By Kate Marsden
This week we’re staying online with a look at curated marketplace, The Maker Place. While it’s massively important to shop small on our high streets, the Just A Card campaign applies to independent online retailers too…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m Philippa. I live on the coast in Dorset with my husband and 3 kids and I run TheMakerPlace.co.uk, which is a curated online marketplace showcasing UK-based independent designers and makers.
What does a typical day involve?
It really varies from day to day, which is one of the things I love about what I do, but typical tasks include; talking to our makers about what they’re working on, getting in touch with new makers to see if they might like to work with us, contacting journalists, keeping on top of our social media accounts, writing a new article for our blog or kicking off a new marketing campaign or promotion. It’s certainly busy but never dull!
Where do you work? What is your workspace like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I work from home, which is great in many ways but it does mean it’s sometimes hard to switch off! I have a filing cabinet, desk and (absolutely essential) a comfy chair! Despite best intentions, I would describe my space as ordered chaos as it’s amazing how quickly all the paperwork builds up!
When I’m not working, I love spending time with my 3 kids and the rest of my family and friends, and my favourite place to unwind has to be the beach. I haven’t always lived by the sea, and spent much of my life in or near London, so now that I can walk down to the sea, I make the most of it!
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing owners of independent shops (both on and offline) at the moment?
The two main challenges that I see are competing with larger businesses in terms of visibility and trying to offer and convey good value to customers. In terms of visibility, small businesses can’t compete with big retailers when it comes to their marketing budget and paying for advertising, but what I think we can and should do, is collaborate with each other, either through direct partnerships or through campaigns like Just A Card, as collectively our voice is stronger than individually.
Supporting other small businesses and looking for opportunities to work together is something that I believe in very strongly, and I’m very open to hearing from others about ideas for collaboration!
The other aspect I see as a challenge is that small businesses often can’t compete on price, and I think we need to work hard to show customers the value of handcrafted products and also the value that independent businesses bring to either a local community, or a wider community, such as the maker community in the UK.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I’d really like TheMakerPlace.co.uk to become known as a destination for discovering the best handcrafted, style-led products from highly-skilled UK-based designers and makers, and to be able to help support those makers and help them grown their own businesses.
As we grow, I’m really keen to try work more with organisations that support makers, and with new graduates and emerging designers to support those at the very beginning of their careers. I’m currently actively looking to expand the list of makers we showcase on the site, so I’m always pleased to receive applications from makers to sell with us, and I’m trying to grow awareness about what we do with a wider audience.
I’d also love to run some pop-up shops and again, I’m looking into ways I might be able to work with other retailers, or other business to achieve this. It’s hard as a new, small business to gain that wider recognition and that’s where Just A Card plays such an important role in helping to champion small businesses like ours – so thank you Just A Card!
Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Well, we are relatively new ourselves so I can’t speak with years of experience, but what I would say that I have learnt very quickly, is that it’s so important (and rewarding and fun!) to reach out to others in the independent business world; makers, and business owners to offer support to them where you can and also learn from them, as well as make friends! I’ve found it to be an incredibly friendly and supportive community, which is great!
The other tip is a little more concrete; which is to invest in the best photography you can as early as possible, and if you’re not 100% confident with it yourself, to get advice from those whose photography you admire and that looks really professional about how they did it. You don’t necessarily need to pay a fortune to hire a photographer as there are resources available to help you achieve good results yourself. It can be difficult to know the best approach and it doesn’t hurt to ask for advice. I’m always happy to talk with makers who contact us regarding selling with us about getting the right product photography to showcase their work in its best light.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
Yes, I had realised it represents all small purchases, using cards as an easy-to-communicate example. It’s such an important message to try and convey that people can really make all the difference to whether or not a business survives by just making one small purchase. People often do value small businesses and want them to do well, but sadly, businesses can’t survive without purchases. Every single small, affordable purchase that’s made from an independent business, both on the high-street, and from online ones like ours, is vital to keep it and the independent designers and makers it supports going.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
Absolutely essential! If anything, as a website, it’s harder to connect with customers directly and convey what we’re about, and so they may not realise just how valued their custom really is. Even though we’re an online marketplace, we’re still a small business (and one that supports a growing number of other small businesses – our makers) so every single purchase is hugely appreciated by us and the maker of the item, and enables us to keep doing what we do.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?
I first heard about the campaign through the magazine Mollie Makes and also via The Design Trust’s website. I then began following the campaign on social media. I primarily use Twitter and Instagram for TheMakerPlace.co.uk which I really like because they’re so immediate and are great paces to discover and connect with people.
What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
The main thing is just to keep talking about it and spreading the word. Use the resources available on the Just A Card site to promote it on your website or in your shop, blog about the campaign, follow the campaign on social media and share the messages with your followers. I’ll be doing these things too, and I think it’s important to keep doing it, as by repeating the message you will be reaching new people and highlighting how important it is to keep supporting the campaign and the small businesses it helps.