Asha Payton inherited a love of interior design from her colourful Wellington grandmother Maddy. Asha loved her chic style, mixing antiques with bright European furnishings in her Thorndon Street apartment.
“She always had seriously cool stuff, mixing super-stylish sofas with antiques – at 80 she drove a Mini Cooper, wore big glasses and fabulous jewellery – she was a top character.”
Over time, Asha was given much of Maddy’s furniture and when one of the well-loved chairs needed repairing Asha looked around for someone to cover it. She met an upholsterer Beau Hollyman in Clive and an instant friendship was formed. Beau taught Asha how to cover the chair and she wanted to learn more. For two years, they worked closely together in his “freezing-cold” shed. With a Facebook page and a business name Little and Fox was born. Asha started sourcing fabrics from the UK. She upholstered all her friends and family’s furniture and kept learning about the trade from Beau until, in 2016, he sadly died of a brain tumour. Unbeknown to Asha, Beau had left her all his upholstery tools and equipment.
“I found myself with this business and set about trying to find the right location.”
After a demoralising stint hidden behind a tyre shop in Onekawa, finally a large space on the busy Ahuriri waterfront came up. With one seamstress on board, and an active social media presence, things started to move fast.
“The business was growing so quickly I didn’t have a grasp on it. We had opened up the curtain department, we were doing upholstery, squabs and cushions, selling roll stock in the warehouse and the website was up and running so we were selling amazing fabric all over the country including Designers Guild and House of Hackney and customers wanted us at their homes for interior design consultations.“
With 10 staff suddenly on the books, people management became a challenge. “I needed to learn how to delegate and get roles clear.”
Asha joined the Icehouse Owner Operator Programme (OOP) at the Business Hub in Ahuriri and although it was a nervous start, she hasn’t looked back.
“When I had my first OOP workshop, the facilitator Michaela called me afterwards to see if I was ok. I had spent the time during the session as pale as a ghost thinking my business was too small to be in the room. However, my confidence grew and I started to see change immediately. In the year we have been in The Icehouse we have doubled our turnover. It’s been incredible - I’ve learnt everything about running a successful business from how to set KPI’s to budgeting to HR and networking with other local businesses in the Programme. The ability to call up a really trusted advisor like Michaela Vodanovich has been so valuable – it can be hard to get reliable advice.
Michaela has made me reduce my workload to spend more time with my family. I’ve set goals for myself. I’ve learnt how to get the right staff and I’m concentrating on good teamwork. Some of it was simple stuff – like a weekly staff meeting and team goal setting - making sure everyone had a voice has been really important.”
With a solid business structure now in place, a second store, with more finished products, has opened in the centre of the Havelock North village, following a successful pop-up last year, to test the market.
The construction boom in New Zealand has allowed the curtain department to take off with a workroom in Hastings dedicated to curtain-making. A lampshade department is also growing with groups coming from around the country for workshops at the Ahuriri warehouse.
In just three years, Asha is now at a point where she can work towards more of an over-seeing role in the business with a focus on the buying of fabrics and furnishings. She has graduated from the Owner Operator Programme but will continue to get regular one on one coaching with leading Icehouse coach Michaela Vodanovich.
*Kate de Lautour is the Operations Manager at The Icehouse Hawkes Bay.