Georgie Duckworth has always loved the slopes. But it was a move to rural Somerset in 2014 that saw the keen skier go off-piste and leave the corporate rat race behind. Two-years later and the entrepreneurial mum-of-two took an even bigger leap and launched her own business in the Chew Valley. Her inspirations? Her family, and skiing, of course.
Georgie: "I learnt to ski when I was five-years-old. After university in Bristol I went to live abroad for a few years. I lived and worked in Greece during the summers as a wakeboard and waterski instructor, and then lived in Verbier, Switzerland, during the winter. Here I worked in one of the most renowned apres-ski bars in the world. It was pretty wild and just a huge party! This is where I first came across ShotSkis – the bar had its own ShotSki that we would use on a daily basis."
That chance ShotSki discovery planted a seed in Georgie’s mind, but it wasn’t until she met her husband that the idea really took off.
Georgie: "My now husband, Mike, and I met in Greece and did seasons together. After moving back to the UK, we decided to make a ShotSki for our wedding using one of my dad’s super cool retro 1980s skis. It was definitely a hit and it really got the wedding party started. Friends started asking if they could borrow the ShotSki for their various birthday parties, Christmas parties and so on. It took one of my friends saying: ‘Georgie, people love the ShotSki – why don’t you start selling them?’ for me to think maybe it could work! At the time (summer 2016) I was working for a big corporate company based in London. I had moved to Somerset two-years previously and was finding the balance between my London job (bit of commuting, bit of working from home, bit of travel) and having a family with two very young children increasingly difficult. My eldest was about to start school and I couldn’t see how I could make it all work with school hours. I decided to take a major leap of faith and leave my job. At the time, I’d thought that the ShotSki thing would be a bit of fun, just tiding me over until I found a new job."
Georgie discovered that there was a huge ShotSki gap in the market – her ‘hobby’ took off so quickly that she started selling them commercially. And, after a lot of hard work and experimentation, Georgie has found ways to streamline her business.
Georgie: "I acquired a few old pairs of used skis, turned them into ShotSkis and started to sell them on Etsy. I realised that though ShotSkis are quite popular in the US, no one else in the UK was doing anything remotely similar. The skis started to sell. I then had a message from one of our customers asking if it would be possible to buy a wooden ski and whether she could have her and her fiance’s names on them as well as the date of their wedding. I spoke to my husband who is an absolute whizz at woodwork and he wanted to give making our own ski a go. We found a way to carve a ski out of wood, using our original ShotSki made from dad’s ski as a template – all the handmade skis that we sell now are still based on that original ski. We built a steamer to allow us to curve the tip like a proper ski, and we found a beautiful dark oak stain to give the ski a vintage look. We also found a way to add a customised message for our customer – we started out hand-painting them but now use vinyl stickers which look better and save me hours of work!"
It’s that dedication that Georgie’s customers love, so much so that she’s had to start working with other talented creatives in a bid to meet demand.
Georgie: "Our customer was thrilled to say the least! The handmade ski looked fantastic. No one else in the world was doing anything similar so we decided to start selling them. Since then they have become our absolute best seller in the UK, Europe, the United States and Canada. We sell them for weddings, birthday parties, corporate parties, hens and stags, anniversaries, and so on. We can add both messages and logos so they’re very popular with companies that want to add their company logo, or with couples adding their wedding logos. We sell too many now to hand-carve every single ski so I’ve found a lovely chap in Bristol who has a small computer-controlled cutting business. I send him the 3D-dimensions for the skis and he cuts them for me – he likes to refer to himself as the biggest ski manufacturer in the UK! All the tip curving, staining and customisation is still done by my fair hand though."
As Georgie’s customer base and knowledge grew, so did her product range – all of which is totally unique.
Georgie: "I realised that I didn’t need to limit myself to just ShotSkis so we (my husband and I) started to think of new ideas. I came up with Shot Pong after going to a hen-do in Portugal. We had a ‘beer pong lilo’ and I thought I could make a wooden board with a smaller version of beer pong for shots – so we did! I use moustache designed duck tape to wrap our shot skis and this inspired me to make ‘the moustache’ which is a giant moustache that you can take shots out of. The Shot Water Ski was inspired by our time in Greece. I also design things that people specifically request. For example, our Shot Tray started as a custom request from a lovely lady who was getting married in Spain and wanted a way to carry a lot of shots out to the table. The Shot Cricket bat was also following a cricket-fanatic customer’s request. I also love a good drinking slogan so we decided to make ShotClub t-shirts too. This also allows customers to buy a t-shirt with a matching slogan to their ShotSki! Our products are totally unique. There’s nothing out there like it. The world can be a pretty gloomy and serious place and I’m just trying to bring a bit of fun back to it! Funnily enough, I had a huge spike in sales of handmade ShotSkis to America in the week after (President) Donald Trump was elected. I think people were saying that they needed to drink through the next four years!"
Not only has Georgie’s product range changed but so has her attitude – she’s now confident in her abilities and her business, although the complex world of social media still proves a bit of a challenge at times.
Georgie: "This is the first time I have ever done anything like this! I’ve never set up a business before, never designed a website, and I’ve never done any woodwork or art. I’ve also never been in design but I’m absolutely loving it, and am really proud with what I’ve created. As I said, this was only ever going to be a short-term thing but within a year-and-a-half, I can now call it my career and my business. One of the strangest transformations was when I started referring to it as ‘work’. Previously, I’d say to my friends ‘sorry, I can’t join you today as I’m doing ShotSki stuff’. Eventually I started saying ‘sorry, today I’m working’ – it was a surprisingly hard but satisfying thing to do! I’ve learnt a huge amount along the way. The biggest challenge has been the social media and marketing side of things. I was always a bit of a techno and social media-phobe and I’ve really had to change my ways. I’m still trying to figure out the social media ‘thing’ but I’m getting there slowly and it’s actually one of the things that I enjoy the most."
It’s easy to see that Georgie is passionate about her business, but she’s also passionate about achieving that – sometimes elusive – work-life balance. She’s determined to help local women back into work after having a family, and says Somerset’s rural nature can sometimes prove a challenge.
Georgie: "Running ShotClub is perfect for me. I work three-days a week ‘officially’, of course I do a lot of extra time, evenings and so on. And I can still do the school and pre-school run, take my kids to after school activities, as well as walk the dog twice-a-day! Since then, I’ve encouraged and supported three of my friends as they set up their own companies – in interior design, events, and bunting rental. It’s a fantastic solution for working mums and dads who need the flexibility to balance work and family life. Getting women back into work that works for them is something I feel incredibly passionate about. Living in a rural setting, I’m surrounded by women. I’m not being sexist here – it really is only the women that seem to have this problem around here. They want to work but can’t find a job that has enough flexibility for their family life, or pays enough to cover childcare costs. I want to show that it only takes having an idea (and let’s face it, it’s a totally bonkers idea!) and a bit of creativity and determination to set up your own company. The internet has revolutionised the way the world does business allowing those in small rural settings to set up a company and sell to a global market."
So why does Georgie love Somerset?
Georgie: "Because it’s one of the least known but most beautiful counties in the UK. I’m a real outdoor person and I love nature and the environment. I’d never even heard of the Chew Valley before I moved here and I think it’s the best kept secret in the UK. It’s absolutely stunning and filled with some of the most interesting, beautiful scenery that I’ve ever seen. It’s also incredibly friendly – we were instantly welcomed into our community and the whole family absolutely LOVE it! I could never have started ShotClub without the support and encouragement (and help… they’re good guinea pigs!) of my friends here in the valley. They’re my number one ShotSki fans."