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From the blog

  • Starting a Retail Business: the Highs and Lows

    Wallow just turned 3 and this led me to reflect on the last three years and what have been the good times and bad of starting a retail business.

    The Highs:

    The joy in making sales
    That saying you hear from independent retailers about how every time they make a sale they do a happy dance inside is quite true!  There is a real thrill of seeing the things you have personally selected for your shop being sold.  Having a bricks and mortar shop is particularly special in this regard, as you meet your customers in person and many of them like to talk about the products you have, or tell stories of connections they might have with the location or building. This happens to me a lot as Wallow is in an ancient village in East Sussex and a lot of people visit whose history involves the village in some way.  However, I have also had lovely online customers who have called or emailed to say how pleased they have been with their purchases and the way they have been packaged and that is equally heartwarming.
    happy dance
    Handpicking products
    I love choosing the brands; choosing what items from that brand; and thinking about how they will fit into the shop and work with other brands we already have.  A lot of the brands I stock are ones that I have loved for a long time - long before I opened Wallow.  For example, I first encountered Moulin Roty, the beautiful French children’s toy designer, decades ago on a family holiday in Ile de Ré; then a long time later in England, for baby gifts once my friends started families of their own.  I always knew that if my dream of opening a shop became a reality that I would want to stock them. 
    I also love finding new brands at trade fairs. My first was in the huge NEC Birmingham before I opened .. saying it was overwhelming would be an understatement. I walked miles in those 2 days, but loved the finds I made.  Now I tend to stick to the smaller fairs, such as Top Drawer, which is more accessible for me and has a great selection of design led companies and informative retail panels too.
    Satisfying my creative side
    I love the creative part of owning a shop: window dressing; presenting the products in store; how they are wrapped for the customer.  We always ask our customers if they would like purchases wrapped: even if it’s not a gift for someone else, there is something special about wrapping a carefully chosen product beautifully.   I love that when you get home later and open it up, you have that excitement of opening a present, even if you know what is inside!  
    Opening my online store has also been a great creative adventure! After much research, I chose Shopify through which to create my website, as they seemed well established in ecommerce and had a huge number of great templates to choose from.  I have found them really easy to use, with great support when needed.

    The Lows:

    Managing my Expectations
    Managing my own expectations of what I can achieve has been a huge journey in itself.  I have so many plans for the business, but time is pressured when you are juggling a small business with family and at times I have felt so frustrated with my lack of progress.  There is also so much work in administering a business too that often has to take precedence over marketing and new ideas.

    Social Media: Friend or Foe
    It took me a long time to get my online store up and running, but I was naive about how much work there would be once it was live in getting visitors to my website.  I know that I should be maximising social media to drive sales, but I find it hard to prioritise this over other business tasks, especially since the number of potential platforms to use is so overwhelming.  It is hard when you start on the social media path to see how it can gain you sales - the need to gain likes is an added pressure and the end goal seems so distant it can feel quite scary!
    Sole responsibility
    It can be lonely running a small business.  I have lovely people that work in my physical shop, but the responsibility of the business rests with me alone and that can be isolating at times. When sales are low it is worrying, especially if you don't have business partners to talk things through with.
    Lonely tree on hillside
    Photo by Brodie Vissers from Burst

    Next Steps
    So, think hard before starting a retail venture.  It is a lot of hard work with little return at the beginning and so you need to be looking to the medium/long term to decide on whether the business can work.  However, owning your own business offers flexibility and it is exciting and thrilling when it goes right. There is also a wealth of information out there, especially regarding online marketing, which is so helpful for starting and growing your offering. There are many companies out there, but as an example, I’ve found Hubspot produce great free downloadable guides in their resources section that are easy to understand and put into practice.  The shopify blog has also been great in offering business start up stories and articles about growing an online business.

    What are my ambitions for the next 3 years?  To attract more visitors to my Sussex shop and to grow the online business; to gain confidence in social media; and to keep finding new delights to add to the Wallow offering!
    And to anyone out there starting a new business, may the sun beam down on it, best of luck x
    Ruthie Mottram