When I first interviewed Sue Grant (then Wymer) nearly two decades ago she was a young mother who’d hit on a business idea that was taking off so fast she barely had time to sleep.

She had just scooped an order for 12,000 wheat bags, an innovative heatable product designed to ease aches and pains, and was putting in 16-hour days or more to get them finished in time.

“I was doing it all in my garage,” says Sue, “I had to keep going to the supermarket to get all their unused boxes to pack the bags into. I used to start at 5am and do a couple of hours before they (her two sons) got up. Then I’d take them to school and do a full day at work; get their tea and then start again.”

At the time therapeutic wheat bags were virtually unknown in the UK and it’s true to say that Sue has played a major part in them becoming the widely-used product they are today.

But little did she know back in 1995 when she made her first bag, inspired by a similar product she had used in New Zealand while living there briefly, it was to be the beginning of a journey that led to the Natural Wheat Bag Co Ltd becoming so successful it won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise as well as several other business accolades.

At its peak, Sue’s Emley company was employing up to 20 people and supplied major retail outlets such as the Body Shop, National Trust, John Lewis, shopping channel QVC and Debenhams. The company was even commissioned to supply Pudsey Bears for Children in Need. Sue was riding high and rapidly gaining national recognition. Prince Andrew paid a high-profile visit to her manufacturing base and she travelled to London to meet both the Queen and the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Having set out with the ambition to raise enough money to send her two elder sons to private school – which she achieved within three years – Sue was constantly turning her creative business brain to new products.

She had gone from being someone who admits that she thought a margin was something ruled down the side of a page to being a woman at the helm of a business with a reported turnover of £1m.

But then in February 2008 disaster struck. Sue, now 52, explains: “We were supplying a company called Premier Books and they went bust, owing us about £75,000 – and that took us down.”

The Wheat Bag Company was put into voluntary administration. “We were devastated,” says Sue.

But she didn’t allow herself to give up her lifelong desire to have her own business. Years raising her sons as a single parent while working long hours had given her resilience. By 2008 she’d had a third son, Alexander, now 11, and seen two marriages dissolved, but was determined stay in business. And so a few months later Sue launched a new venture, Crazy Popular Products, producing novelty scented bags.

“After the administration we paid everybody we owed money to so that today we still have the same suppliers we had back then. We didn’t let anybody down,” she says.

And the experience had taught her a valuable business lesson. She explained: “We shouldn’t have extended so much credit to a customer. I certainly won’t do that again.”

Throughout the years that Sue, now 52, was battling to build her business she was also struggling to raise her family. She admits now that it perhaps wasn’t the best time to launch a new enterprise: “It’s very difficult to be in business full time and have a relationship and family life and in hindsight its even more difficult having a business with children under five. It’s not just juggling your time, it’s the guilt you feel.”

Sue does regret not spending more time with her first two sons when they were growing up but there’s a neat irony in the fact that it is precisely because of them that she can be a more hands-on parent with her third son.

Sam, 20, and Adam, 23, are now both part of what has become a family business – Sam is in charge of sales and Adam is general manager.

Sue Grant with some of her products - The Body Doctor, Denby Dale.
 

Neither had intended to join the family firm but came on board at a time when a new product range, The Body Doctor, was taking off and Sue needed help. Adam had just completed a degree in business management. She says: “Having family in the business makes a massive difference because now I can take a day off or have a holiday and I know they will deal with everything the way I do.”

In the last few years Sue, who lives in Lepton, has maintained her core wheat bag business, although it now trades as Blooming Surprise, supplying mail order companies, chains such as Holland and Barrett and pharmacies. But she is most excited about her new Body Doctor collection of medical products to soothe eyes, hands and aching muscles, treating conditions such as dry eye disease, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Sue gives 5% of her sales of the hand and muscle products to Arthritis Research UK.

“I have the Examiner to thank,” she says, “because when you did a story about the Queen’s Award in 2004 it was seen by a health professional who asked me to design a product to treat specific eye conditions.

“We were manufacturing that product until 2012 when the contract ended and The Eye Doctor was born, followed by The Muscle Doctor and The Hand Doctor,” explained Sue, who added that in its first year turnover of the range was in excess of 70,000 items.

The Eye Doctor has found its way into optical wholesalers and is being supplied internationally.

And so, after a roller coaster of a ride, success beckons once more for the woman whose products bring comfort to so many.

Click here to take you back to more Lifestyle news .

To follow us on Twitter click here

Facebook Page plug in like bar