It started with a catch-up over coffee on a grey November day with Patti - our lovely, bubbly babysitter and now dear friend of the family. We discovered we both had a similar passion - interior design, vintage furniture, all things unique - and a strong belief in and love for recycling, giving objects a new lease of life.
Patti M had recently started creating her own quirky lighting and other home accessories. I had collected a mix of individual, eclectic furniture pieces and artefacts from around the globe. We both wanted to sell, but within the current retail climate we were hesitant and, let's be honest, lacking in confidence to commit to a long term retail lease. But what about a pop-up shop? An ideal way to dip our toes into the retail experience without huge financial commitment, interact with our customers and further develop our brand and ideas.
We knew pop-ups were in flavour in London, but there is a certain reticence and lack of offering in Oxford which meant it could take a while before we secured one...
But, to our great surprise and excitement, three hectic weeks later, on November 28th 2016, we opened the doors to our first pop-up adventure!
It was a fantastic 6 weeks in Wallingford with the most heart warming welcome from the local council, retailers and customers alike.
I have been asked what I have learned from this adventure and what stands out most.
Well, I can sum it up in 3 things:
(1) Greater insight into the day-to-day management of a retail shop. It's not simply renting a space - it's creating a space that provides a continued memorable experience (and no! - The stench from overflowing sewage on our opening day that some of you may remember was NOT the wow factor we had intended! And very glad it didn't put you off ). It's about all the other things that happen behind the scenes to make it happen...boring but very much required insurance, rubbish collections & inventory management (amongst many other mundane tasks) to the more exciting bit of searching for those unique finds.
(2) People's solidarity and drive for collaboration. The retail industry is a competitive and challenging arena. Yet within this community I was happily surprised to encounter the willingness of people to help. From Claire Blacker of the South Oxfordshire District Council, Neil Wild at Wild Property Consultancy and Iain Nicholson at PRBI for their program and support for pop-up initiatives to local businesses... Even before we opened our doors the previous pop-up residents SewVeryVintage were extremely supportive and very happy to share their advice and experience of travelling down a similar road.
And, to compliment our offering, we were lucky enough to collaborate with some amazing businesses and artists: Scandinavian living with Zanders & Sons, Ashiana jewellery with Balvir Friers, Indian Himalaya handwoven scarves and stoles with Wovenlives, and local artists Gareth Lloyd and Julia Zelazko Art.
(3) The huge amount of enthusiasm! Customers liked the advantage of being able to touch products to get a sense of how they look and feel. Their reactions were flattering:
"You have some beautiful, eclectic things. Long may you last."
A young man in his 30's said "I think I found my new favourite shop!"
A lady rushing by stopped and shouted through the door "What a lovely looking shop! I have to and I will come back when I'm not rushing anywhere."
Everyone's support, glowing comments and words of wisdom have contributed to our success and reinforced our enthusiasm for our business adventures.
You read in the papers about the challenging times for independent retailers. I never truly appreciated this truth until recently. Yes, it was hard work indeed, but so rewarding at the same time and as we say in Dutch "voor herhaling vatbaar"...