Interview with My Baba
Tell us a bit about you and what you do?
I’m Kane Dowell, co-founder of traditional confectionary company Ask Mummy & Daddy. I left school at 15, I didn’t go college or university because I just wanted to work and learn from talented people, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do if I’m honest just find myself and see what I would enjoy.
My working life began as a sales assistant in WH Smith which lasted around six months. I went on to work with my parents in the French furniture shop they ran, before asking regular shopper Cath Padgam (OBE Cath Kidston who created the retail business which grew to something special!) if she had any jobs going. That was that!
I started at Cath Kidston and worked there for nearly nine years before moving on but it was at Cath Kidston I really found myself, met some inspirational people and learnt lots and lots!
Have you got any tips or ideas to anyone starting a business?
It’s hard. Very hard. Just think of a ‘very small salary to begin with’. It can be extremely personally rewarding, and I would say to anyone wanting to start a business – be strong, don’t let things get you down, have a clear vision of what product/service you want to offer and deliver. Most importantly know your market/industry.
Why did you start “Ask Mummy & Daddy?”
Whilst I was working as Operations Manager at Biscuiteers Baking Company I was playing with idea of something which could be a gift, or a food – something you could be creative with.
I asked my good friend Scott Young to come on board as co-founder. Scott brought the graphic design, branding and computer skills on board. He was a very important asset for us to be able to grow a brand. He loved the idea and it kinda began as a hobby doing local Christmas and summer markets to earn some extra cash here and there!
How did you come up with the name?
Trying to decide on a business name is tough. The problem is that everyone has an opinion, which is even more annoying! It was actually my father who came up with the name “Ask Mummy & Daddy”. He said to me, “Kane what did you use to do when you were younger? You would ask mum/dad for pocket money to go down to the penny sweet shop!” I LOVED IT…
Have you had struggles with the business?
Like all businesses you will encounter situations and problems – we did! When I left my job at Biscuiteers to concentrate on the business it was because we saw something there that a lot of people were interested in. The business took off – we became permanent stockists in Selfridges stores across the UK, and were stocked in Fenwicks department stores.
We also then opened a pop-up store in the heart of Notting Hill for a year, however it came with real problems: the saying “cash flow is key”. The business didn’t have any bank loans, and was being funded by personally without a salary. Having rents and staff salaries to pay and stock to buy the pop-up became a real issue.
We made a decision to close the business in December 2017 which was tough because we had created something we were proud of. Was it perfect? No, but nothing is and it takes time to get it right. We had to re-jig the business, sort out finances and completely take stock of everything so we could get it right!
What were you doing whilst you had a year out?
Because we jumped into the business and rode the wave of being stocked in some great places, having a pop-up store and an online platform meant we were too busy to do anything. When we closed the business for a year we thought “let’s spend the time getting to know and understand our market and our product”. We were fortunate to visit New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Hong Kong, Australia, Copenhagen, France and Mexico and during this time we were able to visit lots of department stores, local markets, factories, packaging suppliers and lots of independent stores to understand everything. We are still learning now, but we always are!
Has the company has recently re-launched?
Yes. We have a new logo, new branding and are incredibly excited to be back! We have quite a few loyal followers and stockists who stuck by us and understood the situation we found ourselves in. They’re waiting for our new wholesale brochure and for the website to launch. We’ve recently moved into new offices where we have our own production room to pack orders.
Is there any new elements to the business this time around?
We’ll have a smaller, more streamlined product range that ticks all the dietary requirements. We will be doing some super cool collaborations this year – watch this space! We’ll be focusing on bespoke/personalisation and corporate products. For Halloween we’ll release our “Spooky Sweet Cart” for hire at parties and events.
What’s your long term vision for the business?
We don’t want to rush this year, instead we’ll focus on what we know and we’ll do it well. I would be lying if I said I wanted to have a business that grows organically and steady! I would love to have a store in London and a couple of concept stores overseas one day. Where folk can come in, have a coffee, meet friends, buy some gifts – a place everyone can enjoy.
What were the biggest outside influences that had an impact on your business?
When growing up I suffered from dyslexia and that held me back a lot. I wasn’t perfect – I made mistakes. I put myself in debt when I was 18 to the tune of over £12,000. Don’t ask me how/why, I just remember my dad saying to me now “You were living like a rockstar”. We can laugh about it now but at the time it was not funny. I had to pay every penny back to my parents. I have to thank my mother and father for not just this and helping me with the business, but for me as a person.
I would also like to give a special mention to two other people Cath Kidston (now Cath Padgham) and Jo Stavely (former MD at Cath Kidston) both whom I still speak to. These women helped me personally. They’d always be on the phone to be able to chat to, get ideas from, ask questions and offer all-round support! They don’t know I’m doing this interview – thanks Cath & Jo x.
When does the website launch?
Now that the branding is finished we have started work on the product range, the website is due to go live mid-March!
I would like to end by saying one thing: “listen to everyone’s opinion and don’t ever assume you’re something special”. I have managed teams in the past, I own my own business but I have also found great inspiration listening to all types of people and their experiences! Things change very quickly for us in life, so embrace it, have fun, work hard but make sure you play hard too.