StudioCDesign | A design for success

It’s an unlikely genesis for a successful design company, but when Celeste and Glen Skachill set up StudioCDesign, they went bush.

The loss of two people they were close to had prompted some soul-searching, Celeste says, and they took the leap to go out on their own. Celeste had been working at Te Papa designing exhibitions, while Glen was a mechanical design engineer at a cable car manufacturer.

The idea of working from a quiet, forest-fringed space held huge appeal, so Glen built StudioC’s office amongst one hectare of native beech forest in Silverstream. 

Business was “pretty slow-going” for the first couple of years, Glen says, until a business planning session with Moore Markhams Wellington director Bruce Stormer sparked a step change in the firm’s growth.

Bruce, a supportive and trusted business mentor right from StudioC’s formation, helped them analyse every area of the business to identify its unique selling points, ideal clients, key goals, potential risks and any challenges.

They set long-term strategic goals but also clear and realistic objectives for the next three, six and 12 months, Celeste says. The couple checked in with Bruce every three months to ensure they were on track.   “He’d take minutes and action points each meeting and the next time we caught up we’d go through them. He kept us accountable.

“We put financial targets alongside those goals as well, so we knew what we had to generate in terms of income to achieve them. It wasn’t a vague strategic plan on a piece of paper.”

The pair’s initial six-month goals were to bring on three jobs each worth $20,000 or more and secure a full-time staff member, Glen says. “We exceeded both goals – our turnover has more than doubled and we’ve hired three full-time employees.”

Bruce gave them advice and the confidence to take the steps needed to grow the business, Celeste says. “We were quite nervous about employing people - that was a big step for us. It was so good to have an outsider come in and look at the finances and say, ‘Yes, you can do this’. We haven’t looked back.”

StudioC was fortunate to receive funding assistance for the business coaching through the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, Glen says. That funding has now run out, but the couple will keep up the three-monthly meetings with Bruce.   “We have seen how valuable it is. It has been so nice to talk to someone who is so professional and such an expert in their field but is also such a humble guy and genuinely there to help you.

“The whole Moore Markhams team has been so responsive to whatever we have asked or needed.”

StudioC’s point of difference is its ability to provide an end-to-end service, Glen says, offering customer engagement, strategy planning, design and development of the brand, product or experience, and execution.

“I have an engineering and construction background and we find ourselves doing some pretty unique projects. We were responsible for the concept and design of Zealandia’s foyer entrance, and we managed the construction and installation as well. Our clients often have modest budgets and want to maximise their returns. If we’d had to hand over that execution to a project manager or architect, the costs would have been prohibitive.”

The company draws on a creative collective of 15 freelancers to help them with projects, finding the right person to fit the job, Celeste says. “That’s quite unique and means we can offer a very diverse service. It works for them as well; they wouldn’t want to take on riskier, bigger projects alone.”

Celeste and Glen plan to grow their core team to approximately eight full-time staff in the long-term and increase their collective to about 30 freelancers. The studio will also need up-sizing, but there are no plans to change location.

What seemed like a slightly crazy idea, has paid off hugely, Celeste says. The forest setting is a productive space and sanctuary for the StudioC team, and clients love to visit.

“Covid has also helped us in that it’s normalised remote working, clients are quite used to Zoom meetings and we can design remotely with them in real-time.

“We did raise a few eyebrows at first. People said, ‘How can you run a successful design company from the bush?’ We have totally proven you can.”

StudioC's forest-fringed office is a drawcard for its creatives and clients.