how she did it

Case Studies // 20 Years in Business… Ho...

20 Years in Business… How It All Happened

This story is about…

Female entrepreneur: Jan Rothwell

Location: UK

Company: Girl About the House

Industry: Interior design, painting & decorating

When people ask me,”how long have you been in business”, I find it difficult to answer.

My service has evolved over the last 20 years or so and has had various forms.

The Early Years

I have always been interested in art, even as a child I noticed how friends and relatives homes were decorated and decided my home was going to be beautiful when I grew up.

Creativity was part of my life. I have had the ability to create from an early age and because I was also a humanitarian (but didn’t realise it at the time) and wanted to help people, was torn between the two careers.

I had a job as a Saturday girl in a hairdressers whilst still at school, there, I learned to cut hair.

I enrolled in college thinking I could do that, but dropped out at the last minute deciding it wasn’t for me.

I drifted into a job at Manchester Social Services Dept (because my sister worked there). Here I was able to help people in need because I was a houseparent in a children’s home. Whilst working here I got married for the first time.

At 18yrs old, my hopes for a creative career were lost. Throughout this time, I absorbed creatively, everything I could to feed my talent. I had to stop working at the children’s home when I married, as I felt pressured to be at home by my husband.

I didn’t know what to do, due to my cheerful personality and school qualifications, it was easy for me to get a job.

On the spur of the moment and in domestic protest, I took a job as a playboy bunny for 3 yrs and continued with this until I had my first child. This was a very exciting period in my life , I felt very fortunate to have been picked and always felt quite safe and protected by the club.


Throughout this time I was advising people during conversation about how to get the best out of their homes. I was fascinated by new trends, and envied designers because they had a job doing what they loved.

They were always too expensive for most people, out of reach you might say. So average people had to make do with what they had. I thought this was wrong. In those days (late 1970’s early 1980’s) there was not the access to affordable products, for average people and shops were very uninspiring, unless you earned well above average.

Over the next 8 years (whilst at home with two young children) I continued to improve my skills , working on my own homes, reading essential info and advising people I met when in conversation how to make the best of their homes. I had always customised my own clothes to make them different, so it was easy to extend my skills to making soft furnishings,for example, cushions curtains, duvet covers, customising lampshades etc.

My husband would not allow me to attend university at that stage or take a job (although I did take jobs towards the end of our marriage,) I needed my own space, to develop my own personality and become more than a wife and mother.

He didn’t like me earning my own money and becoming confident in my own skin.

Consequently our marriage ended.

I drifted into field sales/tele sales and office based jobs, of all types. Here I honed my sales/customer service and office skills. I was always honest with my customers and as a result retained them, because they felt safe and not cheated. This ethos has remaimed with me all my life.

During this time I met John who became my 2nd husband. John encouraged me to make use of my creative skills and helped me wherever he could to succeed.

Together we renovated, restored and refurbished houses in various places including, Stockport, Wales, Shrewsbury, Telford.We also have been working on one in Italy, where we lived for a time.

Birth of my first Company

During this time I qualified as an Interior Designer and a painter and decorator.

I also spent time advising people who were moving house how to make the best of their home in order to sell or rent it quickly. This was very successful. Two years later a programme on the television made this more popular.

I also started my first business ‘Ideas on a Shoestring’, specialising in providing Interior Design advice to people who were unable to afford high end design advice.

This was very successful. I contracted out the work to various people, including soft furnishers,(who worked for Laura Ashley) decorators and a handyman who worked to my specifications (the work that John does for me in my current company).

After some years I moved away from this, because I was lonely, as I did not actually do the work myself and I felt unfulfilled. I also experienced consistent problems with decorators who did not do the work to my standards. After needing to resolve numerous poor decorating issues myself, I decided to do all the work myself from then on.With the help of my husband John, where necessary.

During this time we were both working in other jobs too. John managed the factory at Laura Ashley and I worked in various well paid social care jobs in children’s homes and with vulnerable people.

Birth of my second company

Whilst doing this work, I realised how many ladies were frightened of male workers in their homes. This gave me the idea to set up a female decorating service.

I called this company ‘Girl About the House’.

This was also very successful for a few years, until recently when there is now more competition.

Due to my vast experience in all fields and qualifications, I decided that I needed to diversify again. If I wanted to continue to have a unique service.

Combined Company

As a result I decided to run a combined ‘one stop shop’. Which brings me up to present day.

My business is very successful, because I care about my customers and want them to have a home they love. Most of my work comes via referrals from existing customers.

‘I work with the high street, to give you a designer look at an affordable price’

My standard of work is very high and my consultations are based on high street prices, unless otherwise requested.

My business covers a number of areas, all done in house. If I need assistance, my first port of call is my husband John, if he is not on a job independently.

John runs a building maintenance and repair company called ‘Rothwells’

Our combined skills enables us to carry out the design,decorating, joinery, plumbing, electrics, tiling and many other general repairs and improvements to domestic properties.

We are also able to adapt items to suit your requirements, where possible.

We love a challenge and the satisfaction of ensuring you happy in your home.

Giving you the look you want, where and when you want it.

Our ‘one stop shop’ approach is popular, because it cuts out any friction between designers and tradespeople, creating a stress free environment for you.

As I project manage the whole process (if required) there is only one point of contact, should there are any questions.

Further information can be obtained from my website.


Become an FEA Insider!

Access our amazing freebies for building your business and our bonuses, giveaways and more...


We're working on improving our site search and currently you can search for posts and pages.

Oops! We’re unable to find what you’re looking for in our search results.

Here are other ways we can help… Reach out for help in our Facebook group >>

Have a customer support related question? Email us at