Last time in our series of behind the scenes interviews, we chatted to product development manager Padraig about where the spark of the idea that became Heyland & Whittle came from, and how he started to use the ancient cold processed method of soap-making that we still practise today.
This month, we caught up with him again to discover how husband and wife team Paddy and Ursula got on board, moving to the friendly factory in Sussex, where the ideas for beautiful new fragrances are dreamt up - and what we might look forward to product-wise in the future.
A business that really took off
Interestingly, Padraig revealed that he didn't originally intend to keep hold of the burgeoning soap-making business, preferring instead to start it off and then let it out into the world with someone else at the helm. Indeed, he actually succeeded in doing so when he met two people named Paddy and Ursula at a craft fair.
They were selling garden furniture, but liked the look of Padraig's ten soaps and their designer boxes. When they found he was prepared to sell the small enterprise, they struck up a deal and moved to what Padraig described as "a really gorgeous farm" in Surrey to carry on the tradition.
However, Heyland & Whittle soon started to really take off and get much bigger - and Paddy and Ursula ended up asking Padraig if he'd consider returning to the home fragrance industry to work for the business he had established, putting his chemistry background to good use by developing brand new products.
Moving to pastures new
Of course, he agreed - and the final piece of the puzzle was complete when H&W moved from the little farmhouse to a new manufacturing facility in Sussex. Yet this didn't mean going completely mechanised and losing all the traditional manufacturing methods like many of their competitors. Instead, the Sussex factory remains very much like that farmhouse kitchen in all but size, as Padraig explained.
"We haven't got lots of machinery - the only high-tech products we've added in the past decade have been a labelling machine for candles and something to help us cut the soaps - we still use a manual press. Everything is still hand-tied and hand-finished, while the candles are still hand-poured. H&W takes the stance that because we make it, we care more about it and feel it's a better product."
This attitude of ownership, care and attention makes for a very happy working environment: "We've got a beautiful garden at the front with lots of plants; it's a nice wholesome place that fits with the products. It's on an industrial estate, but the first thing people notice when they visit is how happy everyone is. We haven't lost the friendliness," said Padraig.
One thing many customers ask us here at H&W is how the wonderful fragrances we are renowned for are chosen and make their way into our candles and reed diffusers.
Padraig explained that he was lucky enough to have a contact at a huge perfumier in Chester, so he arranged for them to develop a portfolio of scents and bring them to H&W HQ. Everyone was so impressed that they became our go-to brand - and this is still the way our new ranges are developed today.
"They bring us lots of fragrance ideas - 15 a season. We really just sit there and sniff," laughed Padraig. "Some may not be for us - perhaps they're too 'loud', not layered enough, too fruity, for example. We choose four or five, then the other staff will get a sniff too. Everybody in the business has a say in what's made and what's not made."
This is an approach that really works: "When we go out to our shows, the first thing people say is that our fragrances are fantastic. They're accessible and not too strong," he said.
What's next for H&W?
We know you love a little sneak peek of what's coming next, so we convinced Padraig to let us in on a few secrets about forthcoming new products.
"One thing we're keen on doing is moving towards hand creams and products that are sold with a focus on the quality of the ingredients. We know people love our fragrances, but that doesn't tell them how good the product is inside. We've worked hard on our products, so we want people to know why," he said.
H&W is also working on a range designed around natural oils that everyone knows are fantastic, such as shea butter and argan oil. Padraig suggested gift sets including a hand cream, lotion, face cream and shampoo featuring these ingredients could be on the cards, so watch this space!
We're continuing to supply high-end hotels around the world with toiletries too, including the Taiwan Sheraton, meaning you could be using H&W next time you jet off on holiday.
Of course, we'll continue to do what we love and meet our customers' needs at the same time as sticking to the values Padraig, Paddy and Ursula have so carefully nurtured since those early days working at a kitchen table - it's what we're known and loved for, after all.
"While we are a fragrance house, there's more to it than just the scent," said Padraig - and he's certainly right.