After spending 27 years teaching, Sheena decided that she really needed a career change. She told us that the “idea for suitcase trains really did happen overnight.”
“After a mad thought one day to buying the materials I thought I might need to give it all a go and trying different ways and at silly o’clock that evening, the first prototype had started to emerge. When the first suitcase train sold within a week, I decided to throw everything into this as a business.”
It’s clear when you visit the Suitcase Trains website, they are really passionate about anything to do with vintage and trains!
We asked what in particular it is that she likes about these things and Sheena said: “I have always loved anything vintage, and the idea that I could use one as a base so that a train set could actually run inside it while being portable really appealed to me. The train part was inspired by Andy’s Dad, whose back garden is an entire model railway!”
There are lots of different designs and layouts available, from Oxford Street to Thomas the Tank Engine. When it comes to deciding which trains and suitcases to use, they need a “specific size called n gauge for it to fit around the track practically and the size of the suitcase has to be at least our winning formula or bigger.”
“I carry a tape measure everywhere I go now!”
We asked where the inspiration for the wonderful train suitcases they make, and Sheena said: “literally out of my head!”
“I work on the base of the suitcase like it’s a piece of fine artwork and build up from there. I have never sketched a scene or had pre-ideas; I just use it like a blank canvas.”
If you have an idea if your mind about the suitcase train you want, this isn’t a problem. They offer bespoke built vintage suitcase/steamer trunks’ which can be personalised with features special to the customers.
In the past they have received lots of different requests, including ones to resemble a special holiday beach, and a park in Northumbria with a special monument.
“I love the research part of it and hope to visit the places to see if we have done them justice!”
“We were also asked to create a suitcase train from a children’s book called The Highland Falcon Thief. We were sent the proof of the book to read and re-create. The book is now a best seller and is going on tour with the authors this year.”
Suitcase Trains pride themselves on creating things that are ‘made with love’ and ‘handmade for generations to keep.’ When asked why this is so important, Sheena told us that she calls each suitcase train ‘her baby’ as each one takes many hours to complete and is made to perfection.
“We have hand delivered nearly all of our sets to make sure they arrive safely. When we take our train sets to shows and craft fairs so many people say it reminds them of being little and spending time with their parents/grandparents.”
Suitcase Trains have won the Theo Paphitis Sunday Night Business Award which is an amazing achievement. Sheena said that they are still on “cloud 9 about it.”
“Theo runs a twitter event on a Sunday called #SBS. where you tweet him and tell him about your business adding links etc and he chooses 6 winners each week.”
“He has run this for ten years and in that ten years 400,000 businesses have tweeted. Theo has chosen 3,000 winners which makes us in the less than 1% of chosen businesses.”
“The exposure has been fantastic, and we had a wonderful time attending his conference, as well as gaining much knowledge. We also got to meet him and receive our certificate which is now in pride of place in the workshop.”
It sounds like the Suitcase Trains business takes up most of Sheena’s time, but we were keen to find out what else makes her tick.
“My other hobby is photography, which comes in handy for social media, and I’m not happy unless I attend at least 2 gigs a week! Live music is incredibly important to me.”
“When Andy isn’t helping with Suitcase Trains, he has always got a guitar in hand practising for his own band or teaching the guitar to others.”
The future of Suitcase Trains includes Sheena joked, getting lots of sleep!
“We want to keep growing the success of Suitcase Trains, keep building on it and making it as successful as I can, while continuing to meet new people, chase every sale and sell at craft fairs.”
“We would love to be able to make so many that they are used in care homes throughout the country, as we feel this would have lots of great mental health benefits, especially for those suffering from dementia.”
As the interview came to a close, we had one final question for Sheena, of course, regarding insurance. We asked why insurance is so important for craft businesses to have and she told us: “I think it shows how proud we are of our product and to the buyer of our product.”
“We can safely attend public events knowing our product is insured and would cover any damage to the public if they were caused by any of our products.”