this post)
For the third instalment in our Small Business series this month, we spoke to Cindy-Lee about the challenges and rewards of running a small business. Her top tips include stopping to eat a proper lunch with her team everyday, and ensuring all her hard work is always balanced by personal pursuits outside the workplace (including yoga, meditation and/or a 40km morning bike ride!).
Tell us a little bit about the background of Lightly and how your business is structured.
Lightly was launched in 2005 in homage of my grandmother Rosemary Lightly, with a lace inspired home wares collection. We have now grown to include over 100 products that span the breadth of interior design. Recent collections focus on a limited palette of materials, organic tones of leather and wood are used in living, whilst in lighting and tableware we explore the use of copper, brass and stone. We try to produce products that are innovative, sincere and ethical.
Our head office is based in Collingwood, along with our Studio/ Warehouse facilities and core staff. As a maker I am still very involved in the designing and making of the products and general management. We produce products in limited editions on site, so we need to be pretty organised with time and space, there is always a lot going on!
You have to be driven, efficient yet flexible when running a small business. Freya in the studio always says to I am the person she wants to be standing next to when disaster strikes! ‘Cindy-Lee would outsmart all the cockroaches in an apocalypse’ Freya says. ‘She is fiercely driven in the sweetest way, and can somehow walk directly off the tarmac and into the studio!’ That may give you an idea of how we work I guess!
We sell to three different markets, wholesale i.e. retailers of gallery stores, trade (architects and interior designs for specification market and events) and of course retail, with our online store and showroom access in Collingwood.
As a design studio we are committed to sustainable practice and environmental responsibility with all the products we create. We produce 60 percent of our products locally, and recently we have begun producing offshore with small makers in Asia who still handcraft. In Australia we have worked with the same 10 factories for 9 years, so they are my local family and I love to support local business as much as we can.
What does a typical work day at Lightly involve?
My day is pretty varied, usually starts with a long bike ride, as I have recently become addicted to road cycling, for 9 years it was yoga but now its also heading to the hills for some fresh air at 5.00am, then a cup of tea. It’s like moving meditation – although in 2 degrees at the moment it has been a little harder to get up!
Once I get to work, Laura my amazing assistant arrives and we discuss the day prior to staff arriving in the studio. Three days a week we are usually making, assembling, invoicing and shipping, and the other two planning, social media and design development. We all have lunch together daily, in summer we like to sit and chat in the courtyard over our daily meal. All of my staff love food so there is a little food competition at times!
How many staff do you employ?
In house there we have a team of 4, plus my husband Willie, does some photography/graphics for the catalogue. I also work with 3 contractors at different factories, as well as employ an accountant, stylists, web designers, and photographers as freelancers.
What are some daily office rituals and systems you employ to enhance your / your team’s productivity?
I like to have a staff lunch once a month out of the office together, being near Smith Street we are always trying new spots. We eat lunch together daily and stop for an hour, I think its important to all chat about life out of work. Last month we did a lunchtime mindfulness meditation class, which was interesting; and I hope to do a group yoga class soon.
Communication is the most important thing, daily task lists and making sure everyone is one the same page.
We do have stand up meetings every Tuesday about production, and Laura and I will have coffee once a week out and chat about on goings. We have a shared calendar and all computers are networked via various programs. For example using the iCloud to store shared images as a central point.
With the bonus of hindsight what do you know now about running a small business that you wish you knew when you started?
Find time to work on the business not in the business. When you start out you are just in it.
Also I always suggest that areas that aren’t your forte ie bookkeeping; pay someone else to do! It will free you up to be more productive at what you excel at.
What are your top three tips about running a successful small business?
1. Employ great staff and a team that understands your industry and vision.
2. Have a good accountant and financial advisor early.
3. Take your passion and make it happen (Yes I’m a Flashdance lover, I weld with a helmet with Alex on it).
4. You really need to have an endless drive, but also you need to balance that with time away from work, so you can come back fresh at things.
Oh and laugh, you have to create a happy environment. Laughing keeps Lightly alive.
Who is a local small business owner you admire and why?
I have total respect for any small, self-funded business, doing their thing with integrity. KUDOS!
3 Glasshouse rd
Open Monday to Friday 10.00am – 5.00pm
Saturday 11.00am – 5.00pm