DRIVE, determination and passion. Sara Davies MBE has these three attributes in abundance.
Having famously started a crafting venture from her university bedroom at just 21 years old, the County Durham-born entrepreneur has grown Crafter’s Companion into a multi-million pound, global success. Gracing our television screens as the youngest-ever female investor to join BBC One’s Dragons’ Den and having danced her way to week seven on Strictly Come Dancing in 2021, Sara’s come a long way from her humble beginnings as a ‘middle of the road’ student at school.
“I’ve got where I have because of my mindset,” she told the audience of more than 250 pupils, parents and staff in a packed Newsom Hall. “If you meet anyone who knows me – people who do business with me, the other Dragons - and you ask them to sum me up in a couple of words, the first word to come out of anybody’s mouth is ‘driven’.”
Headlining Dame Allan’s’ exciting lecture programme, Sara revisited her years at school and university as she inspired pupils to harness that same drive and passion in their own lives and work.
Opening her talk, she shared: “I’ve done quite a bit of self-reflection and been on a journey of self-discovery over the last few days, while preparing for this talk, and it’s really made me understand and appreciate just what I was when I was your age and how that’s shaped the person I am today. It’s been a great eye-opener.”
One of two daughters to parents Frank and Susan, who ran their own decorating business in the small, County Durham mining village of Coundon, Sara attended St John’s School and Sixth Form College, in Bishop Auckland.
“I wasn’t brains of Britain, I was probably middle of the road,” she admitted. “When I did my GCSEs, I knew I could have done better if I’d just pushed myself a little harder.”
Her A Level years were transformative. Having started to take a keen interest in her family firm – Wear Valley Decorating Centre – Sara chose to take Business Studies alongside academic subjects Maths, History and French. With her passion for the vocational subject ignited, she worked hard at Sixth Form and set her sights on a popular business degree course at the University of York. At the same time, she’d met and fallen deeply in love with now-husband Simon. His positive influence and own drive inspired her to aim high. Originally predicted Bs and Cs at the start of her A Levels, Sara’s determination to secure a place at York saw her achieve 3 As.
“What I learnt then, as a teenager, was that there’s a direct correlation between how hard I worked and what I got out of the other end of it,” she said.
“When I went to university, I wasn’t the smartest person on that course – in fact, the other students didn’t talk like me, they didn’t walk like me, and I stuck out like a sore thumb - but I knew I wanted to succeed more than any of them. I wanted to be the best and that drive really kicked in.”
In her third year at university Sara did a placement at a small, local crafting company, Graphicus. She recalled: “It was my first real exposure to the business, and I became passionate about it; I fell in love with the crafting industry. When I finished the placement, I had so many ideas for new products buzzing round my head!”
That experience proved to be life changing. It was in her final, fourth year at university that Sara invented The Enveloper – an envelope-making tool for card crafters – and sold more than 8,000 units of the product within the first 24 hours of it being debuted on shopping channel, Ideal World.
With a fax machine and laser printer set up in her bedroom, she established Crafter’s Companion while studying for her degree.
“That final year at university was a blur,” she recalled. “If ever I feel now that I’m busy, I think back to that year and I don’t know how I got through it; I had such drive to prove I could succeed.
“By the time I graduated in May, my business was turning over more than our family firm, which had been running for 25 years - I achieved a first-class honours degree and was named the top student on the course across all three years.
“When you’ve got the drive, you can do absolutely anything. I was never the smartest person in the room, I wasn’t even at the half way mark, but I had more drive in abundance than every other person, and that’s what made the difference. I worked at full capacity, and always believed there was that little bit more in the tank.”
Long before her appearance on Dragons’ Den, it was this attitude and sharp focus that saw Sara form an affinity with entrepreneur, philanthropist and former Dragon, Duncan Bannatyne.
“I remember buying all the Dragons’ books, keen to learn about their success in business, and Duncan Bannatyne’s story had such a profound impact on me,” she said.
“He was just really normal; he hadn’t had any opportunities in his life that anyone else couldn’t have had; the only thing he had in abundance was drive and passion and the belief that he was going to succeed. He wasn’t frightened; he was prepared to try anything and to fail. I read his book and thought: ‘If you can do it, then there’s no reason I can’t’. What he gave me is a real feeling of self-belief.”
Now on her fourth year in the Den, Sara invests, on average, £500,000 each season. “Simon calls it my expensive hobby,” she joked.
Crafter’s Companions, based in Newton Aycliffe, manufactures and supplies crafting products including card, stamps, cutting tools and sewing essentials. In the last financial year, the business turned over £37.8m and currently employs more than 200 people.
During her talk, Sara shared plans to invest heavily in technology and increase her online presence.
She explained: “If you want to learn how to make a Victoria sandwich and search recipes online you choose the Mary Berry one because you trust that if she says it’s the best, then it’s the best.
“When people want to learn about craft and start searching online, I want to be that voice of authority. I want to be the Mary Berry of the crafting world!”
Not one to do things by half, Sara is also working on another project and will appear on television screens in spring as a judge on BBC’s brand-new wedding-themed show, Master of Ceremonies, alongside First Date’s favourite Fred Sirieix.
Despite her impressive achievements to date and her ambitions for the future, Sara remains humble.
“I truly believe I’m a product of the people I have surrounded myself with. I’ve got some great influencers in my life – particularly my dad and Simon – and they’ve always pushed me to be the very best that I could possibly be,” Sara told the audience.
“Then there was the push that came from within. When that switch flicked for me as a teenager, that drive went off the scale.”
Addressing pupils directly Sara said: “You’re so lucky that this lecture series has been facilitated by the school; but with any opportunity like this, it’s only an opportunity if you take something from it and do something with it.
“What you need to now think is: ‘Am I driven? Where does that drive come from? What gives me that passion? What holds me back?’ Find that drive to be the absolute best version of yourself, for yourself.”
Top tips from Sara Davies:
· The harder you work, the luckier you are….
Don’t let anyone tell you success is down to luck – yes, you need a sprinkle of luck with everything - but it’s 1% luck and 99% hard graft.
· Be the best you can be, and you’ll find that fulfilling…
If you do something half-heartedly then it’s a missed opportunity. Give 100% effort and you’ll be proud of what you do.
· You are a product of the people you surround yourself with…
Surround yourself with good people who have a positive influence on your life and push you to be the best version of yourself possible.
Sara Davies pictured with Y12 pupils Jagdeep, Gursahib, Drew and Sophia.
The final talk of this year’s series of ‘The Lectures’ will be from Allanian, professor Ruth Gregory - a notable mathematician and physicist who specialises in the field of cosmology on 23 March. For tickets visit : https://www.trybooking.co.uk/BWAC