Frenchic founder reveals she gambled £15K pension nest egg on launching paint brand from her garage

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The founder of the world’s fastest growing chalk paint brand has revealed she gambled her pension ‘nest egg’ on launching the company from her garage – and it’s seen a 500 per cent sales surge during lockdown.

Pamela Gruhn, of Camberley, Surrey, founded Frenchic in December 2014, having always had a passion for upcycling.

It quickly amassed an army of fans – with more than one million followers on social media communities as well as 600 stockists across four continents – and the brand went on to receive the Queen’s Award for Enterprise earlier this year.

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Frenchic has continued to thrive during lockdown, thanks to a surge in people taking up DIY. 

Pamela Gruhn, of Camberley, Surrey, founded Frenchic in December 2014, having always had a passion for upcycling

Pamela Gruhn, of Camberley, Surrey, founded Frenchic in December 2014, having always had a passion for upcycling

Speaking to FEMAIL, Pamela said her ‘proudest moment’ in business so far has been helping their UK network of independent retailers survive Covid-19 – some of which didn’t qualify for government grants.

‘We are extremely lucky to be part of an industry that has thrived during this time,’ she said. 

‘I made a promise to my stockists that I would get them through by continuing to supply, and this is undoubtedly my proudest moment in business to date, it’s quite emotional actually.

‘It was a lot of work! We’ve been shipping many tons of paint per day, working around the clock seven days a week, as my stockists offered a contactless delivery service or collection. 

Frenchic has continued to thrive during lockdown, thanks to a surge in people taking up DIY. Pamela pictured outside her cottage

Frenchic has continued to thrive during lockdown, thanks to a surge in people taking up DIY. Pamela pictured outside her cottage

‘They are now starting to re-open their shops not just in good shape but in great shape as this has grown a new and loyal customer base for them.’ 

Pamela said receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category was ‘an honour’.  

‘It has been a true labour of love – a start-up with humble beginnings, no exterior funding, but simply a pure passion for paint,’ she said. ‘To have the royal seal of approval is a dream come true.’ 

With a background as a marketeer, Pamela discovered the ‘joy’ of upcycling later in life, but struggled to find a chalk paint that ‘ticked all the boxes’.

‘I’ve always had a passion for bringing old furniture back to life rather than see it go to landfill, and at the time there was somewhat of an upcycling revolution happening in the UK,’ she explained.

With a background as a marketeer, Pamela discovered the 'joy' of upcycling later in life, but struggled to find a chalk paint that 'ticked all the boxes'

With a background as a marketeer, Pamela discovered the ‘joy’ of upcycling later in life, but struggled to find a chalk paint that ‘ticked all the boxes’

‘A DIY trend was booming and there was a surge of consumer interest and moral obligation to use more sustainable products.

‘I wanted a paint that was eco-friendly, creamy with no toxins or volatile organic compounds, that was certified safe to paint even children’s toys, that you could paint indoors and outdoors with no nasty “paint” odour, and that had a beautiful palette of colours.

To get the business of the ground, Pamela decided to wager £15,000 which she had tucked away in a pension nest egg

To get the business of the ground, Pamela decided to wager £15,000 which she had tucked away in a pension nest egg

‘I decided to create a paint that was easy for beginners and the choice of professionals. Cue Frenchic! 

‘For the name I merged the words “French” and the French word for chique – chic. I was and am a huge fan of beautiful French ornate furniture, so that’s where the name derived from. Pair that with my red heart logo and I’ve never looked back!’

To get the business of the ground, Pamela decided to wager £15,000 which she had tucked away in a pension nest egg.  

She then searched for a factory that could accommodate everything she needed to get started.

‘It all went from there,’ she said. ‘Working from my dining table, I launched a few colours with our first Original range.

‘A few weeks later, five pallets arrived and our garage housed that initial stock. To this day, I haven’t taken any loans or outside investment and my company remains 100 per cent family owned, family run, and we’ve slowly and surely built the business.

‘We’re five years in now and thriving, with a huge warehouse, and I employ over 20 people. I have a brilliant relationship with my paint manufacturer to this day.’

Pamela created a Facebook community – the Frenchic Fan Forum – early on, which encouraged more stockists and allowed them to broaden their ranges, accessories and reach. 

‘Our social media communities now number over a million and sometimes I can’t believe what I’ve created – it feels so special!’ she admitted.

‘We’re a global community for upcycling creativity and inspiration – particularly on social media through our fan forums. 

Pamela created a Facebook community - the Frenchic Fan Forum - early on, which encouraged more stockists and allowed them to broaden their ranges, accessories and reach. Pictured: furniture upcycled using Frenchic paint

Pamela created a Facebook community – the Frenchic Fan Forum – early on, which encouraged more stockists and allowed them to broaden their ranges, accessories and reach. Pictured: furniture upcycled using Frenchic paint

The Al Fresco Inside/Outside range is hugely popular and sales have gone through the roof during lockdown with people transforming their homes and gardens. Pictured: a garden shed painted using Frenchic

The Al Fresco Inside/Outside range is hugely popular and sales have gone through the roof during lockdown with people transforming their homes and gardens. Pictured: a garden shed painted using Frenchic

‘The Facebook forum is like a global haven for people to share their work and take inspiration from others. I’ll never get bored of seeing the incredible things people can do with our paint, it totally inspires me. 

‘Our website is a great tool for those who would rather purchase online than in store, so there’s something for all customers in terms of accessibility and product now.’

Pamela remains at the forefront of decision making as CEO of the company, and also works alongside husband Rob.  

Frenchic now has five ranges – the Original Artisan, Lazy, Al Fresco, Chalk Wall Paint and Trim Paint – priced from £6.95 a tin.

‘The Al Fresco Inside/Outside range is hugely popular and sales have gone through the roof during lockdown with people transforming their homes and gardens,’ Pamela said. 

Pamela said she is yet to receive the figures for this year's growth, but admitted it's been 'incredibly strong'

Pamela said she is yet to receive the figures for this year’s growth, but admitted it’s been ‘incredibly strong’

‘It’s durable, weatherproof, UV resistant, self-priming, self-sealing and works on pretty much any material you can imagine. 

‘Our classic chalk wall paint range is perfect for the home – it’s washable, ultra-matte and has very little odour. 

‘It’s also EN 71:3 certified, meaning it’s safe for painting children’s bedrooms. We also have a wide range of accessories including brushes, stencils, wax, sugar soap and more.’

Pamela said she is yet to receive the figures for this year’s growth, but admitted it’s been ‘incredibly strong’. 

‘Every year of the business has improved, and this year will be our biggest leap yet,’ she revealed.

‘If it continues to grow as it is currently, we have a very exciting future ahead.’ 

Pamela Gruhn’s six top tips for upcycling using Frenchic

Pam says you can give anything a new lease of life with Frenchic

Pam says you can give anything a new lease of life with Frenchic

1. Anything is possible! You can give pretty much anything in your home or garden a new lease of life with Frenchic, so don’t be put off thinking that your old leather suitcase won’t make a great end table – imagination is the key, paint is simply the tool. Just get started!

2. You’ve got this, sugar! Sugarsoap is the perfect prep for your project to ensure easier painting, better coverage and a long-lasting finish, no matter what material you’re working with. Simply mix the solution with warm water and apply liberally to the surface, then rinse off with clean water and leave to dry fully before you paint.

3. Distressed is best! To achieve a rustic/vintage effect on your furniture, apply one layer of paint, allow to dry and then gently sand down the surface until you see the desired effect take shape. Simple! This works really well if you apply a different colour as an undercoat too.

4. Be bold! Don’t be afraid to use bright or contrasting colours. A mustard yellow lamp against a dark teal wall for example will instantly add a touch of style and character to a room. Dark colours have also been a huge hit this year, particularly with outdoor features such as decking and fences. Blacks and greys frame the space and create a contemporary feel. They also contrast brilliantly with lighter elements like stone paving and bright flowers, showcasing their colours rather than blending them in.

5. Spray it like you mean it! Hand held paint sprayers are really quick and simple to use. They’re perfect for large surfaces and ensure you get a professional looking result. Use two coats for things like sheds and fences, as wood is very porous and constantly exposed to the elements, dulling the colour over time. Our Al Fresco paint range is weather-proof, UV resistant and perfect for use with a sprayer!

6. Get Creative! Stencilling is a great way to add a unique touch to any piece of furniture. Place your stencil over the area you want to detail and hold in place with some masking tape (also ensuring a clean finish). Use a small amount of paint on a flat ended stencil brush, and apply lightly, allowing to dry fully before applying a second coat if you want a fuller look.

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