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As a new business owner, no matter how experienced you are, there are skills you’re likely to need to learn or update. That’s the position Teacup and Tova Co-Founders Brenda Readman-Bell and Carole Bookless found themselves in when launching their luxury knitwear brand in September 2021.

They turned to Durham Ambitious Business Start-ups (DABS) to get the one-to-one support and training they needed to get their business off the ground. The programme is delivered by Business Durham, with support from delivery partners TEDCO, UMi and Candle Digital.

Born out of a friendship of more than 25 years and a passion for preserving heritage skills in the UK, Teacup and Tova specialises in luxury UK-made knitwear – predominantly 100% cashmere.

Brenda Readman-Bell and her Co-Founder Carole Bookless have a strong background in heritage manufacturing and finance. However, they were aware of the importance of branding and digital marketing and identified this was the main gap in their experience that they would need to address. 

From networking in the County Durham area, they were recommended to Durham Ambitious Business Start-ups (DABS). The ERDF and Northern Powerhouse funded programme helps high-quality start-ups in County Durham start trading and offers premium quality support to those who have started up in business in the last 12 months. 

Brenda and Carole accessed one-to-one support and training workshops on social media and digital marketing. These ranged from the basic skills, to how to keep your business running and increase your sales.

“We had a good idea of how we wanted to run the brand,” Brenda explains. “But we got some very good advice from the DABS programme on how to show our brand correctly, so that people can see exactly what we’re all about.

“We have been on many courses with DABS. The programme was invaluable in terms of the digital marketing. We felt we needed to understand what Facebook, Google, search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) are about. 

 “We were introduced to skills that we didn’t have, and we are still using them now on a daily basis to run our business.”

“Being part of DABS has been excellent for us,” Brenda continues. “From the courses to learning new knowledge – which was great – but also the network. 

“The people that you meet when you go to the courses are really good, because they are all in a very similar position to you. DABS pick the people to come together, so we all bounce off each other and talk about our stories. This is great because you don’t often get that when you start a new business. You need to talk to other people who are starting businesses and in the same position as you.”

With the DABS community behind them now, getting to grips with digital marketing is paying off for the Co-Founders of Teacup and Tova, Brenda reveals. 

“This week we have used some of the skills we have learned from DABS for Facebook advertising and increased sales,” she says.

In the future, Teacup and Tova hopes to employ local talent and support the development and retention of heritage skills – particularly knitting. The duo has already moved into a dedicated office space in County Durham, and have been building their product range, with more styles and colours to follow. 

DABS is an ERDF-funded programme that helps high-quality start-ups in County Durham start trading and offers premium quality support during those critical first 12 months in business. There are two support packages available – one for pre-start businesses with a great idea and the other for early-stage businesses. The programme is delivered by Business Durham, with support from delivery partners TEDCO, UMi and Candle Digital.

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