Bespoke gift company Colleague Box is celebrating its third birthday this week after ‘delivering happiness’ to more than a quarter of a million people.
Founded during lockdown in May 2020 by husband-and-wife team Adam and Natalie Bamford, the Derby firm has exceeded all expectations by winning multiple awards and turning over £1m in its first five months of trading.
Colleague Box initially offered small, letterbox-friendly gift packages to help businesses boost employee morale and stay connected during the pandemic. It has since created more than 500 separate gift box designs of various sizes and contents, from a birthday subscription club for businesses and Christmas packages to Employee Appreciation Day gifts, seasonal and King’s Coronation gifts.
With employee well-being remaining at the core of Colleague Box’s gift philosophy, the company has also designed numerous packages to support charities such as Derby County Community Trust and YMCA.
Now with five full-time staff, including new executive directors Neil Everatt and Deborah Saunby, the company has delivered more than 250,000 boxes containing, in total, around two million items, most of which are sourced from companies in the East Midlands.
Mum-of-two Natalie, who even found time this year to reach a shortlist of 60 applicants for the next season of BBC1’s Apprentice, said: “When we started out three years ago, it was all about staying connected as colleagues. We were probably the perfect business for Covid.”
“But we’ve had to continually evolve and develop our products for a post-Covid world. Now it’s also very much about employee retention, productivity and engagement.”
“Covid taught employers so much about how important it is to keep hold of good employees and we’ve realised we are more than just an ecommerce site, we’re a consultancy service that helps businesses achieve their goals via gifting. Around 90 per cent of our orders are bespoke now!”
“On the one hand, it’s amazing that we are still here and thriving, but with the state of the economy, we’ve also had to make sure we keep moving forward and constantly evolving what we are offering and listening to feedback from our loyal customer base.”
Natalie said that she and husband Adam had needed to make many sacrifices in the last three years to maintain the success of Colleague Box.
“We have to live it and breathe it forever,” she said. “It’s impossible to switch off, as we inevitably talk about work even when we’re at home. We’ve missed out on so much family time with the girls, which isn’t ideal, but we still try hard to maintain a work-life balance and wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The couple has racked-up an impressive list of awards and award nominations since launching Colleague Box three years ago.
Natalie was crowned East Midlands Business Woman of the Year in 2021 and was a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year in East Midlands Chamber’s Derbyshire Business Awards 2022.
Adam has likewise been a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year for both East Midlands Chamber Business Awards and Derbyshire Live’s Business Awards in 2021, with Colleague Box also named among the finalists for Derbyshire Live’s Start-Up Business of the Year in 2021.
In 2022, the company won the FSB Start-Up Business of the Year award, the Midlands Start-Up Awards’ B2B Services Start-Up of the Year, the Safe & Sound Business Supporters Award and, most recently, named as Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year at the Real Entrepreneurs award this month sponsored by Leicester University.
Natalie was also invited as a guest on the High Performance Podcast, a chart-topping podcast that interviews world-class achievers in all walks of life, including the likes of footballer Jill Scott, Dame Stephanie Shirley and boxer Tyson Fury.
Natalie said: “My proudest moments were winning Business Woman of the Year, which was so unexpected, and appearing on the High Performance Podcast.”
She added that her favourite gift boxes from the past three years have been one celebrating International Women’s Day and the Taste of Derbyshire box, which contains gifts, drinks and treats sourced from other Derbyshire businesses.