If you were to stumble upon the Not Before Tea studio, you might overhear twelve year old Henry Patterson and his team talking about fairy doors and a charming little mouse called Pip. Based on his bestselling book – he’s a published author too – Not Before Tea brings to life the characters created by Henry, and has most recently expanded to include a range of children’s gifts. Pretty impressive, huh?

We sat down with the young entrepreneur to talk about what it’s like to have your own business at twelve, the challenges he’s faced so far, and to find out the secret to his success. Hint: it involves Oreos.

What inspired you to set up Not Before Tea?

I’d always wanted to write a book, so once The Adventures of Sherb & Pip was finished, I thought to myself: “what can I do next?” We sat down with our illustrator Becky and started to draw all of the characters in loads of different scenes. It was amazing. It was the coolest thing in the world. I decided to put them onto prints, which soon became cushions, and then washbags. Now we have a whole range of products based on the book – everything from rugs to placemats.

How did the fairy doors come about?

I really wanted our customers to be able to make a little house for Pip in their own homes. We started with just a door, but now we’ve got a whole range of accessories. They’ve done really well and have pretty much dominated our lives. “Are there any more miniature ladders?” or “we’re out of tiny bunting” are phrases you’ll hear a lot around the Not Before Tea studio. If anyone popped their head around the door, they’d think we were mad.

What do you love most about what you do?

It’s lovely to think that I’ve added a gift to someone’s birthday or Christmas pile. The thought that someone is going to receive something that I’ve made is an amazing feeling. I was on the tube recently and saw a child cuddling one of our Pip soft toys. It was incredible!

Since launching Not Before Tea, I’ve been given some amazing opportunities too. I’ve meet Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy, Richard Branson and most recently, Caprice!

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

I’ve never had a problem with the press. All of the journalists I’ve met have been really lovely. The trouble starts when it goes online. People can be really judgmental and very harsh, making personal comments completely unrelated to my business.

As an entrepreneur, I try to concentrate on the positive. I don’t care about comments that aren’t constructive, I like to hear what people want. When customers are saying “why don’t you write another book?” then that’s the type of thing I’ll listen to, stuff that can help my business.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

  1. Create something that’s recognisable. You can’t reinvent the iPhone, because it’s been done. But if a customer can recognise which phone is yours out of a line up, that’s good. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd.
  2. Be brave. You should never be afraid to say what you think or do what you love because of bad press or negative comments
  3. If you’re just starting out, test your ideas and sales techniques at a car boot sale. It taught me how to display and price my products. You learn a lot about your customers too – it’s a taste of retail but on a small scale.

What’s your secret formula for coming up with ideas?

Coming up with ideas is easy, I have tons every day. The hard bit is committing to them. Every week, mum and I will go to our local café and have an Oreo milkshake. We talk through our ideas, take a sip, talk some more, take another sip, before we start making headway. It’s hard to make decisions when you’re at the studio or in the house. It’s important to have a space to think in. The Oreos help too!

Henry will be talking about his business and what he’s learnt from at Retail Week Live. You can follow his Twitter takeover at @notonthehighstreet. For more Not Before Tea goodies, check out their storefront now.

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