Birthday Edition; Two Years
It was two years, yesterday, when Olivia opened the door of the OnlyWillow Jewellery and Gift Shop for the very first time. Olivia had been growing her online business for the previous four years, she had quit her full-time teaching job in order to focus on building upon the success of OnlyWillow and had begun to reach the limit of what she could produce whilst confined to her making shed.
As well as selling through the website and via Etsy, OnlyWillow toured a variety of vintage and craft fairs throughout most of the year. Olivia had also arranged for her lines to be sold in a selection of other retailer’s shops across the country. These shops tended to be small independent makers with their own premises, adding a variety of crafted products by other makers to increase the stock collection.
And if they could do it, why couldn’t Olivia?
The logical next step to continue to grow the business was obviously to convert from ‘online only’ to ‘instore and online’. So, the shop hunt began… The first prospective property was a location in Hawes, about 20 miles from where Olivia lives. At the time, it was a set back when the offer was out bid but in hindsight the commute wouldn’t have been ideal, especially with unpredictable weather and winding Cumbrian country roads.
Everything happens for a reason, and not long after Olivia received a message from a regular customer, based locally in Brough, about a shop up for rent in Kirkby Stephen. Funnily enough, this particular shop just happened to be one that Olivia had kept her eye on over the years whilst living locally. It had formally been a beautiful little florist shop and then became a bric-a-brac style shop. It had always been in Olivia’s mind as an ideal prospect, due to the location and size. A quick call to the landlord in Dubai and the ball was officially rolling.
Renting or buying property always feels like a scary undertaking, and it can be daunting, but it isn’t as difficult as we build it up to be in our heads. The most difficult aspect for Olivia and the shop premises was organising business insurance on the property that would include both a jewellery shop and a jewellery studio together. Getting all the bills financed through the business accounts took some time too.
Due to the nature of small businesses and reinvesting profits back into growing the company, financially OnlyWillow wasn’t sat on a large sum, just enough to cover the first few months of rent, so this could have been a make or break decision… but thanks to a lot of hard work and the support of all of you, Olivia is now living her dream!
The shop itself was perfect, but the condition from the previous tenant was less than ideal, so a lot of work was needed to get it up to the right standard, ready to become the first physical premises for OnlyWillow.
First task on the agenda was to order a new sign, from local sign writing company Raven Graphics. Then it was time to clean, paint and patch up the odd hole in the wall. Olivia’s fiancé Ste built the till desk and a partition between the studio in the back and the main shop floor area. The beautiful mural behind the till point was hand painted by Olivia too.
When repainting the shop front, Olivia did her research and chose a colour that was bright and clean, with a feminine feel but not ‘girly’. This cool, fresh mint colour differentiated the shop from its neighbour. It was eye-catching without being garish and ensured passersby knew the shop was new, whilst still in keeping with the natural pastel palette Olivia uses for her OnlyWillow brand.
Inside, the shop is decorated with upcycled and restored pieces mainly obtained through donations, in keeping with the ethics of OnlyWillow. They add a homely, mismatched aesthetic, which Olivia was hoping to achieve. She wanted the space to feel welcoming and comfortable, like a treasure trove of hidden gems to be explored, rather than a cold gallery of untouchable items.
The Grand Opening was on Saturday the 16th of June, 2018, and was one of the most exhilarating days for Olivia. After a late night of last-minute preparation and adding finishing touches, like shelves, the door was opened to the public at 10am and it was nonstop from that minute until closing. Olivia’s worries over whether the shop would be a success and that she wouldn’t get any customers were definitely allayed that day. She was overwhelmed by the many visitors who came to congratulate and celebrate with her that day, from both far and wide. With opening day prosecco flowing, nibbles circulating and her mum, Dawn, on hand to help out, they had the most lucrative and hectic day, and certainly started the new phase of the business off with a bang. Big thank you to everyone who helped make that day so special.
After two years, Olivia has learned a lot working in her shop and OnlyWillow as a business has developed and grown.
In the first year, Olivia expanded the range of products and variety of makers she held within the shop, to the point where it became a little overpowering and cluttered. She also started merchandising the products by mixing all the many items together, making every display surface a discovery. However, over time Olivia has begun to refine her visual merchandising strategies and has used lockdown as an opportunity to productively rework and relaunch her shop floor layout. By cleansing the displays and instead forming cohesive collections for each separate maker and company, she is adding a touch of that individual’s personality and increasing the sense of ownership in their investment.
Pricing has been a significant learning curve, especially now that the shop overheads are a factor. OnlyWillow rarely has ‘sales’, as we believe all our products are priced fairly to reflect the quality of the materials, the time and specialised skills involved to create each piece. This is true for the products we hold from all our fellow crafters too. One piece of advice we often give to anyone first starting out is to ensure you don’t undervalue yourself and your time. If the products are of a high quality, customers will be willing to invest a little extra, knowing they get that higher standard. By underselling your product, you cheapen your skills and your brand. We would much rather have to ability to have a free giveaway, than reduce the value of all our stock and, in our opinion, reduce the value of our skills and time. Every crafter and small business owner works hard to produce their stock, by selling for a lower price it means more units have to be sold to cover the same costs and that can cause quality standards to drop, as less time can be taken to create each piece, and it’s a vicious cycle that ends never ends well.
One of her favourite aspects of the shop layout, is the ability to be working in the studio at the back, whilst still being available to customers. It’s a great way to show that all these pieces are made by hand, adding a touch of theatre to each customer’s instore experience, whilst maintaining her productivity. This has helped when developing a healthy work/life balance as at closing time Olivia had a clear separation from the shop and a structured workday, which is something she is looking forward to again. In fact, during lockdown, Ste has built a new bench for the studio so that Olivia won’t have to have her back to the shopfront whilst working.
So, as well as OnlyWillow, what other products might you find if you come for a visit?
- Alan Roberts Photography – The Eden Valley and Westmorland Dales photographer
- Cumbria Stained Glass – Specialists in restoration, repair and manufacture of stained and leaded glass windows.
- Drunken Goose Designs – woodwork
- Emma Rose Skincare – unique crafts and soap made from fresh goats milk
- Fantastical Fusion – glass art
- Felicity Booth – textile and paper artist
- S.J. Bardgett – felt and textiles
- Off the Press – Printmaker and collage artist
- Papillon Soap – Handmade soap, body butter & lip balm using natural ingredients and free from palm oil
- Ruby Bean – inspirational handmade clothing
- South Lakes Aromatherapy – Handmade Artisan Aromatherapy Bath bombs, candles from The Lakes
- Westmorland Weaver – traditionally woven home and fashion accessories
As you can see we are currently at a full capacity, but if you are a crafter and interested in adding your product to our range, please get in touch so that we can provide you with an application and add you to our waiting list.
Lockdown has provided a precious opportunity for Olivia and OnlyWillow. When we reopen, in the very near future, it will feel almost like a second Grand Opening and we are getting very excited. Being able to make changes to the whole shop layout has been an idea of Olivia’s for a while, but it just hasn’t been possible to implement the changes she wanted. Time, or rather the lack of it, being the issue. Despite still being rather hectically busy, Olivia has prioritised finding the time to make the changes she wants for her shop going forward.
Obviously, to maintain health and safety standards and social distancing there will be new measures in place to keep ourselves and our customers safe. Papillon Soap is kindly donating homemade hand sanitiser which will be available for all our visitors. We will also have gloves available for those who don’t already have a pair to wear, and we will of course be cleaning thoroughly and regularly. Due to the small size of the shop, to be able to maintain ideal social distancing measures, we will be operating a ‘one in, one out’ policy, with one visitor in store at any one time. Our opening hours will begin as 10am-4.30pm and may be subject to change, check our social media pages to stay up to date. We will be closed on Thursdays and Sundays.
We can’t wait to see you all again and finally be back in the shop. Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout this journey.
Stay Safe and Shop Local where you can.
Written by Siobhan Green.