Owners of Bespoke Blinds & Poles, Maxine & Neil Hayter

Maxine and Neil Hayter own the successful business Bespoke Blinds & Poles in Sheffield. An award winning company that opened its doors for business in September 2007. My interview with Maxine Hayter begins as she tells me a little about her personal life. First of all there is her husband Neil who is the other half of their company Bespoke Blinds & Poles – a lovely and highly talented step-daughter who is currently at University and 21 this year and finally a Border Terror (Maxine assures me this is not a spelling mistake!) called Baxtor. She tells me that she and her husband have been together for many years now after meeting at their then place of work. In their spare time, the pair love to hike, “we’ve done several long-distance hikes (Coast to Coast, West Highland Way, Hadrian’s Way) and can often be found heading up to the top of a hill in the Peak District” Maxine explains “Neil is also an active member of the Edale mountain rescue team, whilst I support through fund-raising and being a team member widow!” she jokes. “Works commitments mean we have limited time, so I set myself one big project a year- this year it’s the garden, so expect me to be muddy, with ragged nails and smelling of soil…”

Maxine had worked in the retail business since leaving school at the age of 16 so knows a lot about the sector. She explains that her and Neil’s business is aimed around treating her customers as individuals instead of a “one size fits all” business. They were inspired to set up Bespoke Blinds & Poles as there was nobody else who offered the combination of width of assortment, depth of information and the customer service levels that they knew customers wanted. Maxine says, “Whether it’s a small bathroom window, conservatory roof or an arched glass wall, we aim to offer choices to our customers. As the home buying market has slowed down, people are working their current homes harder- maximising/ increasing space, opening rooms to increase light, utilising outside space as well as inside. We offer solutions that will dress windows, improve insulation, reduce energy consumption and match our customers’ unique styles. We have also found over the years that we have developed a reputation for problem- solving, and this takes us all over the UK. As architects look to create more and more carbon neutral, stylish designs in home living, the importance of supplying technically advanced blinds which sit comfortably within these habitats and criteria is increasing. “

Maxine explains to me that Bespoke Blinds & Poles is all about helping customers to find the view they’ve always wanted. They work hard to build up a relationship with strangers in order to build up trust of their suggestions. Maxine and Neil have showrooms where customers can physically try out displays and discuss their own homes and styles in order to find exactly what they are looking for.

“Many first-time visitors come on for a ‘standard’ blind- something they’ve seen in their parents’ house, at work or in a magazine,” she says “that’s great for us to start with, and we can show them what else is out there- the final choice is theirs, but it’s a lot more informed decision. Between selection and installation, we keep our customer informed all the way- communication is the key. We always follow up projects after completion to ensure that customers are happy with everything- their thrill with the finished product is our thrill.”

As Maxine and Neil realised, social media has very much started to play its own part in promoting businesses – she decided they needed to raise their profile and reach a wider consumer base. “We have had a website pretty much from the start of our business, and- even though it’s a brochure-style only (no selling)- it quickly became clear that a lot of people do their homework online prior to contacting our showrooms. Neil is much more tech-savvy than I, and was keeping in touch with people via Facebook. I set up my own profile with LOTS of help, and then started studying what to do with it. More by luck than design, I managed to source a small amount of funding to improve my page, and that led to my looking at Twitter as a way of chatting more instantly, and LinkedIn for B2B conversations. Although, apparently, there are just over 300 SM sites!”

Maxine soon realised that the main challenge was understanding the psychology behind social media. “My first posts were ‘sell, sell, sell’, followed by the thought why isn’t this working?’ The clue is in the descriptive- it’s supposed to be ‘social’. You may not be face-to-face, but the best social media users chat to each other, ask questions, debate, pass on information and offer advice. I’ve tried to build our presence in this way” she says.

Maxine found that her other challenge is time – “you can really get lost in it all!” she says, “in the same way that I have a marketing budget, I had to learn to structure my SM marketing in terms of time. Our biggest obstacle so far has probably been building our brand and our biggest success is still being here – we opened in the recession and expanded in the recession” Maxine explains.

I asked Maxine for her best piece of advice to others; “just because everyone says something is a great idea, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Stay focussed on your core products – too much diversification will weaken your offer.”