"More businesses need to wake up to the fact flexible working and reduced hours doesn't mean slacking off – it means happier staff, greater productivity and lower costs."
Naomi Reilly & Sarah Slade, Seven Seventeen
Which prediction stands out to you as the most appealing or exciting, and why?
"As two mums juggling family life with small children, freelance work and a growing candle business, we're well used to condensed working hours. And as it happens, we've found the enforced five hours (the golden time between school runs) of concentrated work to be far more effective than eight. Our energy and focus is at its peak during this time frame, whereas it can start to tail off after this so it makes sense. We also like how streamlining working hours forces you to get the most out of your time, making sharp, confident decisions and being as productive as possible.
It works from a well-being point of view, too. We want to run a company that allows us to do meaningful things outside of work. So whether that's being around for school sports days or being able to train for the marathon, it's amazing having the time to build those things into your day. The idea of this on a universal level is really exciting."
How would these predictions affect your own business?
"As mums to five small children between us, we’re advocates of making work conducive to family life so we’re all for reduced hours where possible. Childcare logistics can make doing a classic 9-5 impossible – it’s why many mums drop out of working altogether. More businesses need to wake up to the fact flexible working and reduced hours doesn’t mean slacking off – it means happier staff, greater productivity and lower costs.
From our experience it helps to be very clear on what you hope to achieve from your chunks of time. So whether it's allocating two hours to marketing, an hour to accounts and an hour to fulfilment – it's about setting lots of mini goals and trying your best to stick to them. Admittedly, sometimes easier said than done!"
The Cobot Revolution:
"Yes please! As a one-year-old business, we're hands-on to the very last detail, from researching packaging suppliers, to labelling candle boxes and then carting orders off to the parcel shop with two or three kids hanging off our arms. The idea of a cobot to take on the time-consuming, repetitive tasks we're up against on a daily basis would mean freeing up valuable time for us to be creative, proactive and to grow our business. They could manage our orders and fulfilment quantities, keep up with daily admin; and perhaps even scientifically determine new scent combinations.
Cobots will undoubtedly be programmed to forecast success probability, too, calculating the risks of business decisions - the crystal ball every company yearns for. We love the idea that cobots might in time establish the skills and personalities of individuals to determine whether specific staffing set-ups will work. We met at university and launched SevenSeventeen as two very good friends. Thankfully we still are and our different dynamics work well but our close circle of friends were concerned about us doing it."
The 4-hour Work Day:
"We'd like to think that we could condense our working day into four hours. With the help of cobots, getting the most out of our time should become easier. As business owners, there will undoubtedly always be the unavoidable call at 9pm or having to pop in to the office at the weekend – but ultimately, it's flexibility we see as being the most important game changer in the future of business."
The Reputation Game:
"From our ethics and social responsibilities to our customer experience, we’ve always been about offering total transparency at SevenSeventeen and we take our reputation seriously. We encourage our customers to engage with us on Instagram and Facebook as much as possible so we can let them in on our brand's values and identity. It's also great when customers leave comments about the quality of our plant-based candles or about our efficiency in sorting out any problems or human errors.
It's this desire to be open and transparent that led us to be upfront in letting customers know how and who we donate to. We're really clear that we donate £1 from the sale of each candle to mental health charities so that customers aren't left questioning how our giving works. This all helps to reinforce our reputation as being a brand with integrity and like a glass box as opposed to a black box that you can’t see inside. Similarly, we founded our company and run it as two frazzled mums and we're very open about the trials we’re up against on a daily basis; it’s important for our customers to know the people behind the brand and ultimately our story."
Are you already looking at ways your business can progress with these trends – or do you feel some would benefit your business?
"The ritual of lighting a sumptuously scented candle at the end of a long day is an experience in itself. And we’re currently looking at expanding our experiential value to customers.
Our brand name SevenSeventeen was born from this being the time of day our children are tucked up in bed and we get to reclaim the evening/our house/our sanity, - that big ‘And Breathe’ moment, which was the first phrase we decided on for our candle collection. But it can equally translate to being the time people get in from work – either way it signifies clocking off and unwinding.
With this in mind, we’re really excited about launching our SevenSeventeen club, which will incorporate a series of events based around this ethos. From spa evenings, to Big Night Ins involving link ups with premium gin companies and chocolate brands, we're aware that the experience side to our business is what will set us apart and reinforce our brand’s core values."
Do any of the predictions scare you, make you nervous or alternatively, fill you with positivity about the future – and why?
"We feel strongly that cobots won't take away the jobs of humans but will help in assisting businesses. If we're working less hours then it’s paramount that we don’t spend time on tasks that can be outsourced to cobots and that we focus on the tasks that we, as humans, can only do. This will in turn help us to grow and flourish."
Do you agree with James that reputation today is paramount, with reviews and good or bad word of mouth on the likes of social media/review websites making a big difference to sales and brand reputation? What action do you take to keep this as a key part of your offering?
"Reputation is everything – and will become even more so in future. Maintaining our great name means we invest heavily in customer service at SevenSeventeen. We pride ourselves on sorting problems or errors as quickly and efficiently as we can and in taking our customers' feedback seriously. Taking the time to write a handwritten note to a supplier, or tailoring a customer’s scent suggestion, we don’t forget the small gestures that go a long way.
We also engage a lot on social media as we derive value from getting to know our customers and from making ourselves available to them on all communication platforms."
In addition to these trends, is there anything else you predict happening, from your own hands on experience and what you are seeing on a daily basis? What do you predict to happen by 2050 where businesses and consumers are concerned?
"The rebirth of the high street is something we’ll be looking at moving forward. The last decade has seen a lot of businesses shut up shop and concentrate on online sales but we’re really excited to tap into the demand for new-style retail spaces that combine experience and shopping. Alongside our plant-based candles we’ll be looking at partnerships with premium gin and chocolate brands to create the ultimate unwinding space. Our retail concept will sell the lifestyle of our brand as much as it will our candles.
We'll offer the personal touches that our customers have come to love us for – on a much bigger scale. From personalised messages on candles and matchboxes, and bespoke charity donations to a scent bar where you can choose scents and hand-pour your own candles; the opportunities are endless.
Ultimately, we believe the physical interaction between the customer and the product will be back and we can’t wait to tap into this."
Keeping your own predictions in mind, but placing yourself in an ideal/dream world, what would you want to happen by 2050?
"We predict we'll see further increases in people shopping independent and investing in brands that are born from people like them - stories they can relate to. We've been overwhelmed by the response SevenSeventeen has received from customers keen to support small brands and we can’t see this trend going anywhere soon. Unlike with big retailers, customers know their opinions matter, that transparency is possible and that there will be connection. Hashtags like #smallbusinesssaturday and #shopindependent are more popular than ever right now. Long may this trend continue!"
Having started a business in the digital world, do you have any advice for other business owners or budding entrepreneurs, on how to stay successful and make use of new technologies?
- "Keep up! It's vital to be constantly evolving in all aspects of your business – especially technology. Don't just stick to a formula that works. We were very happy with how our Instagram was building and thought we didn't need to add the new Stories element to our offering. But when we did we saw a sharp increase in engagement and it's now another very valuable platform for reaching out to our audience.
- Find your tribe. We've made some of our best brand connections and been offered incredible business opportunities by engaging with people on Instagram. It's taken time but it’s worth it.
- But talk in person, too. We're lucky to be in a partnership where we get to air the day's stresses on the phone every night before settling down to business but we also attend lots of mum networking events and get together with 3-4 other independent brands/designers at a time for regular coffee/creative chats. The one thing that always comes to the fore is the importance of being able to interact on a physical basis to hear others' stories and experiences and bounce ideas around."
Photography by Alex Bamford (Alex Bamford Photography)
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