Inkerman’s Kiki Gregson on Covid-19, the buzz of British heritage and Willie Mullins’ trailer of trophies
Inkerman was started as a corporate gift company in 1996. We had a brilliant first decade, doubling turnover year on year, then came the financial crash of 2008. The Covid-19 situation has been reminiscent of that because again, overnight, orders stopped.
In 2008, we thought it was the end of the world, but corporate entertainment budgets came back via sponsorship, of events such as the Epsom Derby and the Grand National. That was amazing for us; we went to our old clients and said, “If you’re sponsoring an event, you’ll need trophies, medals and sponsors’ gifts.” They said “yes please”. So we started making trophies, as well as launching our personal present business.
In the early days we got in the car and visited British workshops including pewterers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, leathersmiths and glass-makers; we still work with many of them.
The pewterer we work with is a family-run business that used to make tankards for us; now it make jugs and ice buckets for trophies as well as traditional cups. The son, who was nine when I first met him, is now running the business!
There can be challenges. This year it’s been Covid-19 and although we’ve had a quiet April and May, many events are now returning and so are the trophy orders. Another challenge is products coming from China are much cheaper than our British-made items; we can’t compete with someone importing 1,000 products. However, I think once people have bought from Inkerman once or twice, they realise what we offer.
It feels amazing but slightly unbelievable that we make the Grand National trophies, especially when we’re watching it on television; it’s thrilling to work with events like that. The highs of this job are definitely the amazing events we work with and being there. We work with sports that are part of British heritage and we all get a buzz, from designing the trophies to the final presentation to the client.
At Aintree and Cheltenham, we take the trophies to the winner’s enclosure for each race and put them on display, clean and polished. After they’re presented we take them back to the trophy room and they are collected at the end. Willie Mullins had to bring a trailer down at Cheltenham because he’d won so many prizes.
I’m a people person; I love meeting clients and suppliers and we all love sport, which is a bonus in this job. It can be quite frantic; if there is a new sponsor at an event we may have to etch the trophies at the very last minute. But then there’s a real sense of achievement when it’s done.
As a small company, it’s easy to make decisions. We’ve sponsored the trophies for the South of England International Horse Trials for many years and it’s good to be able to support friends. We’ve been really involved with Racing Welfare too and feel grateful to be able to put back into the industry that gives us so much business.
As a mainly female office, we champion women in sport and have donated trophies for the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood and the Silk Series. We try to support people who support us.
As a child, I had no idea of what I wanted to do. I wasn’t particularly clever but I knew I was good with people and I almost fell into jobs, but always thought I’d like to run my own business. I tell my children not to worry too much about the future, because opportunities will arise and something will find you, but hard work and a good work ethic do reap rewards.
I grew up with horses, was a member of the Eridge Hunt branch of the Pony Club and hunted with the Ashford Valley, then moved to London. Once we’d had children we moved back and it’s been a real privilege to do the same Pony Club activities with my kids; I’ve absolutely loved it.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 August 2020