Name: Panni Young
Company: Little Yellow Hedgehog
Position: Director / Manager
Community is important to most people. It provides our frame of reference and the majority of what we encounter in our lives. To Panni, community is something more, it has become the heart of her business. It is her reason for being in business and the reason she can be in business.
The idea of owning a ceramic painting workshop had been in Panni’s head for over 30 years before she actually had the opportunity to open one and develop it to what it is today. The granddaughter of a Hungarian artist, she was always encouraged to create with her hands, particularly with paints, and her ‘eureka’ moment came when her grandmother was visiting her in the UK from Budapest in 1978. Together, they decided to visit one of the UK’s first ceramic painting workshops, which was based in Hadleigh, Suffolk.
The idea remained with her until 2014 when she visited a similar place in Nayland, Essex. It was here that she really got the bug for ceramic art and so when her mother passed away a year later, leaving her an inheritance, she felt that the time was right and fitting to start a ceramics workshop of her own.
A little over a month after her mother’s passing, Panni had opened Little Yellow Hedgehog and several months into operation her business had evolved to the extent where she had more than trebled her monthly revenue.
Panni said: “It all happened so quickly. Ignite really helped me out. Originally there was just a room available at the Victoria Street Shopping Village, but then a kitchen became available and I took on the responsibility for that. So now it has turned into a café as well.”
The business has grown from an initial concept and hope into a dream come true and is now the centre of a large community. She says that advice from Ignite about marketing has led to increased business, but she feels the underlying cause of her better fortunes has been because of how welcome people feel.
Panni said: “Word of mouth and Facebook have definitely played a part, but a big reason is because everyone here is nice to each other.”
Her ceramic painting room has changed into a large ceramic painting workshop with café, and she also takes responsibility for receiving cash for some of the stalls in the shopping village too.
“It literally snowballed. It was supposed to be just a room and now it is all like this,” Panni said pointing to the array of busy tables, painted ceramics and room full of people with toddlers toddling in the play area.
Modestly, she says that without her friends she wouldn’t have been able to cope, but it could also be said that without her and the friendly atmosphere she’s created, people wouldn’t have a place to spend time together to be friends.
Panni said: “The main thing is that I am here for the community, not here for money. People can stay for six minutes or six hours, I don’t mind.”
The product lines she has diversified into have proven to be such a success with the joint café venture that she has recently invested in a kiln with almost three times the capacity. Perhaps proving that putting people before profit doesn’t harm the bottom line too much at all.
By having no restrictions on who her target customer is, “people don’t have to be Michelangelo to paint and it isn’t just for children”, she says, she has seen herself create knitting groups, play groups and even an evening class where regulars join together to paint over a glass of wine. She also has a no booking policy when people can just turn up and paint and has catered to nursing homes and dementia groups too.
Although Ignite mainly helped with the premises to begin with, they have been there throughout to offer advice and make their extensive contact list available.
Panni very much sees her current place as a stepping stone to setting up the venture in a place of her own, making a community orientated place a permanent feature in Braintree’s town centre. She knows that she has been given the best start possible by Ignite on the road to making this happen.
“They helped me set up and it was the easiest step. All I had to do was bring in my stuff and pay rent basically,” Panni said.
Her involvement in the community has seen her create hundreds of handmade ceramic poppies for this year’s Remembrance Day, and they are selling as fast as she can produce them around the town and even shipping as far as Australia.
Which perhaps returns her to where the idea for a ceramic painting centre of her own was first realised. That visit to a place in Suffolk in 1978 with her grandmother who painted a plate with a red flower emblazoned upon, which all these years later stands proudly in a display cabinet where Panni welcomes visitors to a place of her own.
Some have ideas for a lifetime and are never able to act upon them, Panni can now say that she is not one of those people as she has made one of her dreams come true. Family is at the heart of her idea and a new extended family is at the heart of her business.
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