It was just after giving birth to her second daughter that Gemma Holt decided to follow her passion and start a business right from her kitchen bench.
The former schoolteacher was looking for a way to supplement her family income while on maternity leave, and knew she wanted to tap into her creative side.
That desire launched Arlo & Co, a shop that creates personalised gifts that range from name plaques and mirrors to dreamcatchers and stone prints.
Gemma, now 34, had been making the same type of gifts for her family and friends since she was just a kid.
Gemma Holt, 34, launched her personalised gift business Arlo & Co just eight weeks after giving birth to her second daughter in 2014
Gemma (pictured with husband Damian and her daughters Maeve and Greer) was looking for a way to supplement her family income while on maternity leave
‘I got my dad to teach me how to use the machinery, but it wasn’t anything very professional,’ Gemma told Daily Mail Australia.
The idea of launching her own store only started to brew after she created a personalised cake topper for her eldest daughter’s first birthday.
‘It was her name cut out of wood. That was probably the first thing I made for myself that my family and friends saw and made a big deal about,’ Gemma recalled.
As guests asked if she could make them a cake toppers of their own, Gemma realised there was a space in the market for handmade gifts with a personal touch.
But it was only when her second daughter, Greer, was born, that Gemma made that dream into a reality and launched Arlo & Co.
‘It was when she was eight weeks old, which was kind of mad,’ Gemma said with a laugh.
‘I probably was really naive and didn’t know what I was getting into. I just thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could substitute our petrol money or grocery bill?’
Gemma had been making handmade personalised gifts for her family and friends since she was just a child
And after six months running the business, she got Damian to jump on board with her as well
There were a number of struggles at first as the Melbourne family juggled orders and learning how to run a business from scratch
‘I didn’t realise what I was really beginning, because I would’ve been terrified if someone told me how big it would get and how quickly it would grow.’
Arlo & Co took off and soon Gemma found herself creating hundreds of products in her garage and breastfeeding Greer while running the business in the kitchen.
After six months she convinced her husband Damian to jump on board and soon he left his job as well.
There were a number of struggles at first as the Melbourne family became busier and busier.
‘We had a really irritable little baby, a two-year-old, and were working out a very small space,’ Gemma recalled.
‘We were using my father’s machinery and hadn’t purchased anything for ourselves, there was a lot of juggling and late nigh packing orders.’
And there was the fact that Gemma had no business background at all.
‘I didn’t know anything about marketing or web design or product design,’ she said. ‘It was a very big learning curve in the first two years.’
It was that ‘amazing feedback’ from customers that kept Gemma and Damian pushing to make Arlo & Co a big success
Gemma said she realised there was an opening in the market for personalised and meaningful gifts that included names and pictures
‘We didn’t sleep much, but we realised pretty quickly we were onto something people were loving.’
It was that ‘amazing feedback’ that kept them pushing to make Arlo & Co a success.
‘It was overwhelming, we were getting email after email from people who said “I’ve finally got something meaningful I can give, thank you for making me look like the best gift giver'”, Gemma recalled.
‘We could see that the company really had potential to change our lives and our children’s lives.’
‘Running this business actually involved making meaningful products with our hands, we were too excited to give up – even when it was hard.’
The couple have since moved Arlo & Co into a warehouse studio, where they make all the store’s products in-house with help of about a dozen team members.
Now that the business is no longer in the garage, Gemma said it has been much easier to separate work from family times.
‘Our girls are still really tiny, so when I’m home I try not to look at anything and spend time with them,’ she said.
‘We definitely have so much more balance than we once did. The whole reason why we started this business was so that I wouldn’t have to go back to working 9 to 5.’
Gemma said Arlo & Co has completely changed her life and allowed her to spend more time focusing on her daughters Mave, 4, and three-year-old Greer (pictured)
Gemma credits maternity leave with giving her the time to realise what she truly wanted from life and pursue a creative passion
‘Many of our staff members are parents as well, so they all have really flexible hours. Family is a really important part of our business, as well as our product.’
Arlo & Co now has more than 101,000 followers on Instagram and was recently a finalist for the Telstra Business Awards.
‘It has changed our lives completely,’ Gemma said. ‘It has made our lives more flexible and we can focus on our family better,’ she said.
‘It’s an amazing online community and staff that’s positive and fun and a lovely way to spend our days. We’re designing a life we really want to live.’
And Gemma credits maternity leave with giving her the time to realise what she truly wanted from life.
‘I loved my teaching career and I never thought that I would leave it,’ she said.
‘But having children changed my perspective on things. Maternity leave is a different time in your life because you pause and stop and have a lot of thinking time.’
‘It gave me the opportunity to think about what I wanted the next 10 to 20 years to look like.’
Gemma said she plans to continue helping Arlo & Co to grow and focusing on ‘what we do well’, with planned Christmas and wedding ranges to come as well.
‘We’ve got a brand that we’re really proud of and are creating something people haven’t seen before. It’s quite simple but it’s incredibly meaningful,’ she said.
‘We’re not going anywhere. We want to keep innovating and being a leader in our field and seeing where that takes us.’