Musings

  • 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 
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
  • Discover Wallow's Gift Guide for Mother's Day

     "If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love." Stevie Wonder

    The Ancient Greeks and Romans both had annual Spring festivals which were dedicated to maternal Goddesses, but the modern day celebration of motherhood as we know it began in the early 20th Century.  Anna Jarvis campaigned for a national American holiday to commemorate her mother, who had been a peace activist caring for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. In 1908 the holiday was officially recognised and other countries began to follow suit.

    By the 1920s Hallmark and other companies were producing cards to celebrate Mothers Day, which Anna apparently disapproved of, believing that we should create handwritten letters to demonstrate our gratitude and love.

    While most of us would agree with the sentiment, if time is lacking and handmaking gifts and cards reminds you of Blue Peter failures of times gone by, here are some suggestions to thank the Mammas come 26th of March.

    1. For the Mum who likes to be pampered:

    Cowshed cow herb restore hand cream

    At £8, there is Cowshed's Cow herb restoring hand cream. The perfect size for a handbag, this cream smells divine: with a natural, herbal fragrance of lavender and fennel, it absorbs into the skin really easily but noticeably restores and soothes the skin.

    True Grace Walled Garden Tin selection

    At £16, True Grace's walled garden tin range has recently had a rebranding and it looks beautiful (photo True Grace). Hand poured and made from natural wax, True Grace's scents fragrance a room without being overpowering. Rhubarb is new to their zinc tin range and is the perfect choice for Mothers' Day, reminding us that Spring has sprung.

     

    Cowshed Fab Four set

    For £26, you can really pamper Mum with this gorgeous Cowshed gift set of 4 100ml bottles of shower gels and body lotions in a lovely toiletries bag (photo Cowshed).

     

    2. For the garden loving Mum:

    Kabloom butterfly attracting wildflower seed mix

    Buy this beautifully designed seed bomb, containing wildflower seeds for £3.50.  You simply bury it, water it and watch the flowers grow.  Choose from a selection, including this one to attract butterflies to the garden (photo Kabloom).

     

    Small bee block by Green and Blue for solitary bees

    For £18 buy this small but striking bee block by Green and Blue: a hotel for solitary bees - it looks fantastic and it's great for the environment too (photo Green & Blue).

     

    Green and Blue Belle Bird Feeder

    Or for the bird lover, buy this beautiful Belle feeder, £25, also by Green and Blue. Ceramic and in lovely pastel colours to blend into your garden - just add a feed ball and watch the birds come flying (photo Green & Blue).  

                                     

    3. For the fashion focused Mamma:

    Becksondergaard socks

    For £7, buy a pair of these funky socks by Danish brand, Becksöndergaard, sure to bring a smile to Mum's face.

    Mothers Day Gift Card with necklace
    For £15, Orelia has created this pretty card with gold coloured flower necklace attached (photo Orelia).

    Handmade silver leaf studs by Amanda Coleman

    For something really special, buy these stunning silver leaf stud earrings (£35), handmade by Amanda Coleman (photo Amanda Coleman).

     

    4. For the home loving Mum:

    Nkuku sparkling tea light

    This oh so pretty tea light holder by Nkuku feels vintage and looks gorgeous with or without a lit candle inside (£5.25; photo Nkuku).

     

    Meri Meri Amazing Mum Apron

    For £14.50 you cannot go wrong with this fabulous apron by Meri Meri with 'Amazing Mum' embroidered across it.

     

    Lapuan Kankurit Corona blanket
    If you're wanting to spread extra Mum love this year, then buy one of these gorgeous Corona lambswool blankets (£90) by Lapuan Kankurit, a family owned homeware business in Finland. They are so soft, in such gorgeous Spring colours and with a beautiful design.

    You'll find everything featured to buy on the website here and best of all, we will wrap it beautifully and can also handwrite a card and post directly to Mum: even Anna would approve of that surely?!

     

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  • Goodbye 2016 and Hello 2017

    There were a lot of exciting Wallow moments last year:  seeing my customer base at my Sussex shop grow; launching Wallow online after a process that at times felt like it would never end; and getting my first online sale and each one after.  

    It was a really challenging year too, in which I learned a great deal: about how hard it is to grow a small business; about the huge complexities of online retail; that launching online is only the first mini step in a very long journey; and how important it is to accept limitations of time and the amount that you can do in a day!

    I had great plans for January, for all that I would do to push Wallow forward into the new year, but I also put off a lot of things from December to January, in trying to boost Christmas sales as much as possible. I got to January and suddenly my workload seemed pretty scary.  But my resolutions for 2017 are to stay calm, to enjoy this amazing journey through the joys and pitfalls of independent retail, to do more than I hope, but not to get anguished when it seems like not enough, and to feel less guilty when the work-family balance tips up or down at one end or other.

    So, it may already be mid-January and it may be officially too late to wish a happy new year, but I did want to thank everyone that supported me and Wallow last year and to wish everyone the best possible year ahead.

    Ruthie x

  • Wallow loves stationery

    My stationery obsession began very early on.  There was a brilliant book shop, ‘The Book Boat’, which was moored on the Thames in Greenwich and it sold gorgeous stationery.  I saved my pocket money and when I had enough I would go there and choose a new letter writing set, or note book.

    As a teenager, my favoured place became ‘Bright Ideas’ in Lewes, where I would amble on family holidays.  There they had collections of ring binders, pencils in boxes, different sized notebooks all in the same print.  My favourite was brightly coloured flowers on a black background, that I am reminded of now by some of Rifle Paper's beautiful designs.  Although the pencils and notebooks were long since finished, I had the ring binder into my twenties and continued to love it until it collapsed under weight of use.

    Why do we love stationery so much?  A lovely lady said to me while lusting over OLA in Wallow, that she had a drawer full of unused notebooks and once she used them she didn’t like them as much anymore, but it didn't stop her from buying more.  I understand that feeling… when you first put pen to paper, the tingling excitement and then dismay if your handwriting doesn’t quite flow as beautifully as you’d hoped.  But I also love finishing a notebook, the feeling of completion and anticipation for the next.

    I came across OLA Studio before I opened Wallow and fell in love at once.  The paper has the perfect thickness that you can write freely on both sides, but not so thick that you feel guilty about the waste. The geometric designs reflect the functionality of the books as well as inspiring flow of words and crucially, they look beautiful on any desk.  They also do a plain covered one, with a gold foil design on the binding: these look amazing when stacked together and in three colours, they are prefect for organising different projects.  They are made in England, using traditional techniques.

      

    Another exciting discovery was Katie Leamon, designer of greeting cards, note cards, luxury notebooks, wrap and other stationery delights.  I have always loved typography and hers is gorgeous, black handprinted on white notecards, or in gold foil on notebooks.  She has some striking designs too, like her bumble bee, traditional postbox or typewriter.  Her notebooks are sophisticated and stylish and a lovely size: large, but thin so easily carried with you and easy to write across both pages. All her pieces are proudly made in England too.

     

     

    Rifle Paper Company I have long admired and recently started selling  in my shop and now online. A husband and wife team, they originally designed from their flat in Florida, but soon outgrew the space and are now an international brand. They use bright and detailed artwork across their range, which is uplifting, bold and chic. 

     

    What OLA, Katie Leamon and Rifle Paper all share is a desire to produce special creations, of superior quality; functional but artistic; stationery to be cherished and enjoyed.  

    I would also like to mention the Flow Book for Paper Lovers that I came across in my wonderful local bookshop, Much Ado Books (muchadobooks.com).  Featuring many different designers it is a gorgeously hefty tome of beautiful illustrations, differing paper styles and types, serrated notepaper, cards, stickers and surprises.  If you love stationery you will love this and I thoroughly recommend you seek it out (www.flowmagazine.com).

     

    It is so much more satisfying to write notes in bound paper, than typing on a keyboard; so much more exciting to post a note card in a letter box than ping off an email; so much more fun to organise your life by hand with highlighters, tick boxes, pretty paper and coloured pens than any notes program a computer or tablet can offer.

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  • Welcome to Wallow

    Hello and welcome to Wallow!

    I'm really glad that you found us and hope you like what you find here.  I will be adding more products in the coming weeks so do check back.  Also, please sign up to the mailing list - I won't bombard you, but will keep you aware of new brands and offers.

    As a thank you for shopping with us, I have set up Wallow Friends, a reward scheme, which gives you 1 point for every £1 spent. Once you have 100 points you will have a £5 credit to redeem against your next order.  You can check your points at any time, by clicking on the Wallow Friends button at the bottom of your screen.  You will automatically become a Wallow Friend once you set up an account with us.

    Best wishes

    Ruthie

     

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