Susan Rose China has been on a journey. It all started many years ago when I left Art School and turned down a place at teacher training college (I believed I was taking the place for the wrong reasons) to become self-employed. I returned to the village where I grew up and rented a tiny little cottage on the edge of the Turvey House Estate. These were probably some of the happiest years of my life. I was completely independent and free to pursue a career in art.

Ceramics were not on my radar at the start but after working with an interior decorator, things were about to change. I was introduced to Marlborough Tiles’ London flagship shop, Sloane Square tiles who were desperately looking for hand painters. Never one to turn down an opportunity I decided to take a crash course in painting ceramics. With much scorn from a potter friend I embarked on my journey. Despite no kiln or know how I was determined to learn the skill of ceramic painting.  It is one of my greatest beliefs in life if someone else can do something so can you, you just have to learn how to do it.

With the help of a Pottery Crafts video (we didn’t have YouTube in those days) and a very sympathetic father I taught myself how to paint on ceramic tiles. My father lent me the money for my first top loading kiln. The idea was to pay him back in instalments with 10% from all subsequent orders and commissions. It turned out to be an extremely good arrangement for me and extremely poor arrangement for him. I don’t think he received more than £10 back of his original £200 investment!

I painted tiles for Sloane Square tiles until 2000 when the shop was sold. By then my interest in English bone china had been rekindled. As a child I had always loved English bone china and always used my own English bone china tea cup and saucer! It didn’t take long to transfer my new acquired ceramic painting skills from tiles to china and thus Susan Rose China was created.

I started to investigate Stoke and soon found out where to buy blank white china and started experimenting. The results were nothing to shout about but I was hooked.  With the help of a computer I found a supplier of end of line blank white china and overs from the local factories in the Longton district of Stoke. The more I painted, the more my skill and enthusiasm grew.

Around this time I was lucky to meet the highly successful and wonderful Mary Howard who invited me to exhibit at her well-known Christmas fair in Hullavington. My hand painted china was a great success. I continued selling as Susan Rose China at Hullavington and many other Christmas fairs for the next 10 years.

As the business grew I struggled to keep up with the orders. It would often be painting into the night trying to fulfil all the personalised china for all my clients. Luckily the man in my life had the same mind set as me, “if someone else can do it so can you”, so he discovered how the print makers and china makers in Stoke produced images and designs for their industry using both traditional methods but also a new digital printing process. A few weeks later he sold his much-loved classic Porsche car and invested in my little hobby business.

We moved the business into the garage space vacated by the Porsche and started to build the business. We purchased 2 digital printers and invested in our own moulds for the most used china pieces. We were able to persuade one of the factories in Longton to start making china for us and were able to stop buying end of line and overs thereby improving the quality.

It was 2008 and the orders rolled in. Despite using the printers I still couldn’t keep up. So  I took the next step and started to employ help. The first person was my very talented friend Lib, who over the next few years worked together tirelessly with me. It was Lib who wisely identified we needed help with the packing and so we employed Jackie. She was a perfect addition to our garage team. Her eagle-eye and attention to detail were outstanding. Nothing ever slipped through her china inspections.  Utterly swamped and all of us multi-tasking we all knew we didn’t have the man hours to take the business forward.

Then came Viv! The business manager and office supremo. She started licking us into shape. With many years of running a whole department at Warwick School and before that an extremely successful career selling in the pharmaceutical industry, the arrival of Viv changed the emphasis of the business from retail to corporate. Clients who thought they were buying a few mugs left having purchased enough for everyone in their entire business! The date was 2012 and significant because I started working with Andy.

It was my china maker who put me in touch with Andy. We had our first big corporate commission for a prestigious London client and digital printing  just wasn’t going “cut the mustard”.  As a skilled print maker, Andy and his small team were making lithographic prints using silk screens which were perfect for large corporate orders giving a very rich deep colour. I was later to discover just how talented Andy was when it came to decorating and painting.

Susan Rose China

In 2014 Viv attended the Business Growth Programme at Cranfield University on behalf of the Susan Rose China team and this led to an unstoppable chain of events. We started to believe and think like a business and not a hobby business. We converted the wooden garage to a new stone-built garage with an office upstairs and a workshop downstairs. We worked more closely with Andy as by now 70% of our business was corporate and only 30% retail. We had a new website. Viv or I started to go to Stoke every week. After much soul searching we realised we could no longer keep the production side in Northamptonshire and decided to move all of the production to Andy’s workshop including the digital printers. It was a sad day in 2016 when I had to say good bye to Lib and Jackie. They had been a very important and much-loved part of Susan Rose China.

With Andy running the production side of our business from his workshop it seemed obvious next stage would be to work more closely together. In 2017 we started discussing how we could do this and in October 2018 we finally signed on the dotted line. We have become Susan Rose China Ltd and have taken over the workshop business, International Ceramic Printing Ltd. Charles,

Viv and I work in the business selling and designing china from the office in Northamptonshire. Andy runs all the production from his workshop in Longton with his screen maker Alan and his daughter and lithographer Emily. We have enlarged the team with Liz joining us as an additional  lithographer. Together the 7 of us are determined to make our little business succeed for our corporate and retail customers.

Along the way we have had much help from The Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and in particular the wonderful Ron Lynch from the Institute of Directors, without whom we wouldn’t  have come this far.