Stepping into the Betsy Benn studio is the closest I’ve come to understanding what Santa Claus’ workshop might be like. I heard the hum of activity before I saw it: printers swishing from side to side over purple and teal notebooks, scissors gliding along hand-printed wrapping paper, fingers pattering over keyboards to write out the names of someone’s favourite songs to add to a poster.
Almost everything Betsy Benn makes is personalised, from prints to stickers, calendars to cushions. When I open the door to the design room, Betsy is wrapping up a present for day five of a personalised advent calendar. The calendars include personalised gifts, such as a notebook and personalised Christmas tree decorations, and a whole load of other little treats to brighten cold December mornings.
“Everything in the calendar is either made by us or sourced from other small British businesses,” says Betsy, placing the present she’s wrapped in a box. She radiates warmth and confidence and clearly loves what she does.
She’s been running the Cheltenham-based business for more than 12 years, taking it from a one-woman show to an award-winning company that customers return to again and again. Awards for Best Customer Service and Best New Product can be spotted amongst the frames of multi-coloured prints that cover the walls of the design room, hall and printing room.
“Notebooks make up about 50% of our business,” says Betsy, 48. “There’s no limit to what we can engrave. You can send in a child’s drawing or a logo for a new business your friend’s starting. One customer asked for a handwritten recipe to be printed on the front. They told us it was their grandmother’s fruitcake recipe, written in her handwriting.”
This level of personalisation is typical of Betsy Benn. Customers can send in a photograph, which can be transformed into a silhouette and printed in bold, block colours. Or highlight their favourite stretch of coastline, which can be made into a piece of art.
“Most people buy what we make as personalised gifts. Customers put lots of thought into the personalisation to make something really meaningful and unique, which then means that the person receiving the gift appreciates it so much more than something mass-produced.”
The decoration is shaped like a gift tag and stamped with ‘North Pole Telegram’. Each one is personally addressed to the new baby and reads “From: Father Christmas. The Man in the Moon sent me the wonderful news of your arrival. Welcome to your very first Christmas! When you get big enough, do write me a letter. I love letters! Grow well little one, I’ll check on you from time to time. Merry Christmas.”
“Photography had always been a passion and I started taking photos of friends’ children and families. It became a small business and I used some of my redundancy money to buy a really nice printer. I decided to design a few prints and sell those between commissions. I got some second-hand frames and upcycled them and sold the prints in local shops.”
Not long afterwards, she started selling her prints on the online marketplace Not on the High Street. Within the year, she was producing the highest selling product on the whole website: personalised prints naming various destinations or places of significance, inspired by the old bus blinds that were manually turned by the bus conductor to display the next stop.
Five huge Royal Mail sacks by the door hint at how much the team has already prepared since the start of the day. “You should see how many we fill in the week before Christmas,” Betsy says with a smile. Her words make me imagine a sleigh laden with presents, the reindeer impatient to set off. And with that, I leave the team to their work, merry and bright.