Anyone can be an entrepreneur. You don’t need a degree from a posh college or be an eccentric genius. Sometimes all you need is a great idea mixed with a generous discipline of self-discipline, an appetite for hard work, and a belly full of patience. But remember, instant success never really happens. It takes a long time for some entrepreneurs to finally start their business. If you are lucky enough it may take a few weeks.
Annette Francis from Baylough, Athlone, didn’t start her business, Posh Pebbles, until mid-April of this year. Although she has no formal business experience and the country is still not completely out of lockdown, she is amazed and amazed at the popularity of her handcrafted pebble art frames.
“I’m not very tech-savvy, so a friend of mine had to set up a Facebook page for me. The mounts were an instant hit because on day one we received three orders. Lots of people were very kind and supportive and helped our small family business get off to a good start. I’m glad we have a constant flow of orders and can’t believe our mounts are now traveling from Athlone to San Francisco and Australia! “
Annette’s oldest daughter, Nicole, helps her make personalized 3D photos using natural pebbles. The pebbles are hand picked for their size and quality, arranged and then fixed on a piece of cardboard which is then mounted and framed. Customers buy the pebble frames for many different occasions, including weddings, birthdays, mourning, communions, and home warming gifts. Annette explained how she came up with the idea.
“During the first lockdown in March 2020, Nicole was unable to travel from Mullingar, so we didn’t see each other for almost six months. It was a very scary time and we missed each other terribly. So when she finally got home, Nicole and I decided we were going to find a project to do together. We started by refurbishing old furniture and turning a room into a dog bed. Then one day a light bulb went off in my head when I took pebbles from an ornament and started organizing them into pictures and scenes. I thought they would make great gifts for my daughters and perfect gifts for my family and friends. But when everyone started seeing them, I got requests to do more and more. By then, Nicole and I knew we had found our calling!
Portsmouth and culture shock
Annette was born in the town of Portsmouth in Hampshire. Portsmouth is the only island city in the UK and is approximately 110 km from London.
In 1979, when Annette was 10 years old, her whole family uprooted from Portsmouth and moved to Athlone to care for her grandfather. “We didn’t have a car and had to walk everywhere, not to say that was a bad thing.”
Annette is the youngest of three children and remembers the culture shock of moving to Athlone in the late 1970s.
“In my primary school in the UK there was free education and everything I needed was given to me. We had central heating, carpets on the floor and even the toilet was inside. There was no such thing when I went to Our Lady’s Bower National School, which was a girls’ school at the time!
However, Annette was a resilient ten-year-old and just started adjusting to her surroundings.
“The move from Portsmouth made me more outgoing because I wanted to make new friends in Athlone. I am still friends with some of the children I met on my first day at school.
After attending secondary school at Our Lady’s Bower, Annette took a secretarial course so that she could return to the UK and join her sister.
“My sister and I are close and so when she came back to England I wanted to go back too.” At the time, Annette had a small part-time job at Dunnes Stores while in school and was trying to do as many job interviews as she could. She wanted to gain as much interview experience as possible before moving to the UK in search of secretarial work. However, her plans were halted when she decided to take the job at Mallinckrodt Laboratories. [now Medtronic] and tell me why:
“It was very difficult to refuse money when you didn’t have money, so I decided to take this opportunity. I ended up staying in this company for 10 years and I can honestly say I really enjoyed my time there. I took my house out of it, paid for the holidays and had my two daughters too. Life was good, it was simple. I was happy and enjoyed spending time with my children.
Annette thinks she is a very patient person and therefore perfectly suited to making complex images with pebbles – something a lot of people couldn’t do. “For 20 years, I have worked in the child care sector. Having a lot of patience is a basic requirement when working with young children! “
Making a pebble frame can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few days. There is a lot of work to be done in trying to interpret the image using stones. In addition, Annette is determined that every product is perfect before it is sent to a customer. “I wouldn’t let anyone buy a piece that I wouldn’t be happy to display in my own home. So if it’s not perfect, I start over until it is.
She believes that she got her love for all things creative from her father who used to experiment with food and was very good at the culinary arts. “Now it seems that with Posh Pebbles, I have just harnessed all my creative side again. I’m glad my mounts can put a smile on someone’s face.
Fortunately for Annette, there is no shortage of pebbles and natural stones in Ireland and she can buy most of the other materials there. Her overheads are low and she is also trying to take advantage of social media marketing. The only thing she would like to have now is a prefabricated shed to use as a workshop as she lacks free space in the house. Annette is very happy to realize what I describe as small, handmade works of art.
“I don’t want to put this cart before the horse and think too deeply about the future. Having my own business is very exciting, and sometimes I feel like I’m shooting blind. I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now while trying to learn as much as possible. I’ve always said if my frames don’t sell, I’m sorted for Christmas! “