Small Business Saturday Blog

Zero to hero in Nottingham

Wednesday, November 30 at 07:00

Sarah Maloy is passionate about empowering people to live life more sustainably. She set up her business, Shop Zero, a zero waste store based in Nottingham, because she was concerned about plastic pollution and waste and wanted to do something proactive to help.
Shop Zero has a brick and mortar store that offers plenty of eco-friendly alternatives for household goods, personal care items and even gifts, helping customers to reduce their plastic footprint. Local people can come to do their weekly shop, reusing their own containers to refill food, household and personal care detergents. Those further afield are welcome to shop online: Sarah ships orders nationwide using plastic-free packaging.
Sarah told us that her business is an extension of her life and her strong connection with nature: she grew up learning about the habitats of nearby Sherwood Forest. She originally started out managing sustainability projects, before working as a primary teacher after having children. However, the plastic pollution crisis shocked her into action. She started to research zero waste and soon realised that weren't any local options for plastic-free shopping. She set up a plastic-free food pop-up in early 2019.
Sarah thoroughly investigates the supply chain of her products to minimise waste and plastic wherever possible, and where possible, she works with closed loop suppliers such as SESI, Miniml and Fill, who take back their bulk containers for refill. She chooses suppliers who pay their employees a fair wage and guarantee good working conditions. She offers affordable organic options wherever possible, as they are better for the environment and for the people growing and consuming the products. She told us, “My ethos is to think like nature does and only have items in store that are truly biodegradable. All the packaging is recyclable or home compostable.” The store is mainly plant-based and completely cruelty-free. All products are eco-friendly and there are minimal petrochemical products.
She also enjoys opportunities to collaborate with other local sustainable businesses, and to stock products created by local sustainable makers. She regularly runs workshops and pop-ups in collaboration with local businesses, telling us, “Having been a teacher, community education and advocacy is embedded in my business. My business is customer-led and my aim is to inform and introduce ideas that will empower my community to further investigate options for change that suit them and families.”
Sarah is proud to be part of the Nottingham Independent scene, taking part in local markets like this Spring's Ay Up Market and linking in with local campaigns through the BID. She is also part of the inc.everyday movement in Nottingham, which champions shopping local.
She told us, “Shop Small run by Amex is brilliant for a small business like Shop Zero. We just love being part of this great initiative to showcase local independents and get people’s attention in such a positive way.”
What next for Shop Zero? Sarah told us that coming out of the pandemic and immediatelyt into a cost of living crisis has been hard for her business. Her ambition is to get bigger and better, to offer more sustainable choices, to collaborate further, to develop more community education and to offer more opportunities for makers to run pop-ups in her store.
Ultimately, her outlook is positive and she looks forward to serving the local community for years to come. “Shop Zero is about the community that surrounds it. It wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the people that choose to shop here.”
Visit Shop Zero at 42a Friar Lane, Nottingham, NG1 6DQ or shop online here. Click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

Monday Seller Success with eBay: That Vintage Football Shirt

Monday, November 28 at 14:23

That Vintage Football Shirt (TVFS) sells genuine vintage football shirts online through both their own website and ecommerce platforms including eBay.
TVFS buys the shirts in bulk, by the ton, and the top 15-20% of those are then processed, authenticated, listed and sold online by their dedicated team. Their shirts sell for prices starting at around £19.99 and going all the way up to £400-500 depending on the item.
The company’s football mad owners sold shirts in bulk through the wholesale market for ten years before launching as That Vintage Football Shirt in 2015 in order to supply the retail sector.
Their relationship with eBay started in 2020. They listed 40 shirts on the platform in January 2020, followed by another 80 in February. By April or May of 2020, they were selling 400 shirts.
TVFS’s director, Michael Wheatley, told us that they process a lot of numbers, and their margins are good because they buy in huge amounts. He told us, “The good thing about putting the shirts on eBay is that you’ve got such a huge audience, so as long as you get your key words right in your description, your customers will find you pretty quickly.”
Michael told us that the selling process on eBay is really simple: you just need a photo and a description and then you’re ready to sell.
His top tip is to communicate with your buyers. He told us that one way in which eBay stands out from other platforms is that you have far more communication with your customers than on any other site. He told us, “They message you and they ask questions, and that’s a positive thing because it means that they want to buy.”
In terms of growing the company, Michael says that they need to increase their input, whether that’s buying more stock or employing more staff: the bottom line though is how many shirts they can make available for sale. They are constantly adding new stock to their listings for their loyal customers to enjoy.
Michael told us, “As a company we have a great work ethic. We utilise ecommerce with eBay and our own website, we utilise the wholesale sector, and we just try to bring as much revenue in as possible. That way, if one stream is slowing then another will cover it.”
Visit That Vintage Football Shirt on their website here and find their eBay shop here.

Rock on in Southend on Sea

Wednesday, November 23 at 09:47

When Emily Vermont and her husband, Gordon, opened Indirock on Southend on Sea’s high street, they had three aims: to bring bouldering to Southend in as accessible a way as possible, to be part of the regeneration of the local high street, and to create opportunities for vulnerable people from the local area.
Indirock provides accessible indoor climbing facilities (and a coffee shop) for all ages to enjoy. Its 7500 sq ft high street venue had stood empty for 15 years, but has now been transformed into a light and aspirational space for the whole community to enjoy.
The couple managed to raise the £650k start-up finance through grants, loans and their own savings, and now run Indirock on a not-for-profit basis.
Its central location, in the heart of Southend, means that it is accessible to those who don't drive, as well as those who use wheelchairs or prams. They are also able to attract passers-by who might never have heard of bouldering but who are drawn by what they can see through Indirock’s spectacular 30m wide windows, thus helping to achieve one of the local council's aims of getting more people from the local community active and engaged with sports.
A strong community has already built up around Indirock. During the pandemic, Emily and Gordon organised lift shares to the nearest bouldering walls while they waited for Indirock to open, which helped to create a supportive community of customers who are already friends with one another and who are committed to Indirock’s aims.
They have given work to a variety of local artists too, and prioritise buying from local businesses. They have created their own coffee blend with a local coffee roaster, and source all their cleaning products from local business Southend Refills, which also dramatically reduces their plastic waste. Partnerships include running yoga for climbing classes with a local studio.
Emily also set up a new initiative called Thrive Collective, with the aim of getting local small business owners to meet and support one another. It is a semi-regular meet-up, hosted by a different local venue each time, where they discuss the future of the town and how they can work together to be bigger than the sum of their parts.
Sustainability is at the core of the business, which has seen them recognised by an EU grant for low energy solutions for their low energy lighting and ventilation, and by Surfers Against Sewage as Plastic Free Community Champions.
Their future plans are to grow their coffee shop to make it as much of a community space as the climbing areas already are, attracting people to use and enjoy the space even if they're not going to climb.
Emily told us, “We are also looking forward to taking part in Shop Small for the first time this year. It’s great to know that big corporations such as American Express are flying the flag for small, local businesses like Indirock. We are a family run not-for-profit doing everything we can to support our local community, so having the support of Amex to let people know we’re here feels like a friendly arm around our shoulder.”
Visit Indirock at First Floor, Victoria Plaza, Southend-on-Sea SS2 5SP or visit them online here. Click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

Monday Seller Success with eBay: Purrfect Cat Gifts

Monday, November 21 at 09:25

Purrfect Cat Gifts supply and deliver premium cat-themed gifts, homeware, accessories and cards for cat owners alongside cat toys, cat collars and cat-related accessories for cats, and enjoy sourcing new and unique cat-themed products from around the world. Based in Halstead in Essex, they have a loyal base of customers all around the globe, including in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and Canada.
The business started when Luan Hockley and her husband, Neil, tried selling a small selection of Christmas ornaments on eBay. The sales went remarkably well and they decided that they wanted to reinvest the money and sell more, but they wanted to find something less seasonal that they could sell throughout the year.
They began by visiting the NEC Spring Fair in Birmingham. Luan tells us that it was huge, and they walked for hours without really knowing what they were looking for. Eventually they sat down for a break and realised that the answer was obvious: cats!
They did some research on the way home, and found there was a market and not much competition. They came up with the name and registered it there and then. Purrfect Cat Gifts was launched in early 2016 with a handful of cat-themed ornaments – initially with a stock of just three or four of each item – but they sold well and the business has grown gradually from there.
Eventually, they approached manufacturers in China and India directly about creating their own bespoke range of products, which they sell under the Fabulous Felines brand. This means that they can now buy in larger quantities and there’s no danger of the product being discontinued.
The business has become a family affair: Neil is both Luan’s business partner and the company’s website and marketing guru, and Luan’s sister, Amber, helps with picking, packing and posting. But arguably the most important members of the team are their four cats, Charlie, T.J., Funny Face and Funny Nose, who are always on hand to test out any new cat toys.
They still sell their products on eBay as well as through their own website. Luan told us, “We wouldn’t be here today without eBay: it’s how we started our business and it continues to be our biggest selling platform.”
Luan continues, “I just love eBay. They look after their sellers. I can pick the phone up and talk to someone if I need to, they’ve made my business’s eBay shop look awesome, and, perhaps because of the way that eBay started, it’s all about community. We definitely wouldn’t be trading today without them.”
Her top tip for other small businesses this winter is free postage, which they offer on everything: she says, “Just work your postage prices into the items, and make sure that your profit margin is big enough to include it.”Luan told us, “My aim is simple: to provide my customers with the best selection of unique and unusual cat-related gifts, toys and accessories that are all high quality but also excellent value for money. If you can find something you truly are passionate about, you’ll make it work; and as long as I continue to be passionate about it, it will continue to grow.”
Visit Purrfect Cat Gifts online here.

One love, one heart on Ipswich’s high street

Tuesday, November 15 at 18:30

Small indie gift shop Loveone is a one stop shop for gifts and greetings cards that celebrates 15 years on the high street this autumn.
Loveone began as a pop up and market stall for three years before opening the doors on its brick and mortar store in 2007, but its roots go much further back than that.
In 1996, owner Cathy Frost left her job as an Environmental Health Officer to become a full-time mum, but she used any spare time she could find to start planning her own business. As her two children grew, she followed her passion for interior design and enrolled on a part-time interior design course, going on to found Cathy Frost Interior Design. Eventually, a freelance role sourcing products for kitchen displays for a local kitchen company developed into a much broader idea for opening the shop.
These days, they sell less homeware and more gifts, and their ability to adapt to changing fashions and circumstances has been a key part of their success. In the last recession, for example, they adapted to a changing market by working with local artists and designers and setting up the St Peters Street Markets, which are still going strong 12 years later. In response to the pandemic, Loveone moved online: they have also embraced social media and can be found on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Cathy told us, “I very much welcome the support American Express gives to Small Business Saturday with initiatives like the Shop Small campaign. At this challenging time for small businesses and the high street, it is reassuring to have a global brand alongside us.”
Loveone also works with local designers and collaborates with other local businesses, as well as becoming an active member of the local Ipswich community. For example, Cathy is the founder and co-director of the Saints Community Interest Company, which delivers two street markets, manages The Saints Ipswich and advocates for the local community.
She also sits on two panels which are actively looking at measures to make the town greener and more attractive for cyclists/walkers, in order to encourage and support more trips into town by foot, bike or public transport, and to improve air quality and the visitor experience.
With Cathy’s passion for advocating for shop local and protecting the high street, it’s no wonder that Loveone plans to celebrate Small Business Saturday this year. Cathy told us, “Small Business Saturday is very much part of our build up to Christmas and is a positive event to celebrate small business in all its myriad forms.”
Future plans include developing Loveone’s house plant range, which was introduced during lockdown, running plant care workshops, expanding their website and developing their mentoring scheme, which advises start-ups on the route to market and marketing. With their ability to adapt and their strong community ties, here’s to their next 15 years.
Visit Loveone at 21 St Peters Street, Ipswich IP1 1XF, shop online here and follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

Monday Seller Success with eBay: Hampers by Lauren

Monday, November 14 at 10:17

Hampers by Lauren sells a huge range of bespoke hampers that cover everything from new baby and mum to be gifts to hobbies such as gardening or golf to cancer care packages – or even personalised hampers if you can’t find anything you like.
Based in Banstead in Surrey, they’ve shipped packages all over the world: Lauren told us, “Being digital and having access to platforms such as eBay allows you to reach different people. I’ve sent packages all over the UK, to America, to Australia, all over the world.”
She set up her business during the first lockdown in the UK, when her contract came to an end and everything shut down. In the circumstances, Lauren wasn’t optimistic about finding work. She’d been thinking about starting her own business for a while, but in June 2020 she decided to take the plunge, and hasn’t looked back.
As a new mum herself, Lauren wanted to create hampers that would make it as simple as possible for other new parents, with different packages to reflect a growing child’s different developmental stages.
All of her baby, toy and mum hampers are based on personal experience. Often she was gifted toys that she wouldn't have thought to buy herself but ended up loving, and has carefully sourced the same or similar high quality products for her hampers.
The other bespoke packages followed after careful market research, and are designed to be as useful as possible while adding an extra touch of luxury. Every hamper is made to order and put together personally by Lauren, and can be tailored to the specific needs and budget of any individual or company.
She also tries to think about her impact on the environment as much as possible, for example reusing boxes and packaging, and trying to source her products from businesses that are based in the UK.
Lauren has worked in customer service roles for many years and prides herself on providing a high quality personalised service for every customer. She told us, “Platforms like eBay make it so easy to rate you, so you’ve got that inbuilt trust. People know if anything goes wrong, you’ve got eBay there to help out.”
She attributes her success so far to hard work and persistence, excellent customer service, and being as visible as possible across social media and digital platforms such as eBay, which help her find new customers.
In the run up to Christmas, Laurent’s advice for other small businesses is to be prepared: she told us, “If I order something, I’m excited about it and I want it now!” In her own business, Lauren aims to despatch items as fast as possible so customers have them as soon as they can.
For the 10th anniversary of Small Business Saturday UK, Hampers by Lauren will be taking part in a Christmas market surrounded by lots of other small local businesses – and maybe doing a little bit of Christmas shopping of her own.
Visit Hampers by Lauren online here.

Good graces in Bristol and Bath

Tuesday, November 08 at 17:50

Grace & Mabel is an independent boutique in the heart of Clifton Village, Bristol. Sisters Daniela, Shelley and Kirstie, who share a love for fashion, opened the shop in 2007, with a second branch opening in Bath in 2010. Over the past 15 years, the business has gone from strength to strength, and both stores have relocated to new, more desirable locations.
Grace & Mabel are one of the handful of retailers in Bristol and Bath who make shopping truly special. The business prides itself on offering beautiful items and superb customer service. Since taking on a web manager recently, they have also branched out into selling online both through their own website and on sites such as Trouva, Atterley, and lyst, all while delivering the friendly, passionate and efficient customer service that characterises their brick-and-mortar stores.
Conscious of the significant impact that the fashion industry has on the environment, Grace & Mabel endeavours to stock brands that align with their values around embracing sustainability. For example, many of the brands that Grace & Mabel stock now use recycled materials to produce their clothes. And the business makes it clear to customers that it is not a fast fashion business, believing instead that the clothes they sell are timeless investments that will last for a lifetime.
Grace & Mabel also tell us they feel passionately about the role that independent retailers play in the retail ecosystem, which is at the heart of investing in the local economy and local communities.
“Grace & Mabel are so grateful for the support American Express brings to independent businesses through its Shop Small initiative. It’s something we will always take part in as brings back returning customers every year with the many benefits it has to offer for both our customers and our business. We can’t wait to take part in Shop Small this winter.”
They also give back to charity, making regular donations to Macmillan Cancer Support over the years. They have completed numerous mighty hikes, generating over £11,000 through fundraising, with plans for more in the future.
Right now, the business is focused on creating a marketing strategy that will help grow while still holding on to the values of a family run independent business.
“This year we celebrated 15 years in business. Over those years, we’ve tackled many obstacles, from opening our business during the credit crunch, to floods in the shop, and a pandemic, and it still feels like we are just getting started."
Here’s to another 15 years more!
Visit Grace & Mabel at 3 George Street, Bath BA1 2EH or at 32 The Mall, Clifton Village, Bristol BS8 4DS, or shop online here. Click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

Monday Seller Success with eBay: Top Dog

Monday, November 07 at 09:37

As you might guess from the name, Poo-ches®, based in Maidenhead in Berkshire, sells quality products for man’s (and woman’s) best friend.

The business was founded by Steve Taylor and his partner, Michelle. Steve originally set up the business as a side hustle while he was working full-time to try to create a second income, with a plan to build the business up and then leave his full-time job. They spent two months researching the marketplace, sourcing potential suppliers and choosing a strong brand name before launching their first product.

However, when the pandemic struck, Steve was made redundant and now runs the business full-time, with the hope that Michelle will eventually be able to join him. Steve told us, “It was actually a blessing in disguise because it pushed me to set the business up, and I’m so pleased because it’s going from strength to strength.”

Poo-ches started out with a single product: dog poo bags. They deliberately chose a good quality consumable product so that consumers would come back again and again, and their strategy has paid off. They have now added more products under the brand name, including fully compostable bags, which are more sustainable for the planet, alongside super quality harnesses and matching leads, which have proved to be a great success. Steve told us, “Being able to add to our range is important to us to continue to build our brand.”

Steve started out selling exclusively on eBay, although they have recently set up their own website as well. Steve told us, “We have found eBay to be a fantastic partner since joining the platform – always on the end of the phone if there are any queries and they really understand the issues small businesses face. Although we are working for ourselves, we never feel we are by ourselves.”

He ascribes the secret of his success to sheer hard work and being stubborn enough never to give up! Poo-ches provide top quality products that customers love, combined with great customer service. Steve told us, “We believe top quality customer service is the key to success. We try and go the extra mile for our customers – for example when a customer orders one of our dog harnesses, we always pop in a few free bags too. From the feedback we receive this does not go unnoticed and often they will come back to us and order one of our other products and become long term customers.”

Their top tip is prior planning and being prepared, whatever happens. What are you going to do if you have a bad spell of weather or a postal strike? Have you planned properly so the service you offer is still what the customer wants and deserves? Steve suggests planning now to ensure you have enough stock for what is usually the busiest and most profitable quarter for many businesses: he says to stack the cards in your favour by being prepared for any eventuality.

Weigh to go in Northwich

Tuesday, November 01 at 13:00

Kirsty Wernham runs Weigh of the World in Northwich, a sustainable-living shop that specialises in food and liquids refills, alongside plastic-free gifts and everyday items. The business helps people to shop in a way that reduces food waste and unnecessary packaging, and allows them to buy more ethically. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers, which they can refill from the containers around the shop.
Kirsty was inspired to start her own business when she realised that her long commute to work was unsatisfying, and having visited some zero-waste shops, she knew it was something she could do. She found premises, secured the full Government Start-Up loan based on her business plan, and opened her doors in just three months, at the end of November 2019. By May 2021, she had expanded into the shop next door and taken on staff.
The main ethos of the business is about helping consumers to live a more sustainable life. It’s important to Kirsty that shoppers feel comfortable trying new things, and that they know that, for example, they don't have to become vegan or start campaigning about the environment in order to make a few changes and move towards more sustainable living. She told us, “We appreciate that our customers are all at different stages of the journey to reducing their footprint on the Earth, but they're all accepted.”
While the business hopes to support a healthier and less wasteful lifestyle, it’s also a relaxed place to come for conversation. Kirsty says, “We're interested in our customers and I've worked hard to make sure people know they can ask for help if they're struggling that day.”
She tries to ensure that food is fairly priced, and is honest about the products that they sell, sharing the pros and cons and how easy it is to change to things like shampoo bars or wax wraps. She also researches her suppliers to ensure that they have at least some understanding of reducing waste.
The shop has also actively worked with local environmentalist group, Transition Northwich. Last year, for example, they had excess apples and herb plants which Kirsty offered to customers for free so they wouldn't be wasted.
Kirsty has recently been trying some new ideas, such as baking cakes to sell in the shop and selling good quality pre-loved clothes, with plans to sell freshly made coffees and smoothies with a small seating area inside and a few seats outside the shop. She told us, “We don’t sell online, so rely on customers coming into the store. The Shop Small campaign run by American Express really helps incentivise Cardmembers to take advantage of it and look for small businesses local to them – like us!”
The shop also hosts weekly pop-ups for other local businesses, which encourages new customers for Weigh of the World but also helps to promote other small businesses with similar ethics. It’s win-win for everyone involved: the business doing the pop-up keeps all their sales revenue, and Kirsty’s customers benefit from additional choice in their ethical spending. Kirsty told us, “If we don't sell something that a customer wants, we'll always try to direct them to a local business that can help.”
Visit Weigh of the World at 90-92 Witton Street, Northwich CW9 5AE or online here. Click here to find out more about the American Express Shop Small campaign.

Monday Seller Success with eBay: Handpicked Penrith

Monday, October 31 at 06:00

Handpicked Penrith is a second-hand clothing shop based in Penrith, Cumbria selling designer & high-end women’s clothing. As well as selling second-hand clothing, we also offer a selling service to help customers sell clothing they no longer wear.
The impact fast fashion is having on not only the environment but also on the workers within the industry is now out of control. It is so important that we find ways to shop for clothing in a more sustainable way, and it is true that the only sustainable item of clothing is the one you already own. At Handpicked Penrith, we wanted to help people find a way in which they could shop sustainably, selling on clothing they already owned but no longer wear, and buy quality ‘new to you’ items which are going to last. Updating your wardrobe is important, shopping for clothing is fun, and many people enjoy it as a social activity as well. That is why we wanted to create a space that is familiar and just as fun as shopping for new. You should never have to consider or worry about the condition of an item of clothing as all our items are thoroughly checked, freshly washed and pressed to ensure exceptional quality every time. And we offer a space where you can shop in comfort, try on and take your time deciding on your purchase.
Before Handpicked Penrith opened as a shop on the high street, we offered the same excellent service online. We chose to use eBay as our selling platform when we started out. They offer many tools to help you build and grow your business and a shop front so you can showcase your brand. We also loved how easy and safe they make selling online, with the seller protection in place should you have any issues and their friendly support team to help and advise you.
eBay allowed us to sell to customers not only here in the UK but right across the world using their global shipping plan. We still sell using eBay, but we also have a website and Facebook and Instagram shop that runs alongside our in-store shopping.
In the last three years, we have grown from an online shop to a shop on the high street and we have only been able to do this by remaining true to our values. It is so important that we ensure we offer the same excellent service to each and every customer and that all the items we stock are of exceptional quality that are going to wear well and last.
The community here in Penrith has been amazing, and through listening and growing in a way that meets our customers' needs we have been able to continue to go from strength to strength with our business. The selling service was introduced to help people create more circular and sustainable wardrobes and also help people get money back for items they no longer wear. The service has grown so much this year and we are always trying to find ways to make it easier and more convenient for people to use. We also moved into a larger shop space in August to give customers a better shopping experience. Now with three changing rooms and more space for stock, we are able to give customers a more comfortable and familiar space that feels just like it would if you were shopping for new.
As we move into winter this year we are going to see the impact increasing living costs are having in the way people spend and budget. It is important for small businesses to listen and work with customers to support them and ourselves. At Handpicked Penrith, we are increasing the range of items we stock to suit all budgets to help people spend within their budgets. It is also so important never to underestimate the value we can give for free by just offering excellent customer service and making sure customers feel welcomed, valued and heard.
Handpicked Penrith is so excited to be part of the Small Business Saturday this year. We will be taking time to show our support online using our social media platforms, shouting about other small businesses within the area and those also taking part in Small Business Saturday across the UK.

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