A tale of two independent retailers

PUBLISHED: 16:29 04 April 2013 | UPDATED: 21:24 05 April 2013

Harriette and Polly Smart

Harriette and Polly Smart

Last October we introduced you to two new independent retailers, promising to track their first year in business. We caught up with them to hear how Christmas trading went and how they coped with the retail 'graveyard' of January and February.

A tale of two independent retailers

Last October we introduced you to two new independent retailers, promising to track their first year in business. We caught up with them to hear how Christmas trading went and how they coped with the retail graveyard of January and February.

The Oxford Pantry opened in August 2012 and sells kitchen and dining ware from rustic hand-made ceramics, Swedish tableware to stainless steel Japanese blades. The business opened in August and is located on Little Clarendon Street, Oxford, close to the citys trendy Jericho district.

James Lear of Arundel opened in July 2012 in the small but perfectly formed town of Nailsworth, selling goods made mainly by local artisans. Pottery, trugs, hurdles and brooms, cushions and soft toys, hand made beauty products, preserves, chocolates, candles, recycled paper, natural linen, sustainable wood and pure wool burst out of the Fountain Street shop.

Was Christmas good, bad or as expected?

Charlotte Creed at The Oxford Pantry: We had a fantastic first Christmas; it surpassed all of our expectations and forecasted figures. We were especially pleased as it became apparent that we have a great gathering of local supporters and regular shoppers as well as being discovered by those just visiting Oxford. It wasnt only for gifts but housewares to make what can be a stressful time in the kitchen much easier!

Harriette Smart, James Lear of Arundel: Christmas shopping season was late starting but momentum built in the final two weeks of December. We had Nailsworth Noel on the final Saturday rather a damp day but very busy. Three of us served in the shop and handing out mini mince pies (by brilliant local shop/cafe NOM NOM) and mulled wine proved popular with customers. It was definitely our record day so far.

Did sales hold up in January and February?

Charlotte Creed: Our January Sale was great (15% off all pans was especially successful). February has been quieter but gave us an opportunity to work on our new online store (launched in April) and do some advertising. To compliment our distribution of flyers we have been trying new marketing tools; we are working with other local business on Little Clarendon Street, doing some collective deals and pushing those through social media. We have also just launched trade accounts with local restaurants/pubs/cafes. We have had two large orders already so we are really pleased. Monthly knife sharpening was worked really well as a marketing tool. We are also pushing our knife sales by doing an I.O. Shen masterclass.

Harriette Smart: January was very slow, and even slower when the snow came [Nailsworth is at the bottom of a steep valley]. However in the final week business picked up and has been back to a good rhythm since.

Is your website boosting business?

Charlotte Creed: We always planned to launch our online store in spring 2013. This is all coming together as planned and we are really excited about it going live.

Harriette Smart. : We only went live with the website in mid February so its early days, though online orders are coming through. Now were learning the ups and downs of correct postage and packaging. We also have a strong Facebook and Twitter presence. We are hoping that the ongoing maintenance of the website will not prove to be overly time consuming though we do seem to live and breathe the business in its first year!!

Looking forward, what do you see as the challenges in the next few months?

Charlotte Creed: We are really looking forward to the summer months with all the tourism that Oxford brings but we are certainly going to have our work cut out balancing the shop and the website sales.

I think the main challenge with the website will be meticulous stock control.

Harriette Smart: The challenges will be staying on plan with our long term stock range, building the online sales to reach a broader custom base and staying true to ourselves as more and more artisans come and find us. A sunny spring/summer would be a treat, we cant wait to open the door to the garden once more.

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