Small Business Saturday Blog

Pizza power

Wednesday, November 24 at 06:00

Husband and wife team Sweet and Maurizio D'Apollonio tell us about their recipe for success in food and business.
Maurizio Dining & Co is a neighbourhood, independent Italian restaurant and wine bar in Cambridge that invites customers to relax and taste the ‘real Italy’, with gourmet pizzas and homemade pasta sauces, along with wine from small Italian vineyards.
The restaurant was opened by husband-and-wife team Sweet and Maurizio D'Apollonio in 2017. New to the hospitality industry, but full of passion for the impact that good food can have on people and communities, they describe the experience as a huge learning curve.
However, a core approach has guided them to success. They have a ‘three E philosophy’: ‘enhancing’ customer dining experience, ‘encouraging’ working and socialising in a collaborative way, and ‘empowering’ their team to be the best they can be.
It’s working. The couple were named one of Small Business Saturday’s inspirational SmallBiz100 for 2021, as well as gaining high praise from local customers and celebrity fans.
This includes former Dragon Theo Paphitis, who described their homemade tomato sauce - cooked ‘just like mamma makes’ using just five ingredients (Italian tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, passata and salt) - as “smelling and tasting amazing”.
The restaurant is very much embedded in the community. Where possible, they source produce locally and are involved in a campaign to make Cambridge even more engaging and accessible, with less traffic and more pavement culture, to enhance the local high street. They have also commissioned local artists to paint bespoke artwork to display in the restaurant.
Sweet told us: “It's all about making our customers' experience the best it can be. This means serving delicious Italian food and drink, delivering exceptional service, and engaging within our local area.”
In the year the restaurant was launched, The Centre for Cities 2017 report identified Cambridge as one of the most unequal cities in the UK, with local food poverty on the rise, even before the pandemic began. So Maurizio Dining & Co. has been on a mission to help tackle this, working with local organisation Cambridge Sustainable Food (CSF), which aims to facilitate a more environmentally and socially equitable food system that is good for people and the planet.
Maurizio Dining & Co. can be found giving out pizzas and pastas on a regular basis at various Community Food Hubs. And Maurizio himself recently ran the Cambridge Half Marathon to raise just over £1,000 for CSF’s work, as well as fundraising for its work on the restaurant’s website.
The team is also working towards a Sustainable Food Business Award with support from CSF. This includes making their packaging as environmentally friendly as possible, using less plastic, recycling glass bottles, and collecting all their corks to make ‘cork curtains’. One of their delivery partners is a new business called Foodstuff, which offers car-free delivery using only bicycles.
Maurizio Dining & Co is one of the local businesses taking part in the American Express Shop Small campaign and its offer which incentivises Cardmembers to support their local small shops and restaurants from 4-15 December.
This follows additional Shop Small Offers that American Express ran in Summer 2020 and Spring 2021, as well as December 2020 to help support small business to recover following COVID-19 lockdowns.
“When big global brands such as American Express reach out to support small local businesses through initiatives such as Small Business Saturday, it means we are all working together to make a contribution to our community,” says Sweet.
“It’s been a difficult 12 months, but we believe that we have the stamina, vision and people power to stay strong and succeed.”
Maurizio Dining & Co. is currently open five evenings a week for eating in, collection and delivery. Visit them at 44 Mill Road, Cambridge, CB1 2AS or online here. See Maurizio & Co. Dining on the American Express Shop Small map here.

In the good books

Friday, November 19 at 11:36

Sarah Dennis of Mostly Books shares her story of how bringing her love of books to town has had a positive ripple effect locally.
Mostly Books is an award-winning, independent bookshop located in the heart of Abingdon, just outside Oxford. They sell a wide array of books that cater for all ages and interests, alongside handpicked cards, small gifts, and children’s toys.
Sarah Dennis bought the business in 2017, and since then it has gone from strength to strength, with a full refurb, extensive events calendar and increased local engagement.
Their hard work has been widely recognised. As well as being a Small Business Saturday SmallBiz100 this year, the business was named as Bertram’s Bookshop of the Year in 2019, and they have also won a Pan Macmillan Independent Bookshop Innovation Award, as well as being shortlisted for the Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards for the last four years.
Manned by a small team of passionate booksellers, Mostly Books is heavily involved in the local community. They aim to be an inclusive, safe space for all customers (and their pets!). For some customers, a visit to the bookshop is a highlight of their day, and children love visiting their ‘book nook’ and colouring whilst their parents browse.
They also run a book group and offer discounts for other local book clubs, provide an innovative book subscription service, donate books to charities, produce and present a podcast (for which they have been lucky enough to speak to many fantastic authors), run a stall at Pride, and organise a variety of events.
The business is passionate about helping younger people engage with books and reading. They have strong links with many schools, sourcing books as well as running events and fairs. They have also recently launched a Youth Ambassador scheme, sending out copies of unpublished books for children to review, mentoring them in their writing skills and providing references for university and work applications.
Sustainability is also a vital part of Mostly Books’ business. In 2019, they achieved the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Champion award by removing all avoidable single-use plastic from the business. The boxes and packaging they use for shipping books are all recyclable, and they try to reuse packaging materials sent from suppliers.
During the pandemic the business adapted with a new website and a renewed focus on social media and digital events. When the UK went into lockdown, they offered free delivery to customers within five miles, and intend to continue the service in order to support customers who cannot get to them.
Mostly Books has enjoyed taking part in Shop Small and told us: “American Express is a great brand to work in partnership with. They are clear supporters of small businesses and their initiatives, such as the Shop Small offer, are a great way to show that support.”
You can visit Mostly Books at 36 Stert Street, Abingdon OX14 3JP and online here. Find out more about the American Express Shop Small offer here.

From babygrows to beer kits

Friday, November 05 at 05:00

Bev and Andy Toogood tell us how the Brexit referendum result caused them to pivot their business and how selling on Amazon has allowed them to find new customers and keep going throughout the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bev and Andy have been selling on Amazon for 14 years. Their original business, Little Sunflowers, was an award-winning independent children's clothing and gift shop, which rated the UK's top childrenswear and gift shop according to Trustpilot and won the prestigious Online Retail Awards – twice!
Bev told us: “We started selling on Amazon about a year after we opened our childrenswear shop, so around 2005. We started selling on Amazon initially to simply reach a wider audience as we were only small: at this stage, online shopping hadn't really taken off. When Amazon started their fulfilment service (Amazon FBA) in 2008, they offered us some amazing deals to get started, so we had a lot of stock in their warehouses from quite early on. This meant that not only were we reaching a wider audience, we were now able to use Amazon to pick, pack and send our orders, which meant we effectively had another shop without needing to recruit more staff or take on other premises.”
Little Sunflowers had a large European customer base, and in 2016, after the Brexit referendum result, Bev and Andy took the difficult decision to close down the business, as they foresaw that there would be too many issues for them to continue to sell in Europe.
They decided to start selling homebrew kits and ingredients locally: they have an interest in home brewing themselves, and are based in Horam in East Sussex, the original home of the Merrydown Cider Factory, where a lot of local residents used to work at the factory and brew at home. As the home brew business took off, they closed down their children’s clothing business, although there was a brief cross over period: Bev told us “For a while we were selling beer kits and babygrows, which was interesting!”
Bev and Andy now run Almost Off Grid, an independent business that sells home brewing supplies plus gifts, kitchenware and equipment and ingredients for cheese making, sourdough, kombucha, kefir and more. They told us: “We set up our homebrew business on Amazon, both FBA and marketplace, from day 1 and continue to sell both ways, which enables us to sell more with just the two of us. Nowadays the Amazon FBA set-up is much bigger, and we hold a great deal of stock there. We also sell on Amazon as a marketplace seller which has always worked well for us. It works equally well for our current business as it did for our old one.”
Bev explained how they run their business with Amazon. “As an Amazon seller, you can sell on Amazon in two ways and we do both: we fulfil our stock to Amazon, plus we sell ourselves on Amazon as a marketplace seller.”
She explains: “When you fulfil through Amazon (known as Amazon FBA), you send your stock to the Amazon Warehouse and they pick, pack and ship to the customer on your behalf. For example, this is one of our Amazon FBA listings: you’ll see that the wording says dispatches by Amazon, sold by Almost Off Grid, which means the seller is sending their stock to Amazon, who are sending it on their behalf. As a small business with only two of us, fulfilling to Amazon allows us almost to clone ourselves. We can send hundreds of packets of, say, yeast to Amazon to sell on our behalf in one box, rather than posting out to multiple customers.”
Bev continues: “We also send direct to customers as a marketplace seller. This means that you sell your product on Amazon, but you ship it from your own premises rather than Amazon fulfilling it for you. For example, this is one of our marketplace listings: here, the wording says dispatches by Almost Off Grid, sold by Almost Off Grid, which means it is a marketplace seller.”
Would they recommend selling on Amazon to other small businesses? Bev told us: “Absolutely! We have worked with other small shops helping them to get started on Amazon, because we're passionate about the benefits. Amazon gets a very bad press in the media on the basis that they are killing small businesses. But were it not for Amazon, many small businesses we know would not still be here – particularly over the past 18 months when shops couldn't open. We have learned an awful lot about ecommerce from Amazon without having to make the investment ourselves, and we are able to use their infrastructure to our advantage. Our latest venture is self publishing homebrewing books and journals through Amazon too on a print-on-demand basis, which fits perfectly with what we do.”
Bev adds: “My advice to small businesses is: open an Amazon selling account and get going. No matter how good you are with Google Adwords, no matter how much you spend on advertising, no matter how many local customers you have, you can grow your sales far more easily through Amazon. The FBA business is, in effect, another revenue stream which means you don't need as many sales in your main business to keep cash flowing. The benefits far, far outweigh the problems we've had over the 14 years we have worked with them. I would go so far as to say that our little shop owes Amazon a great deal. Embrace the opportunity!”
Visit Almost Off Grid at their shop at Lyndhurst House, High Street, Horam TN21 0EZ (an address that has been continuously occupied by businesses since it was built at the turn of last century) or online here, or visit their Amazon shop here.

Smile and say cheese

Friday, October 22 at 05:00

From humble beginnings, selling cheese from the family farm at local events, to a number of brick and mortar stores and beyond, Emma and Stuart Colclough tell us how selling with Amazon has helped them to reach new customers, streamline their processes, and reach ever-higher heights.
Emma and Stuart started the Chuckling Cheese Company in 2012, selling Emma’s family’s award-winning cheeses at events all over the UK. Their reputation quickly grew as they shared the passion of a small family farm with a nationwide cheese-loving community.
The first Chuckling Cheese Company shop opened back in 2016, offering a wide selection of cheese, craft beers and ciders, spirits, sweet treats, extravagant hampers and celebration cheese cakes, alongside their range of cheese such as their famous Charcoal Cheddar and Botanist Gin and Tonic.
More Chuckling Cheese shops opened in the years that followed, and they now have locations around the country, including Middlesbrough, Brierley Hill, Doncaster and Gateshead Metrocentre, with more to come. They are also in the process of expanding their warehouse, which will grow the company nationwide.
Where to next? Online of course! They started their Amazon journey three years ago, selling a range of products online through their own Amazon store. They told us that not only has this enabled them to reach new customers and increase their volume of sales, but it has also encouraged them further to improve their capabilities and service across all of their orders, allowing them to expand their product range as well as growing their customer base.
According to Chuckling Cheese, Amazon has helped to refine and streamline the way they sell, market and progress their product range. Marketing Executive Maisie told us: “The more variety in products we upload and sell, the stronger our market research is. We learn what our audience is searching for, what they notice and what they purchase. For example, when we uploaded our rainbow box, it had little traffic and no sales. But once we amended the description and improved the images so they were more suited to Amazon's layout, with white backgrounds and minimal lifestyle product photography, the product became a bestseller overnight.”
Maisie adds: “The sooner a product is live on Amazon, the better chance it has of selling and becoming a top seller. Once a new product has had its first sale, the product is dominoed into a Top Products category and becomes a feature of the store, thus creating more sales, which increases its visibility across store front.”
As well as selling their own products, Chuckling Cheese also celebrate and support other small businesses by regularly sharing their products with their customer base. For example, they have regular sampling sessions with their suppliers which allow new products to be tried by the public through their stores. They have also created truckles and hampers with a portion of the profit going to local charities and campaigns. They told us: “We love bringing communities together for a strong shared platform, and Amazon, alongside our brick and mortar shops and our online sales, is one of the tools that lets us do that.”
Visit The Chuckling Cheese Company online here, find your nearest store here, or visit the Chuckling Cheese Amazon Store here.

The perfect planner for when you didn’t plan for this

Friday, September 24 at 06:00

Shelly Shulman of former #SB100 La Belle Cake Company tells us how publishing with Amazon allowed her to add an additional income stream to her business, leading to her company pivoting completely and becoming a six figure business during a global pandemic.
I started my first business, La Belle Cake Company, back in 2006, making bespoke wedding and celebration cakes. It started off slowly, but after investing in some business training and with the support of great campaigns like Small Business Saturday, it grew exponentially leading to wealth of celebrity clients, including world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsey and Her Majesty the Queen of England. I even made the very first Love Island wedding cake!Due to my success, I started to coach other cake makers, giving them help and advice to grow their own profitable cake businesses. I eventually grew a community of over 3000 amazing cake makers and everything was going brilliantly.
And then coronavirus happened. Being a cake maker who makes cakes for events during a global pandemic is not great from a business point of view. Orders were being cancelled and postponed from all directions. However, at the same time, the demand for my coaching services grew as people took the time to revisit the foundations of their business whilst they had the opportunity to work on their business rather than in it.
From the conversations I was having, time management and organisation were two of the biggest issues that people struggled with, so I started to think what I could do to help with that. My solution was a planner for cake makers.
I looked at various publishing options but using Kindle Direct Publishing from Amazon looked the best for me: it was easy to set up, and I didn’t have to worry about printing or delivery or ordering copies, as everything was printed to order.
I launched the planner on 31st August 2020, and it quickly became a best seller in its categories. And not only did it add another income stream to my business, it also served as part of a marketing funnel, as people would find the planner, then find me on social media and join my groups and purchase other services.
At the same time, I was also being approached by other business owner who weren’t cake makers, asking for advice as they had seen the results I had been getting. In October 2020, I opened my services to business owners in general rather than specifically just cake makers.
In January of this year, due to demand, I released a 2022 version of my cake business planner, again through Amazon. This time I was also able to offer the planner as a hardback: this was one of the most requested options I got through customer feedback, so it was great to be able to offer that option.
I also wanted to do something similar for my new client base and create a planner for business owners to help them get more organised, set and achieve goals and ultimately get the results they wanted. I used lots of tools in my business to help me do that, but they weren’t all in the same place.
And so, I created the Ultimate Business Planner, featuring all the tools I use in my own business. Again, I used Amazon because the whole process is so easy.
Selling on Amazon has been instrumental for me in becoming a six figure business during a global pandemic, by giving me an additional income stream and allowing me to reach my audience in another space. I even have people coming to me now asking for help and advice on selling on Amazon! It will certainly continue to be a big part of my strategy going forward.
You can find Shelly’s full range of 2022 planners here.

Why apply to be a #SmallBiz100 2021?

Tuesday, June 01 at 11:48

 The past year has been a difficult one for everyone, and small businesses are no exception – and that’s why there’s never been a better time to make the most of the support, networking and promotional opportunities that being a SmallBiz100 provides. Applications for SmallBiz100 2021 have now opened, and if you've been wondering whether it's for you, read on to find out more.

First things first – what is the SmallBiz100?

In a nutshell, Small Business Saturday chooses 100 brilliant small businesses and promote one every day in the run up to Small Business Saturday, which takes place on 4th December 2021. It’s a great opportunity to showcase your small business and raise awareness both locally and nationally. On your allocated day, your business will be promoted across Small Business Saturday’s social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, making it a fantastic way to make a big impact. At the current time with small businesses’ increasing digital presence, it can give you a huge boost and take your business to the next level.
Outside of your allocated day, there are plenty of PR opportunities within the media. Local press love to get involved and feature local businesses which have been selected to join SmallBiz100, and Small Business Saturday will support you all the way by preparing press releases for your local papers. It doesn’t end after your day is over either – the campaign is always thrilled to share good news from former SmallBiz100 businesses.

Why apply to take part?

When speaking to previous SmallBiz100 participants, the one benefit which comes up time and time again is the support network which it provides. Running your own small business can be lonely at times, and it can be hard to know where to turn for help and advice from those who really know what you’re experiencing – especially at times as unprecedented as these. Taking part in SmallBiz100 provides you with a fantastic community and a ready-made support network of small businesses just like yours, all at different stages of growth. You’ll get access to a private alumni Facebook group for sharing tips, asking for advice, providing support and celebrating your success. There are also plenty of opportunities to collaborate with other small businesses who have been there and done that sharing their experiences.

Whatever your experience has been in 2021 – whether you’ve had to reimagine your business to fit the new world we find ourselves in, whether you’ve had to shut up shop temporarily to protect your staff and yourselves, or whether you’ve tapped into a whole new market – it provides a unique opportunity to drive your business forward.

What if I’ve had to close my business temporarily due to Covid-19? Can I still apply?

Absolutely YES! The campaign recognises that 2021 has come with a huge range of challenges, most of which none of us have ever had to face before, and would still like to hear from all small businesses including those that have had to change direction or close temporarily.
When it comes to the #SmallBiz100, tell us the story of your small business: what makes it tick? How does it fit in to your local community? What makes it special?
This year we will also be asking what are you doing to make your small business more sustainable, if you have not started the journey yet don’t worry there is plenty of advice and support from Small Business Planet at hand.
Even if you feel that your business is not yet ready for SmallBiz100 or you’re not selected as part of the 100, there are still numerous benefits to getting involved. Simply registering with Small Business Saturday can improve your business’s visibility, making you searchable via the Small Business Saturday app and via the business finder on the Small Business Saturday website, which is regularly promoted across social media. It’s also a great place to promote special offers, and to pick up tips and advice from other small businesses.

All this and taking part is completely free! Sounds good? Applying to take part in SmallBiz100 2020 is quick and easy – just click here to register and start your journey. Already registered? Click here to apply to SmallBiz100.
We can’t wait to present the SmallBiz100 2021! Make 2021 the year that you take your small business to the next level and take part in something amazing: apply now for SmallBiz100 2021.

Feeling lighter than air at The Float Spa

Thursday, December 17 at 07:30

#SmallBiz100 The Float Spa share how they created a new business from scratch, how they rolled with the punches during the coronavirus lockdown, and how they’ve been giving back to the NHS and essential workers who need it most.
The Float Spa was founded by Camille Pierson in 2015 after she discovered the benefits of floatation for herself in alleviating the symptoms of PTSD following a trauma.
The Float Spa now offers a full range of therapies including floatation therapy, infrared sauna sessions, yoga classes, massage, acupuncture, and homeopathy. These therapies can be used to alleviate stress, to treat mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, to ease physical aches and pains caused by postural problems, injuries or chronic conditions, or simply to optimise wellbeing or enhance sporting performance.
As they were starting out, the Float Spa faced an interesting double-edged challenge: on one hand, it was the first float centre in the Brighton and Hove area, with no established market; and on the other, it also offered massage and yoga classes, both of which were overrepresented in the area. This meant that they needed to raise awareness of the benefits of float therapy, while simultaneous proving the worth of their yoga classes and other therapies.
They tackled this by ensuring outstanding levels of customer care and hiring excellent yoga teachers and therapists, which ensured positive reviews. They were gradually able to build up their client base through extensive social media campaigns, networking and a huge number of word-of-mouth recommendations.
Appearing on the American Express Shop Small campaign interactive map enabled the Float Spa to find new customers and increase its footfall as it established itself as a new business in the area. This campaign underpins Float Spa’s belief that small businesses are at the core of every successful community, and offers a cashback offer for Cardmembers who shop small.
When the Float Spa was forced to close its doors in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, they kept their business going by running yoga classes online, creating a schedule of live classes alongside a member area on the website through which members could access hundreds of yoga classes whenever it was convenient for them. With the help of a small local grant, they also kick started a bath bomb making business using Epsom salts and natural ingredients.
During lockdown, the Float Spa worked alongside a group of local acupuncturists who were treating NHS workers for anxiety, depression and stress, offering lockdown-compliant free use of their facilities. They also ran a pay it forward campaign during lockdown: for every float purchased during lockdown for use after restrictions ended, they donated a voucher for a float session to an essential worker – 150 free float sessions were offered in total.
The Float Spa also supports the work of the Brighton Yoga Foundation, of which Camille is a trustee, to bring the benefits of yoga to the community for free: this is something that has continued throughout lockdown, providing valuable stress relief to the local community during these difficult times.
The Float Spa also has a strict environmental policy of avoiding single use plastics and offering a refill service for toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner and Epsom salts to customers, which has saved roughly 500 five litre plastic bottles, 50 15 litre plastic bottles and 500 1kg plastic bags since it was implemented.
Visit The Float Spa at 8 Third Ave, Hove, BN3 2PX or online here. The Float Spa is taking part in American Express’ Shop Small campaign: find them here on the Shop Small Map, and click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

At the cutting edge of local community

Monday, December 14 at 10:00

When Simon Webster and his wife Sophie established an independent hair salon in Brighton’s fashionable North Laine, their aim was to provide an inclusive space for clients to visit and build a support network for other local creatives and traders. As strong champions of small businesses and active members of the local community, the couple share their thoughts on life through lockdown and how the survival of our High Streets relies on co-operation.
Founded in 2012 by ultra-creative husband and wife team Simon and Sophie Webster, Simon Webster Hair prides itself as family-run hair salon with a client-centred approach, that gives inventive stylists freedom to work on their own terms. 
Its talented team split their time between working in-salon and for fashion publications and designers, previously having taken part in Fashion Weeks across Europe and being featured in Vogue, Tatler, and Men's Health to name a few.
Establishing the salon as a vital part of the local community was integral to the project. Simon Webster Hair soon earned a reputation as a trailblazing, welcoming local independent that combines the professionalism, quality and creativity of a high-end brand. This winning formula helped it secure both the UK Ultimate Salon Award and Best Newcomer Award.
Passionate about using their platform to demonstrate the importance of inclusivity, Simon Webster Hair is a community space where the team, as well as their clients, contribute to the company’s policies, procedures, and brand. This ethos runs through all aspects of the business, from fair employment terms to the services they offer, and using their own clients as models in collections. The team works with all hair types, textures and wigs, and were pioneers of innovative, gender-free pricing where appointments are charged by time.
As a close-contact business, Simon Webster Hair had to close its doors when lockdown hit the country in March. Using the time as an opportunity for growth, the team concentrated on building relationships by personally calling clients, arranging bespoke product-drops to their homes, and using social media to share ideas on home-styling.
The community ethos doesn’t just stop with the salon’s clients: during lockdown, the team worked with product suppliers and charities to create over 500 care packages which were distributed to vulnerable families and the homeless across Brighton, as well as providing pamper packs for the local hospital’s midwives.
Social media and video have also proved crucial in keeping clients updated on the work going on behind the scenes to make the space COVID-secure and to assure customers that their safety is paramount.
 
“It’s always been about people over profit for us and we were determined not to lose sight of that despite the challenges of lockdown,” say Simon. “That sense of being stronger together has always been our ethos and it was prevalent during the peak of Coronavirus cases.”
Whether it's contributing to the safety of Brighton Pride, sponsoring arts events at Brighton Festival, fundraising for Brighton Women’s Centre, offering thank-you rewards for shopping at small businesses, or providing free haircuts to the homeless and vulnerable, it's clear that supporting the local community is at the very heart of this small business.
The salon took part in the American Express Shop Small campaign when they reopened after the first national lockdown at the start of July. Due to the unprecedented circumstances this year, American Express extended its ‘Spend £10 get £5 back’ Shop Small offer, which normally kicks off on Small Business Saturday, to run for 12 weeks through to September.
Sophie says: “It’s wonderful to have American Express’ support at such a difficult time.”
In the future, Simon Webster Hair aims to build their clientele and provide further opportunities for its tight-knit team to expand their skills and nurture their talents. Meanwhile, the business continues to promote the shared benefits of progressive business approaches and practices to other companies through industry events and networking.
“The importance of keeping our high street thriving depends on co-operation rather than competition, so our motivator is to encourage local spending and reinvestment in our communities because we know we're stronger together,” says Simon. “We mustn’t forget the lessons we learned when we all paused and took stock of what really matters.”
Visit Simon Webster Hair at 16 Gardner St, Brighton BN1 1UP, or online here. Click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

Sewing the seeds of success in Scotland

Thursday, December 10 at 07:30

Lianne Garven has always had a passion for crafting and studied textiles at Heriot Watt university. So when the opportunity arrived to purchase I Sew 2, a fabric, yarn and haberdashery shop on the outskirts of Glasgow, she didn’t think twice – and says she has never looked back.
I Sew 2 prides itself on being a unique place which will inspire and delight anyone who knits, crochets, or sews. The shop is filled with colourful displays of yarn and fabric, and it also runs workshops, often taught by local craftspeople, where customers can learn new skills and create something unique in a relaxed and fun environment.
Business at I Sew 2 has grown steadily, but the current pandemic had an immediate effect and, like so many other businesses, the shop has had to adapt. 
During the initial lockdown, Lianne would personally deliver orders to five different areas on rotation – a real boon to people looking to do something creative with their time during lockdown. Gradually she introduced customer collections, a take-away counter and a restricted access opening.
Campaigns like Shop Small, which encourages people to shop at small businesses by offering cashback to American Express cardholders, is something that gave Lianne’s business a boost over the summer, when the initiative was introduced to support small businesses during the pandemic.
Lianne says: “The summer campaign this year was great. To have the support of such a large organisation is tremendous.” She adds that the business has taken part in Small Business Saturday for the past two years and is thrilled to be one of the campaign’s SmallBiz100 in 2020.
This recognition reflects how much I Sew 2 is at the heart of the community. For example, Lianne and her team coordinated the stunning refurbishment of a local disused telephone box on the main street of Kirkintilloch. With the help of the community council, each panel inside the telephone box was made by local residents, businesses, or the regional embroiderer’s guild, creating a unique craft-display representing the local area. 
Lianne’s future plans include using a new, bigger workshop area, borne of necessity during the pandemic, for community-based activities. She has free ‘knit and natter’ sessions, workshops for sewing face-covering and an upcycle challenge in the works.
“This year has been difficult for so many businesses, but our future success lies in continuing to adapt to the changing circumstances”, says Lianne. This attitude and support from her loyal customers will no doubt help to sew success.
Visit I Sew 2 at 117 Townhead, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow G66 1NX or online here. I Sew 2 is taking part in American Express’ Shop Small campaign: click here to find out more about the campaign.

Joco's leap of faith pays off

Tuesday, December 08 at 07:30

Joco Interiors is now Nuneaton's largest dedicated gift shop – but this wasn’t always the case. Jo Williams tells us how taking a chance has helped her business grow to be a community hub and a valuable asset for local creatives, and how she’s managed to thrive during lockdown.
Joco opened in April 2015, based in a tiny shop on the outskirts of Nuneaton in Warwickshire. After two years though, with a low footfall and an equally low turnover, owner Jo had to decide whether to close her doors altogether or take a leap of faith and move premises. She chose the latter, moving to the Abbeygate Shopping Centre in the heart of Nuneaton. Fortunately, the gamble paid off: her turnover multiplied five-fold and she soon had to take on her first member of staff, followed by an apprentice, who went on to win awards including local awards for Apprentice of the Year and STAR Student of the Year as the most improved student.
Within two years, Joco had outgrown the unit it was in, and relocated again, this time to the prestigious Ropewalk Shopping Centre in Nuneaton town centre. Jo now has a team of six part-time staff, and plans to increase the shop’s online business.
During the first coronavirus lockdown, all of Jo’s staff were furloughed, but after a couple of weeks she returned to the shop and began running Facebook live sales, which has increased their following, maintained sales during the lockdown period and created a new online community of customers. Jo says that without the live sales during the initial months of lockdown, Joco could very well have been another business lost to the restrictions. Now that restrictions have been eased, she has continued to offer live streaming of sales to increase footfall to the shop, together with a delivery service for customers who can’t or don’t wish to visit in person.
Joco offers local artists and crafters a valuable resource to sell what they make, alongside branded merchandise such as Harry Potter and Disney. Catering for all tastes and budgets, their ranges start from just 99p, and cover anything from gothic style skulls to Disney princesses.
Jo says, “Nuneaton is socially deprived and so we have to help our customers in any way we can.” Supporting the local community with fundraisers and attending charity events has made Joco a household name locally, and they also support three local charities as often as they can, with raffles, donating prizes for events and a collection tin for change.
Joco offers a savings club for those who would like to spread the cost of a big event such as a wedding or Christmas, a loyalty card scheme and payment plans for larger items. The small team is very friendly and will help with any customer query, even if it means directing them to another shop in the town.
Jo says “We have taken part in the shop small campaign and customers have been using their American Express cards to claim back their £5 when shopping with small independent businesses in the town. Our customers have been pleased to see that we accept the card and this often leads to them spending more than anticipated.”
Having previously won two national gift retailer awards, FSB Finalists and winner of the Telegraph Business Award, Jo tells us “The shop’s tagline is ‘The place to treat yourself and others’ – and it couldn’t be more appropriate.”
Visit Joco Interiors at Unit 5, Ropewalk Shopping Centre, Chapel St, Nuneaton CV11 5TZ or online here. Joco is taking part in American Express’ Shop Small campaign: find them here on the Shop Small Map, and click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

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