Fragrances galore, Lord Sugar, and the 'six Ps': Ursula Heyland on Heyland & Whittle's first 15 years

Heyland & Whittle's Gold Classic collection

Back in 2003, Paddy and Ursula Heyland (nee Whittle), bought ten recipes for handmade Soap Bars from a friend. This year, that soap business - which became known as Heyland & Whittle - is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Of course, its 2018 range features so much more than just soap, so how did the brand get to where it is today, and what have been some of the highlights of its first 15 years? We caught up with Ursula Heyland to find out...

Happy 15th anniversary Heyland & Whittle! What did you and Paddy do before starting the business?

"Paddy and I have always had our own businesses, right from when we left school. I was a costume jeweller, making handmade jewellery with a team that took the products around craft shows. I've always worked in a creative field and have a keen eye for detail.

"Paddy has had a number of different businesses; as a trained chef, he once owned his own restaurant in Norwich, and later he had a pottery business, supplying the likes of Fortnum & Mason, who Heyland & Whittle supply today!

"When we first met, we had a garden furniture business, importing quality hardwood furniture from Australia to sell at shows during the summer, like the RHS Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows. It was at one of these shows that we met the friend who sold us the ten handmade Soap Bar recipes.

"We thought that soap would go hand-in-hand perfectly with garden furniture; naturally, garden furniture is very summer-oriented, while the soap business had much more of a Christmas gift focus.

"Of course, Christmas is still huge for us, but we never imagined that the soap part of our lives would take off in quite the way it has!"

How big was the team in Heyland & Whittle's early days?

"There were just three of us to begin with: Paddy, myself and Paddy's eldest son Charlie. We set up our small soapworks in the same converted barn that we'd used to store our garden furniture, which was on a little farm in Surrey. It was lovely and rural and peaceful, with horses in the paddock and peacocks in the yard, but conditions were a little, ahem, challenging in the winter!

"Once we realised the potential of the soap business, we expanded the soapworks into the garden furniture space. Charlie made the soap itself, while I designed the collection and Paddy organised the shows for us to attend."

How has the team expanded along with the business over the years?

"As we started to get more and more shops interested in stocking our products, we began to employ mainly young mums to wrap our Soap Bars in tissue paper at home.

"Over the next few years, we ran out of space at the farm, and moved to our current premises in West Sussex in 2012. The building is an old printworks, so it's got a bit of character, which we love.

"Our team is now 28-strong, and we always employ extra temporary staff in the run-up to our busy Christmas period. All year round, we have team members who are trained to highly skilled levels to make and cut soap, hand-pour Candles and fill Reed Diffusers - many of them have been with us for years."

What are the biggest changes the brand has undergone in the last 15 years?

"Expanding from the soap into home fragrance products is one of the biggest changes we made. Paddy has a great eye for seeing what's out there in the marketplace and kept seeing Reed Diffusers everywhere. We thought that with so many gorgeous fragrances already, this was the obvious next step in our journey.

"Our relationship with John Lewis first sprang up from here, around eight years ago, when their home fragrance department was only very small. Now, Heyland & Whittle is one of around 40 brands featured in its range, but we were one of the originals.

"Another big change took place just last year, when we invested in rebranding and repackaging our core products, evolving our Classic range into our updated Gold Classic collection. We also rebranded our home fragrances under the name Heyland & Whittle London, keeping the Heyland & Whittle Soap & Herbal Merchants name for our soap products."

Which product launches have generated the most excitement?

Launching the updated Gold Classic collection was extremely exciting

"Launching the updated Gold Classic collection was extremely exciting, and a brilliant way to kick off our 15th anniversary celebrations. It's the same much-loved fragrances with a brand new look, with gorgeous gold-sprayed etched bottles for our Reed Diffusers and beautiful golden packaging.

"We've also loved launching our Home Solutions range recently, and the Sleep Easy fragrance has been a particularly big hit. Paddy had been researching insomnia for a while, and we know it's one of the biggest medical problems across the world, so we're really pleased to have created a lavender and chamomile solution to help people get off to sleep. We've heard from lots of customers who've found it to be a great help, which is lovely."

What has been your professional highlight of the last 15 years?

"My personal highlight has to be being selected to feature on The Apprentice back in 2014. It was brilliant having the team filming at our factory and it was all very exciting as we had to sign a confidentiality agreement, and even gifted some of our soaps to Lord Sugar - although I did make the mistake of calling him Alan - oops!

"We're also really proud to provide the goodie bags for all of the guests that appear on The Graham Norton Show. We've been lucky enough to meet Graham, who's absolutely lovely, and we love the thought that a huge number of stars have our products at home."

Which products are you most proud to have worked on?

"In 2012, we launched our Hope & Glory collection during what was a big year for Great Britain! The zesty lemongrass scent we used proved extremely popular (since then, Wild Lemongrass has become one of our core fragrances), and visitors from overseas loved the striking, Union Jack-adorned packaging. The range was stocked in John Lewis and we won the Gift of the Year industry award too, so we were very proud of that."

What would your advice be to readers who want to start their own business?

"I think that to own your own business, you need to have a certain type of temperament and a lot of self-belief. When times get challenging, you need to have the guts to carry on with your own convictions and keep trying, as not all of your ideas will work.

"It's all about perseverance, dedication, determination and having belief in yourself. If you don't have that, nobody else is going to be telling you that you're marvellous - although, Paddy and I have a great partnership and tell each other that regularly!

"Planning is also key - that's Paddy's big thing. I'm much more day-to-day in how I think, but Paddy has great vision and he has a couple of sayings that he always comes back to. One of them is the 'six Ps' you may have heard of: Prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance; the other is 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail'. Paddy's four children all have their own businesses too and often repeat these phrases back to him.

"And when things don't go as expected, you need to learn your lesson, draw a line under it, and carry on."

What are you most looking forward to in Heyland & Whittle's next chapter?

"It might only be June, but we're already thinking about Christmas, as well as our Spring/Summer 2019 plans!

"We're currently working on a few new products that we're very excited about, including a gift box for our Sleep Easy range, which will feature a miniature Soap Bar, a Bath Melt, a miniature Pillow Spray, a little lavender and chamomile-filled sachet to hang on your bedknob, and advice on preparing for a good night's sleep. It's in the final design stages, so keep a lookout.

"We're also going back to basics a little, celebrating the Soap Bars we started the business with; many of them are vegan or vegetarian, which is hugely popular right now, and we're looking into cutting out some of their packaging to make them even more environmentally friendly."

"And of course, we'd love to become a global household name in the future. Watch this space for the next 15 years!"

There have been so many gorgeous Heyland & Whittle products over the last 15 years. Shop the full collection here