David and Jo Acheson, of Liberty Garden Buildings
THE kindness of a virtual stranger has helped one couple realise their business dreams.
Husband and wife team David and Jo Acheson opened Liberty Garden Buildings, at the Yew Tree Garden Centre, East Woodhay, in November 2016 and have enjoyed a successful first 18 months of trading.
The couple’s backgrounds in sales and interior design have both helped shape the company, but it was a surprise mentor who gave them the biggest kick start.
David, a farmer’s son, grew up in Marlborough and attended the local grammar school.
When he left, he became a trainee accountant, spending four years in the industry.
“I gave it up to become a photocopier salesman,” he smiles.
“I progressed up the corporate ladder, but got fed up with the bureaucracy and not being in charge of my own destiny.
“I worked in sales management and as a sales director for 25 years, but then decided I wanted to do something on my own.
“We had always wanted to do something together and something that fitted around the children.”
Like her husband’s, Jo’s career has also taken two paths.
She grew up in Hermitage and went to The Downs School, Compton, before studying A-levels in media studies, sociology and psychology at Newbury College.
She joined the Inland Revenue, but quickly found that it “wasn’t what I wanted to do”, so she started a correspondence course in interior design and set up her own business, Jo Jo Online Interior Design.
“I worked part-time for John Lewis of Hungerford at the same time as running my business,” she explains.
“For my online business, I would source all of the things people needed for their interiors, working to their dimensions and budget and then give them an online shopping list.
“I worked with people in the Italian mountains as well as a hotel and food hall in Malawi.
“It worked very well around the children.”
The couple’s initial plan had been to buy a business similar to the one they own today, but things didn’t work out with the bank, which decided they didn’t have enough experience in the industry.
“The man who we were looking to buy the business off of offered me the chance to go and work for him and said he would teach me all about it,” David explains. “I started the next day.
“We had only met him twice when he offered us the help.
“He’s been a mentor for us ever since.
“There was no personal gain for him at all, he just did it to help us. He did more for us as a complete stranger than anyone else ever has.”
The Good Samaritan helped the Achesons find the site for their new venture, which they are pleased is in an independent business like their own, and introduced them to a number of suppliers.
When the couple opened Liberty Garden Buildings, they made him a silent partner as way of a thank you.
The business itself was named by their youngest daughter, Harri, after her big sister, Liberty.
“Liberty was really quite chuffed,” explains Jo.
“We couldn’t agree on names and we went round and round in circles until Harri suggested calling it after Liberty.”
The ambitious couple designed the site themselves, picking out which buildings they wanted to showcase, and spent just under two months clearing and preparing everything themselves.
“It was basically a field,” Jo adds. “We did as much of the work we could ourselves and it was actually good fun.”
The buildings, which are allowed under permitted development, are delivered to customers and constructed in situ within a day – or two for the larger ones.
“The buildings should be an extension to your lifestyle,” David explains.
“Customers use them for all different things; gyms, craft and art studios; children’s dens.
“We have such a mix of buildings too; some very traditional things, like the Victorian greenhouses, and some very modern things, like the pods.
“They are quite Marmite – you either love them or hate them.
“We have to cater for different budgets too and have something from £3,000 up to £45,000.
“We are quite keen to help show people how to paint them and insulate themselves if that can bring it in on budget for them too.”
The stock held by the company is always evolving, with new buildings coming in all the time, which Jo describes as “quite exciting” – the designer in her is given free rein to make the buildings look beautiful for the prospective customers visiting the show homes.
The couple, who live in Great Bedwyn, are the closest stockists from the pod manufacturers in Birmingham for the South and so they have customers visiting from far and wide, which has helped them reach more than 100 sales since opening.
“We have some quite ambitious targets we want to hit in the future,” says David.
“Our plan is to develop one site to a really high level.
“We may eventually look at other sites, but we believe if a site is good enough then people will travel to get there.
“We offer national coverage and have had enquiries about our greenhouses from France.
“We have sold just over 100 buildings to date, which we are really pleased about.
“We do get ‘shed envy’ too and have had a lot of people coming in after seeing our buildings in a neighbour’s garden.
“Our plan has been to do it all ourselves for the first two years and so we only had three days holiday last year.
“We were outside cleaning the roof of the buildings in our boiler suits the other day too.”
The dedication paid off when Liberty Garden Buildings won the Newbury Weekly News Best in Business 2017 Start Up
“We really didn’t imagine we’d win,” Jo adds. “We were absolutely thrilled.”