Meet Helena Dilleen, the owner of Giddy Studios. Giddy Studios was opened 12 years ago and has gone from strength-to-strength due to the love and passion Helena and her team had for giving a space of creativity to children and adults people who loved to create.
For Helena, like for so many others, the COVID pandemic has changed her business drastically. Helena had no choice but to make the extremely difficult decision to change her business dramatically which resulted in job losses of all of her loyal employees who she refers to as being ‘like a family’. This wasn’t an easy interview, none of these are, but when there are full teams that have been lost as a result, it’s a very emotional conversation. It was difficult not to be brought to the epicentre of the raw heartache with Helena as I watched her well up with the memory of those difficult conversations to let her staff know the physical business could not survive.
The Business of Adapting interviews serve to remind readers to please support your local businesses as much as you can through these times. Thank you in advance for reading Helena’s journey.
What is your business in detail?
I set up Giddy Studios, a pottery painting studio in Dublin in 2008. The idea began to form when I started journaling and had been following and aiming to achieve a Brené Brown ‘whole-hearted’ existence. I left my agency job, which I loved it and went for it.
When we opened our doors in 2008 we were hit with a bang three months later with the global crisis and recession. It obviously had a huge impact on businesses but I wasn’t letting it stop me. I had my bank loan, my plan, my dream and this is what I was determined to create. It never deterred me.
Catapulting forward, eight years into the business, I embarked on a personal mindfulness journey to manage the day-to-day madness. Self-employed people will understand that there are just never enough hours in the day to do everything with your own business. Coupled with normal life, it’s hard to fit it all in. Personally, I was getting to a point where I needed to ensure my family got a bit more of me. I was running out of steam so I needed to introduce self-care and mindfulness in order to be whole-hearted and true to myself, my family and other elements of my life.
Mindfulness was hugely rewarding for me and I am now evolving the Giddy Studios journey into the mindfulness space. Creativity and mindfulness connect in such a strong way – the perfect fit!
Thankfully before 2020, I was already active with this part of the business. Over the last five years, we have already been delivering corporate painting and creative based events and loved offering a creative pause in the day with large teams. We know that working with a paint brush allows us to enter a state that allows us to slow our heart rate and helps us to regulate our breath.
What is your story around the pandemic and how it affected you?
We ran pottery events in head offices such as LinkedIn, Google and other large companies. This year, thankfully, we were able to move it online with teams of eight or more working from home. I wanted to offer tangible and accessible choices to people whose working environment had changed dramatically. With the pottery and painting, we love that it gives teams a way to relax and therefore, achieve mindfulness in a way that suits them and they feel comfortable with. They can participate in their own way, with their camera on or off and really, we intercept the madness and they just breathe and get creative.
We also still offer clay Family Portraits. They are personalised and have always been so popular. They kept me going from March through April and May. Not in a financial way at all, more in a comforting and reassuring way that it wasn’t all gone overnight.
My two children really struggled with the physical business gone. When we closed the studio I found them looking at me and wondering who their mum is without the studio? It was my greatest fear; what am I without Giddy Studios, it’s all they and I have known for so long. I had to dig in the theory of you are yourself and not defined by what you do. So I really had to dig deep and think – hang on, you will be ok, you are not summed up by having a physical space. It will be ok. Thankfully we are all starting to feel better now.
Our team were a family to all of us. My girls were treated so well whenever they popped into the studio, they were treated as if they were their own nieces.
How many were on your team and were they with Giddy Studios long?
There was 11 of us in total ranging from part-time to full-time staff. Some were with us up to six years having started in Transition year. I will never forget the day I had to have those extremely difficult conversations to let them know I couldn’t keep the team. Delivering that message was a whole other ball-game, it was a whole other level of sadness. Knowing I needed to give such difficult news and make such hard decisions due to a situation out of my control was just so devastating to me and the team.
The decision to close our doors for good is the hardest one I have ever made. I needed to make it for the sake of my family and my staff. There was so much to consider – the space we had and how we could or could not socially distance going forward, keep our staff and our customers safe, even down to whether we could afford to keep going. For us, it wasn’t viable. I have so much respect for others finding other ways to keep their business going by serving their customers on the pavements.
I had to strip it back and think of the whole-heart piece and how I could serve everyone around me as best I could in this awful time. Whole-heart doesn’t even feel like the right word because I will never forget those conversations with my staff as long as I live but I felt it was the only way through.
So, what is your business now?
I have three strands – at-home packs, for example Christmas bauble packs which allow families to order them and putting their baby’s or child’s handprint on it. Another strand is the clay family portraits and the third is the mindfulness-based pottery painting events.
How are you marketing your business through this time?
I felt maintaining connection was very important and building a presence in the mindfulness space. The sense of limbo was so huge in the first lockdown so I started doing lives on Instagram. I felt it might help others who would be struggling so The Mindful Cuppa was born to get people to stop, have a cup of tea and relax for a few minutes. The cuppa was always a huge part of Giddy, we paint them in corporate events so it linked in well. The Lives grew into a series which I used to connect to the outside world and share how I was feeling. My second series was speaking to different professionals in the field and my third series will be around compassion. I have these lives on LinkedIn too for my corporate following and it’s a different type of audience.
While this has been a very difficult time, what positives have you been able to take from it?
I feel incredibly grateful to have a good relationship with my team, and to still have some remnants of Giddy left over. I feel so lucky that I don’t have to let it go completely. There are core aspects of what we had that we didn’t see previously and I’m grateful for that.
I’m doing things I would not have done had this not happened. The whole mindfulness side has been able to grow and accelerate beyond what I expected.
What advice would you give to other small businesses starting or trying to keep going?
Just because others might stay and keep going, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you. Trust your judgement about the information you have for you and make the right decision for you and your business. Talk to people who can help you but are not emotionally invested, use them as sounding boards because it can be very dark if you stay in your own head. People you can trust will help you get outside your own head and think rationally. Journaling is also super for helping you through it.
Have you had to adapt your business to cope with the pandemic? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.