Back in December, our intrepid writer Charlie went on a shopping tour of Cambridge. One of the first stores she found was Catesby’s on Green Street. We got talking to owner, Neil, whose story is an inspiration to anyone looking to escape their traditional career and strike out on their own.
IDEALIST: Can you tell us where you’re based and give us a sense of the history of your company? What inspired you to start your company?
Neil: I started Catesby’s six years ago with my partner, Jonathon, having spent 18 years working in PR. During those decades, I was fortunate to live in all kinds of different houses, from a loft apartment in a Victorian school to a 17th Century cottage. I’ve always had an eye for interiors and really enjoyed buying and renovating houses, but once they were finished I’d get itchy feet so would find myself selling them, lock stock and barrel, to move on to the next challenge. Like many people I worked with, I dreamed of a different life where I’d have a shop selling all the things I loved, many of them sourced for my own places. Well, they say you should be careful what you wish for! Back in 2010, with a big birthday looming, I was sent to run the Paris office of the agency I was working with, so naturally I spent all my spare time rummaging through flea markets and seeking out people making unusual, original things. When that assignment ended, it felt like the universe was saying:
OK then, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is…
Three years on, the universe gave us another nudge when we spotted our Cambridge store whilst in town meeting up with friends. It had the same panelled interior and grand fireplace as our home in Norfolk, so before we knew it we were moving to Cambridge. It quickly became apparent that our customers are united by a shared aesthetic rather than a specific geography, so in tandem with building our physical store, we’ve put a lot of work into our online store so they can always shop with us, regardless of where they live.
IDEALIST: What is it that you are most proud of?
IDEALIST: What is so unique about your offering?
Neil: From the outset, we looked for products that can’t easily be found elsewhere, and that philosophy has taken us on some interesting journeys. I’m proud to represent the makers whose work we sell and I really enjoy explaining to our customers what makes them so special. I guess I’m a bit like a dog with a bone – when I get a gut feeling that we should be selling something, I just have to track it down. It’s the thrill of the chase that makes a business like ours so much fun.
IDEALIST: What is your most popular range?
IDEALIST: If you were starting your company again now, is there anything you would do differently?
IDEALIST: Can you give us a sense of your day to day life?
Neil: I spend a lot of my time liaising with suppliers and sourcing new products. It’s an important point of difference for an independent business like ours, so we’re always striving to stay one step ahead of the high street. I also keep a constant watch on the financial side of the business. When I worked in PR, one of my favourite clients was Mars, the food and confectionary multi-national, and one of their five principles of business is:
We need freedom to shape our future, we need profit to remain free.
I’m not naturally a numbers person but I really value my freedom, so that way of thinking really resonates with me and has become something of a mantra.
IDEALIST: What are you most excited about in the next season?
Find Out More
Catesby’s can be found in the northern end of Cambridge city centre, amid the cobbled streets and boutiques half way down Green Street, (10 Green St, Cambridge CB2 3JU, 01223 355444) and online at catesbys.co.uk