Catherine Highfield

 
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Purple Panda Creations was set up during the summer of 2017, by Catherine Highfield. It is a laser cutting business which specialises in personalised wooden signs for all occasions. In particular, her unique wooden Jersey map has been made as fridge magnets and hanging decorations for many special gifts.

Catherine also enjoys designing and creating bespoke engraved items ranging from slate or hardwood house name signs to new baby gifts and nursery décor to wedding packages and cake toppers to name but a few. As her business has expanded she has diversified into many different materials and product lines.

“Everyone should leave feeling completely satisfied and happy to recommend you to anyone and everyone."

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Tell us about your path to setting up your business and what motivated you?

Following the birth of my twins late 2014 I took a break from my career in finance to become a full-time mum. I enjoyed my experience as a full-time mum so much that after the birth of my third child 21 months later I decided to start up a creative business so that I could work from home.

I absolutely love personalised gifts and came up with the idea when I was thinking of all the events I had that year: a wedding, christening, special birthday and a wedding anniversary. I thought it would be great if there was one place I could shop, supporting local, rather than buying off the internet.

Based on this, and that my husband (who had been a joiner and carpenter for over 12 years) had also worked with a laser cutter and CAD software and said he would teach me all the programming required to make my own designs, utilising many materials, I came up with my business idea.

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How do you work and what is a typical day like for you?

I am lucky enough to live next to the railway track so I cycle with my children to drop them to school, walk our dog then start work. I try to get my work done during school hours but I will work as much as needed after the children go to bed.

In terms of what I will be creating, I love that two days are never alike. I always have orders for new designs which I love but it's also a good mix to have my standard designs which I make to be stocked in various locations across the island.

What are the best parts about your business?

I just love creating unique gifts that are so personal and receiving such amazing feedback from my customers really makes my day. Last week I watched a customer gift a family tree heart decoration to a grandmother who burst into tears, you can't get better than that! It makes my heart burst with pride.

I also really enjoy making my bespoke pieces, I design each and every item in close consultation with my customer and each piece is completely unique. I love the fact that customers come to me with their own ideas and I can design them and turn them into a reality. Whether this be a Jersey map engraved with items representing a loved one's hobbies and people and places important to them or engraving a granite memorial stone or sparkle glass coasters for a wedding, I do quite a lot!

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What has been your greatest struggle as a business owner so far?

My biggest struggle is definitely saying no. I want to help everyone who messages me when realistically, for example, giving 4 days notice to design something, make it, sand it, paint it and assemble it is not enough time and I end up working very late to achieve the tight deadline when I should have just said no (easier said than done!).

I have also found it difficult finding the time to keep up with all my orders as well as all of my ideas. I have some ideas from 18 months ago or longer that I still haven't done yet!

In the early days, I also had a number of times when I spent many hours undertaking maintenance on my machine. I remember the panic one weekend when my machine went out of alignment and wasn't working at all so I spent 17 hours painstakingly moving each mirror by fractions of a millimeter to re-align it and cleaning and maintaining all the different components of my machine. That was scary as I had orders to get done and out! This happened a couple of times when I spent whole weekends stressed trying to fix it as there isn't a repair company over here so it would have cost thousands of pounds to send a specialist and their van with parts over, so I learnt how to service it myself! It may have taken many, many hours but it was well worth it and I'm proud that I now understand my machine and how it all functions.

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What has been your biggest a-ha moment so far?

Realising that I shouldn't worry about anyone else and just do my own thing. It has allowed me to cultivate my own style and go in my own direction, following customer demand. This is why I do not follow any other creatives who are in a similar field as I want all my designs to come completely from me without any external influences, whether sub-consciously or not..

I have also had some awesome ideas from customers too which I just love adding to and putting my own twist on. Often I like the design so much that I add it to my own collection!

Do you have any advice for other small business owners?

I think it's important to be unique. You can be in the same industry as many other businesses, but there is room for everyone if you have your own style and ideas.

Also I believe that customer service is of the utmost most importance, I am very passionate about that! Everyone should leave feeling completely satisfied and happy to recommend you to anyone and everyone.

It is also too important to forge relationships, which blossom into beautiful friendships, with other like minded creatives. Not only can you possibly collaborate in the future, but more importantly working for yourself can have it's ups and downs and it is important to be able to let off some steam to someone who can relate! I have made some wonderful life long friends since starting my business through meeting other creatives at fairs.

Finally, try to price fairly for both you and the customer. Otherwise you end up working for pennies... I've learnt that the hard way and still find it very difficult!

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What currently inspires you?

So many things! Jersey scenes and wildlife, important events, special occasions, customer's stories...

Anything else you would like to share?

Perseverance and hard work pay off. Stick with it through the ups and downs in the first couple of years and then the magic happens.

You can contact and find me here

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