While researching the For The Love of Christmas Gift-Giving Series and exploring opportunities to make gifts and connect with our inner creatives; we began discovering some inspiring start-ups. Where past-times and hobbies have evolved to become broader in scope – creating life-changing career moments and where founders have launched new or additional careers. Here, we interview Rachel McTavish, founder and owner of McTavish Collection. She started her flourishing home business in 2008, and her story is an inspiration to anyone looking to build a portfolio career.
With an already successful and high-profile career as a broadcast journalist, Rachel has managed to launch and build an online costume jewellery and gift boutique with curated collections to suit all looks – offered within really affordable price ranges.
We caught up with Rachel and asked her a few questions about how she started and developed her business, and crucially for many Solos going it alone and who may be thinking of doing the same, how she finds the time to fit it all in!
We hope this will inspire you if you have similar ambitions, and it helps you get started on your home business journey.
The McTavish Collection offers some stunning gift-giving ideas with free packing and postage on all UK orders.
Rachel, tell us about your working career so far
I started my working life as video-journalist and presenter for a cable tv station called Channel One in Liverpool. It was a tiny operation where everyone did absolutely everything. I left Channel One, moving on to ITN in London, where I continued as a video journalist. Then one day, when a presenter didn’t turn up for their shift reading the news at Channel 5, I immediately borrowed a jacket and volunteered to do it.
After that, I was a regular filling in on bulletins when they were short-staffed. When the ITV News Channel eventually launched, I was part of the team of presenters. That was a very steep learning curve for me – sometimes I was on air for 6 hours at a time. I was on air during 9/11 for the channel, and working that day is a memory that will stay with me forever.
Anyway, if we fast forward a good few years, I got married to my husband Paul, we had twin boys and moved from London to Glasgow. Once again I was reading the news, this time for STV – Scottish Television. Paul was also telling me that I should have another job on the go, just in case my TV career ever stopped or paused. Sure enough, in 2008, I found myself looking for another job after my contract came to an end. I admit I floundered for quite some time.
TV had never felt like proper ‘work’ as such, and so I wanted to find something else that would also fit in with looking after my small children but would be fun at the same time.
Why did you start McTavish Collection?
My family have a strong background in fashion retail and that, combined with my love of jewellery, led me to think about starting a jewellery company. As a presenter, you always have a favourite ‘go-to’ jacket, you seem to wear frequently. I used to try and change my look by wearing different pieces of costume jewellery to shake it up a bit. I found choice very limited at that time, and prices seemed a bit steep. So, I thought that would be a good place to start.
I found showing people pieces I’d selected to sell incredibly difficult at the beginning. When you think about it, jewellery is such a personal thing, and I was terrified the women I approached wouldn’t like my taste. I gradually plucked up the courage to take a stall at a local nursery night and couldn’t believe it when almost all of my stock sold out.
When that happened, it gave me more confidence to select more pieces and widen my choices. When I’m looking for new pieces now, I have a really clear idea in mind of what I want. Having only ever sold jewellery I love, I don’t think I could sell anything I couldn’t envisage wearing myself because I feel strongly that as well as being stylish, my pieces should be good quality and value for money as well. It might be costume jewellery, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t last for years.
How do you source your jewellery?
I go to most of the fashion fairs in the UK and love trawling through the jewellery showrooms in Paris on the hunt for new designers or small companies where I can cherry-pick a few pieces for McTavish Collection. I try to limit getting involved in the design process as I find it far too stressful, much preferring to carry just a few pieces of each design.
It hasn’t always been possible though – not long after I started the business back in 2008; I realised there was a huge demand for adjustable bracelets. At that stage, there were hardly any on the market. So, I had to bite the bullet and design. It was nerve-wracking choosing the size of stones and metals involved, especially as I had to order 350 of each in silver, gold and rose gold. Despite it being a large investment and a real test of my limited skills, it all worked out.
You already have a demanding career. How do you plan your time?
It is a bit of a juggle trying to fit everything in along with teenage twin boys! I now have what I suppose is called a portfolio career – I’m a TV newsreader, voiceover artist and I present an online Car Show, along with hosting conferences & award ceremonies.
The past year has been unusual, as it has for everyone; but it has made me rethink many elements of my working life. At the start of lockdown, my traditional TV newsreading work disappeared as everyone was furloughed. With no live events to showcase my jewellery, I had to make sure my jewellery website was updated quickly.
I also felt the need to keep my hand-in with presenting, so I started the McTavish Shedcasts from my garden office where I was joined online by some great guests such as Eamonn Holmes, Alastair Stewart, Carol Smillie and Richard Arnold. Everyone was in the same boat during the lockdown and was looking for different ways to pass the time. The broadcasts received a great following and also helped me get the McTavish Collection name out there.
What pieces in your collection do you think would make ideal gifts at this time of year?
I learned early on that with some of my classic designs; I needed to offer them in all 3 metals – silver, gold & rose gold. It has been interesting to see how fashion trends have changed over the past 12 years. After a few years of everyone wanting rose gold, people now can’t get enough of yellow gold.
There are some pieces I am particularly proud of – it took me years to find exquisite tennis necklaces with stones that are just the right size to be believable – these are just £50, and they’re such good quality. With the current trend for layering delicate necklaces, the Collection also carries a huge range of delicate necklaces that work well together, and they’re just £16 – once again available in all 3 colours. It’s probably worth mentioning as well that everything is gift wrapped and P&P is free!
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, yet to start on their journey?
Websites are now easy! While many people will still want to use a website expert; you can do it yourself and build a good e-commerce site on your own. I use Shopify, which is incredibly user friendly. Good photos are also essential, but if money is an issue, then buy a lightbox online and take them yourself. Also, make sure you reply to customer enquiries as soon as possible and if you can, offer free postage and packaging – because these are the basic things you look for when you are the customer.
You have a blend of channels. Do you find this a necessary component for your business?
I am probably not the best person to ask about this – I know about the power of selling on Facebook and Instagram, but I am shockingly bad at doing the lives. I love watching other people do them, but I sometimes feel self-conscious – I really need to get over it!
And finally, your favourite part about the Christmas season…favourite tipple, nibble?
Ooh, I love a big cheese board with lots of stinky blues; mince pies and cream for breakfast; a large glass of baileys, and if you throw in a liberal handful of Lindor chocolates I’m happy as Larry!