Christmas shopping

Well here I go my first blog.  To be honest it has taken me a long time to figure out how I wanted to start this, but after our expedition into the city on Monday inspiration has hit (or the desire to soap box – you decide!).  After nibbling on a few mince pies, which then extended to a delicious Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce on a cob (insert your bread preference here depending on where you live ha ha – no arguments please). I am now feeling brave enough to dip my toe into the water.

Just to give you a little background before I plough on.  I am an accidental small business partner of Soar Equestrian & Country in Kegworth, which is a shop run with my husband Scott of Soar Tackle.  Accidental?  You see I didn’t dream of being in retail, it wasn’t a goal of mine.  I fell into it by supporting my husband’s dream of working, somehow, with his passion for Angling.

Now, we didn’t just crash on regardless.  We did our research, built our business plan etc, – but maybe that is another post. However, circumstances contrived to force our hand, and in the middle of the financial crisis, with a newborn baby in tow, we opened Soar Tackle and Soar Equestrian followed shortly after (riding being my hobby – my other passion rugby didn’t quite compliment the fishing side).  The shop has most definitely developed into a bit “His ‘n’ Hers”, much to the amusement of our customers.

Why am I telling you this?  I want you to understand where we are coming from.  The hard work we put in to not only survive, but thrive in a retail market that was faltering and struggling.  We saw some big names fail during this period, with experienced staff and managers at the helm, and here we were ‘minnows’ trying to chisel out our little niche of the market.  What were we thinking?!!  That was over five years ago.

During that time sacrifices were made, it’s part of the life you choose when you become self employed.  One of those things was a big day out Christmas shopping, we had to budget fiercely and spread the costs throughout the year.  Gone were the days of going to Manchester or Chester, and shopping all day, eating out, coffees, cakes the full rigmarole.

So this year we were so excited that after being prudent all year, we were going to go to Nottingham, Christmas shopping for the day.  We had hard earned money to spend, and wanted to see the delights of the big stores.  Okay so we didn’t choose the best day weather wise, it was the wettest day of the year and was torrential rain.  We are country folk tho (never thought I’d say that lol) and bad weather can’t stop us!

All wrapped up in my new Kanyon coat I was ready to take on the world.  Okay, so more like walk around Nottingham buying Christmas presents, and to be honest  we were also looking for inspiration for our own shop.  What ideas and practices could we pinch to help our little country store?  Remember neither of us are from a retail background, so we are always looking for ideas.  The big boys do this all the time, surely we had something to learn from them.

Background info for you – we work hard to keep our shop clean.  I have recently worn out yet another feather duster, and can be found every morning sweeping the pavement by the front of our shop.  We very carefully consider our window displays and how the shop should feel when you walk in, and the products we choose to sell, such as local handmade chocolates and hand crafted natural candles & soap.

Off we traipsed in all that rain.  Our hopes were high and we were in a good mood despite the weather’s best attempts to dampen it.  The little Christmas village/fair looked lovely all lit up, the city was relatively clean in the centre, plenty of shops, plenty of people.

We soon came to realise that there was something missing from the bigger stores tho.  The first thing was that everywhere is very, very generic.  Each store is a different “brand”, but what they are offering the customer is all just a slight variation of what was in the store before them.  Yes we know there are trends, we watch them too, follow them, use them for ideas, but we will find you something a little different, work hard to source products we hope you love as much as we do.  So why aren’t the big boys doing it?  Why do they think they can stick anything in front of you, say it’s ‘on trend’ and expect you to part with your hard earned cash?  Now I’m not talking about the likes of Liberty in London when I say ‘Big Boys’. I’m talking about the top high street names that are the general choice of the population, to be honest they aren’t offering much choice.

The other bug bear was the cleanliness of the stores.  The stores obviously employ cleaners, the floors were clean, windows clean and the till areas clean.  The displays were a whole different class of –  dust collections! The shelves were dirty, the products you were expected to buy were dusty, the display labels were dusty it was unbelievable.  We even saw a shelf being restocked with products that were already dusty from storage and not being cleaned as put on shelf.  Hello?! Okay, so there is a higher volume of traffic through their stores than ours, (understatement of the year), but there is no excuse for disrespecting your customers so much that you expect them to buy dusty, dirty, over priced products.  I would like to say we only saw this in one store, or one particular area of the store, but no it was an epidemic of dust throughout each retail brand.  There was a solution to this – the staff that were stood around doing not a lot could have been set to use.  Encouraged to take pride in their place of work, to enjoy making a customer happy with their purchase and to create a nicer place to work. Hmmmm it would appear that I’m on cloud cuckoo land.  We were lucky to be acknowledged, never mind actually spoken to or greeted.

To be fair it isn’t the staff’s fault, if they are not trained or looked after, how can they be motivated to look after the store and it’s customers?  Come on guys – you keep moaning that the High Street is failing, up your game, respect your customers and step up to the mark.  It is failing because you think you have a right to peoples hard earned money without working for it like they have.

Just a little foot note on this.  I mentioned our experience to some friends and one of the reactions I got was maybe we are spoiled by some of the little shops we like to shop at (and will be spending our money with).  So here’s to being ‘spoiled’ by some of our favourite shops and a quick shout out to fellow small business owners.  Keep it going!!

The Gallery in Sutton Bonington  – great coffee, tea, cakes and now lunches among a wonderful selection of gifts from artisans. Got my gorgeous glass robin from here.

Flowers by Frederika – Frederika can do amazing things with flowers, so far she has done my dad’s funeral and my wedding flowers, plus numerous other gifts and occasions.

Charnwood Brewery – These guys know their beers! Wonderful selection of different ales brewed by themselves, plus local cider and wines and more.

A Stone’s Throw Nottingham – Can’t find a gift in town?  Take a visit to Pete in his shop on Sherwood Rise.  He has great taste and will help you search out the perfect item & wrap it.

George Hill of Loughborough – These guys have a selection for all budgets, obviously know their stuff and are helpful and welcoming.  Not just for wines & spirits, check out their edible gift range too.

The Cheese Shop Nottingham – These brothers are great fun and will expertly guide you through their vast array of cheeses and other delights.  Stop for a bite and a brew you won’t be disappointed.

Oaklands Butchers & Bakers – Family business right across from us which is a little fateful sometimes.  Quality is guaranteed, the food is yummy & good value.  Be warned the gingerbread latte is a little addictive 😉