MICHELLE Bartleet-Greavey could have put her business success down to chance - after being inspired by a fortune teller who said to pursue upholstery as a vocation, but rather she credits her location - Denbighshire.

She'd taken redundancy from a large recruitment firm, working in London and Manchester with blue chip companies, and returned to North Wales, where she enrolled on an upholstery course just over the border in Cheshire.

Fate has since combined with hard work, to turn he business Baa Stool - that started on her kitchen table into one that turns over £400,000 a year, employs three full-time  staff and exports to America.

“Hiraeth brought me back,” said Michelle, who grew up in Gwern y Mynydd, near Mold, and who had also reconnected with her “teenage sweetheart” Ian.

“I spent 20 years working in the corporate world, in London and Manchester, and married my teenage sweetheart and decided I wanted to move back to North Wales. At the same time I’d taken redundancy a local fortune teller told me I would be working in upholstery.

“I thought ‘Why not?’ and signed up for a two-year upholstery course in Ellsemere.”

Around a year into the course, which she started in 2011, the idea of making specialist products from sheepskins came to her, and despite the doubts of her tutors, the former executive was able to create a successful business.

“It turned over about £60,000 in year one and £100,000 the next and then straight up to £250/270,000 quite fast.

“Pretty much soon after I started I had a part-time member of staff and that was working from my kitchen table.”

Baa Stool sells various items of furniture, from small stools to armchairs, upholstered with sheepskin. Its most popular pieces - footstools and dressing tables. Customers buy online, while items are also stocked in some high street shops, and the firm also sells to interior designers.

“Anytime someone is looking for sheepskin, they'll come to us,” says MIchella – and that’s her explanation for how her polar bear armchair (“it’s not a real polar bear, it’s made from sheepskin”) fitted out by Baa Stool has come to be used on ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’.

It’s also why the firm was invitedto decorate a room at Coca Cola’s Dublin headquarters in orange sheepskin: “They wanted a furry wall.”

Baa Stool is now based at the Colomendy Industrial Estate, just on the outskirts of Denbigh, the second premises Michelle has had to find in the area.

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Research released by savings platform Raisin UK has identified Denbighshire as having the strongest local economy in Wales, and is best placed to make the quickest recovery from the impacts of Covid-19 in the country.

Raisin UK looked at factors such as business survival rates over five years, the number of large businesses in an are,a as well as employment rates and birth and death rates to calculate the strongest and weakest economies in the UK.

It said Denbighshire is well placed as it has a 42.5 per cent five-year survival rate for businesses. Data also showed that there were 385 large businesses in the county in 2015, and that increased by 16.88 per cent, to 450 large businesses, by 2019. The local employment rate is 76 per cent.

For Michelle the area has much to offer to businesses and she thinks its location and environment are important to its success. Just before last year’s first lockdown Baa Stool was named the UK’s best rural retail business at the Rural Business Awards sponsored by Amazon.

And the businesswoman thinks it’s notable that the previous year another Denbigh-based business, yogurt producers Llaeth y Llan, were nominated.

“There are so many little success stories here. There is Chilly Cow ice cream and Patchwork Pate, in Ruthin, there’s always been a very entrepreneurial spirit particularly within the creative industries and there are fantastic local producers and there is the arts and crafts centre in Ruthin.

“It’s also an area of outstanding natural beauty so a lot of creative people chose to base themselves here.”

Baa Stool makes use of local suppliers with handbags it upholsters made in Ruthin and glass eyes for a range of bird products it sells from Llanrwst. It also supports other local businesses by using a local book-keeper and marketing firm.

However, despite Denbighshire’s rural nature and the historical importance of the woollen industry to the local economy, it cannot source its sheepskins locally.

“There is only one commercial tannery in the UK, and that's in Devon, and we need to use that due to the amount and range of colours we need.

“The sheep could come from Wales, England or Scotland.”

When establishing Baa Stool, Michelle said she was able to draw on support from a local enterprise agency, which used European funding to support businesses, and rented its first premises from the local council.

It then moved to its current location and it is adding a mezzanine to the premises as part of an expansion – but Michelle is concerned premises to buy aren’t so readily available.

“After my kitchen table our first premises were about 1,000 square foot and we now have 3,000 square foot and are increasing that with a mezzanine but I think there is a lack of premises to buy and we are having to rent.

“Any improvements or adjustments have to be restricted and we have to live within our means as we don’t own the premises.”

Baa Stool did have a shop  on site, but used that space as a photography studio to support its online sales when lockdown closed non-essential retail, though its loyal local customers do still call at the premises to collect orders.

Despite lockdown preventing Baa Stool from capitalising on its award success Michelle says the unprecedented situation  also presented opportunities.

“People discovered online shopping works easily, and it’s also shown it doesn’t really matter where you are based.

“Previously, in a rural area, with a small population the pool when you’re advertising for jobs isn’t as big as it could be but a lot of people are moving out of the big cities to areas like North Wales now and an increase in working from home has shown that it is possible to work from areas like North Wales.”