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Interview

A garden room with style

Melanie Russell
7th Oct. '21

This autumn we’re talking all things Home & Garden and are delighted to share this interview with Directors of Outside In, Melanie Russell and Wendy Isaac.

With a post pandemic boom on their hands, they talk to Egg Editor Sarah Howden about the challenges they’ve faced, their biggest achievements, and the women who have supported them along the way.

Melanie and Wendy, Directors of Outside In Garden Rooms share more than a love for stunning garden rooms, they share genes! The Glasgow and Edinburgh-based sisters work harmoniously together running the day-to-day of the company. Wendy oversees all projects in Edinburgh and Melanie oversees all projects in Glasgow and their surrounding areas.

Melanie and Wendy might not have hailed from a background in the construction or garden industry but they both bring a wealth of experience, determination and enthusiasm to the table. In their previous roles, Melanie co-owned a digital agency that specialises in everything from digital marketing to website design and build. Whilst Wendy was a senior Executive of a TV & Film production company and was in charge of the smooth running of operations.

In 2017, Melanie spotted a gap in the market for a company offering contemporary garden rooms in the central belt of Scotland. After extensive research and product development, Outside In Garden Rooms was born. The company has had continued year-on-year success and began expanding in 2020, which is when Wendy joined the ranks.

Outside In Garden Rooms is a far cry from where it began a few years ago. It’s now a multi-award-winning company with more than 120 garden room builds under its belt. Some of the accolades received over the years include ‘Start-up Business of the Year Award’, ‘Excellence Award for Courageous Entrepreneurship’ and ‘Best Contemporary Garden Room Design Company (Scotland)’

Many people have lightbulb moments that never come to anything, what do you think you did specifically that helped yours come to fruition?

I’ve always run my own business so know that if it feels right, you have to commit to it 100%. When my friend came to me with the garden room concept, as soon as the research was done and the concept viable, I knew the potential was enormous. You have to be fully on board with any idea and be prepared to throw your head, heart and soul into it. Research, research, research, look at the whole picture, not just the actual idea. Is it financially viable, can you make a living, what are the compliance regs, branding, understand your target market and how to set up and run a legal entity, take as much advice from anyone prepared to give it and never assume you know more than others. I wouldn’t say there was a lightbulb moment as such but for me, when the right idea comes along, you just know.

What’s been your biggest business challenge and how did you overcome it?

Definitely staff and getting the right team on board is always the biggest challenge. Through refining our recruitment process and using the best online platforms for the roles (some of which were new to us) we’ve built a fantastic team so are looking forward to adding to the family next year but know the process is always challenging!

Your greatest achievement over the past year?

Hmm there’s many! In the past year, undoubtedly the launch of our Edinburgh business has been a massive success so we’re so thrilled about that and to have an amazing team on board. It’s always such a risk starting something new and was a huge leap for Wendy but we realised we had a solid foundation to build on however even we couldn’t have expected to have built such a solid, happy client base in the east and a very health order book which has just blown us away! Winning the FSB Start Up Business of the Year (belated!) was also an amazing endorsement.

What’s it like working with your sister?

Nightmare!! No seriously, we talked long and hard about how our working together could affect our relationship which is really strong, we do so much together out-with work and knew we couldn’t jeopardise that. We went in with our eyes open but realistically we have very different strengths that we bring to the table which is a great leveller for us both! I’m far more impulsive with a “ach just do it” attitude where Wendy is far more cautious and does a lot more diligence than I would so between us we’ve found a really great working sweet spot! “Back of a fag packet” Mel and “Spreadsheet forever” Wendy, works perfectly!

Your favourite project so far?

Oh there are so many! We all however really loved working with a wonderful retired couple earlier this year, one of whom had suffered a stroke therefore needed somewhere warm and safe to enjoy the garden. They weren’t internet savvy so I made sure to respect that and communicate in a more traditional way. We worked really hard to make sure the room came together for them quickly and added some retro safety features to make it the perfect space. They were just the loveliest client to work for who couldn’t have been happier and they made all the team feel so welcome and were enormously grateful, a genuinely lovely couple and project. These projects are the ones that always make it such a lovely business to work in!

Who are the women that inspire you?

Denise Gibson left her high flying job as a top Merchant Banker and launched her Personal Training business not long before lockdown. She rose to the challenges of evolving a brand new business just getting going, to an online one through Covid and now has an amazing, full client list and waiting list. Denise’s leap from a top level job to her own small business helping people was incredibly brave.

Angela Proctor also runs her very successful IFA business and is an absolute machine! Angela lost her mum following a short cancer battle a few years ago and turned to writing children’s novels as a way to handle her grief. Angela has fiercely promoted her amazing books through endless school visits and events, book tours etc all while running her business and somehow keeping her two young children at the forefront, plus supporting the Beatson Charity at every turn.

My sister, I have to say that or she’ll tell on me!!

Books or podcast?

It’s a bit ridiculous and I wouldn’t say it changed my life but I loved Sue Perkins podcast interview with Mary Berry a few months ago!! For someone who wasn’t really expected to achieve much other than motherhood or be a good wife and cook, she’s just amazing and still going.  She’s had some terrible lows but has a surprisingly cheeky chappy, mischievous side to her beyond the sugary exterior which I loved. I took to listening to it in the middle of our early summer mayhem while endlessly driving between sites and found it to be really inspirational and uplifting.

Independent businesses you support

I’m a huge believer in supporting local, small businesses as clearly that’s who we are! Since I started the business, I’ve never missed placing an advert in our Glasgow Westender magazine which is run by a fellow businesswoman and although I don’t get that many enquiries directly from them, I feel it’s really important to support the smaller businesses. A year of advertising with Westender is equivalent to one ad in a national paper but I’d far rather support them than a huge publishing giant who really doesn’t need my business in the same way.

We also sponsor the Milngavie FC 2009 football team as I felt it really important to support youth sport at a grassroots level and are currently looking at opportunities for our Edinburgh office.

For more information about Outside In Garden Rooms, contact Melanie and Wendy via the website! 

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