By Kate Marsden
This week we’re visiting the village of Cudworth in South Yorkshire to take a look around independent greetings card and gift shop Wishes. A keen supporter of the Just A Card campaign, find out more about their business and how they also value every sale…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
Wishes is owned and run by Julia Keeling who works in the shop six days a week and hand picks every card. With a small team of friends and family who help out behind the scenes, Julia really does put her heart into the shop.
What does a typical day involve?
First thing we check on our emails and social media before posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s important for us to have fresh content online. From photos of our latest products to fun picture of our bunnies: Molly and Pedro (The real stars of the show even if they are more interested in chewing the cards then selling them). Then begins the day to day running of the shop: serving our lovely customers filling up the cards (We have a no empty pocket policy at Wishes), making lists of future orders, meeting lots of lovely reps and perusing the latest trade magazines for new products (Greetings Today, Gift Focus and Progressive Gifts to list but a few). There’s always the next season to plan including ensuring we have the right stock, the next window displays and thinking up fun promotions. The main focus is on our customers, ensuring we’re helpful whilst allowing them time to browse.
Where do you work? What is your shop like?
Wishes is a small and friendly independent greeting card and gift shop in the South Yorkshire village of Cudworth, Barnsley. We’re coming up to our second birthday and stock a wide range of cards for every occasion and gifts like candles, bath bombs, scarves, biscuit gift sets, balloons and lots more. Cudworth is a traditional village with a strong Northern heritage and we’re lucky to have connected with our local community with more customers finding us every day. We feel a card shop is an important part of the high street as we’re not just selling products we’re here too offer advice or even just have a friendly chat. We have a lot of lovely older customers and it’s always a delight to help them pick the perfect card. Everyone time we hear someone excitable proclaim “Wow, you have a card for...” it really makes our day and shows the place that we still have in this ever changing world.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
Julia enjoys a good work along a nice country trail, visiting antique shops/artisan markets and indulging her artistic side by making and creating things. She’s also a talented baker and enjoys making cakes and buns. Julia also owns two rabbits: Molly (A grey Netherland dwarf) and Pedro (A Multi-coloured lion-head).
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?
There are still age-old problems, like finding time to restock the shop and visit the wholesalers and trade shows. Sometimes it feels like you need a clone (off to the warehouse Clone Julia, we’re short on Great Granddad cards). As Julia is solely responsible for choosing the stock and works six days it’s hard to find time to fit everything in, though she does try. Competition from the larger supermarkets may be a problem for some but we’re lucky with our location and try to have cards/gifts that are unique. As tempting as it is to jump on the current big craze, it’s sometimes better looking for something less mainstream. Frozen may have sold well but with the larger outlets selling it too and at a much cheaper price, us independents cannot always compete. Price will always have some influence on sales but we’d rather offer quality and value than cheap rubbish. Who wants transparent wrapping paper, wax melts with no throw or cards with generic and uninspired designs?
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
We’re a small shop but we have big ambitions. We’ve just invested a personal gift service for the shop, which we hope will encourage even more people to seek us out. We want to continue to build on our early online success and are looking to rebuild our website with a relaunch at the end of this year. We need to continue to grow our business in our Cudworth store and beyond. Moving forward Julia has plans to open a second shop as part of the Wishes brand. It’s just a matter of finding the right area.
Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Find the right area for your shop first. Location is really important, so do your research. Network on social media and get involved with campaigns like this one. Don’t be afraid of rejection and be brave (sometimes you’ll have to have a thick skin and keep on chipping away to find results). Sign up to social media and get yourself out there online. Be true to your own principles, find your own voice and innovate don’t imitate. Whilst it’s great to see what other people are up to in the industry, find your own style and message. Do your research, as ideas don’t cost anything.
When Julia was first planning on opening Wishes she created a scrapbook packed full of relevant and interest products/displays. Julia is forever thinking of ingenious ways of producing things that look great, work well but don’t cost a lot. Be smart with your packaging and presentation to add perceived value to your products. Display your cards in logical sections and rotate stock to boost exposure. Be prepared to work harder than you imagined but in the end it’s all or nothing so you so give it 110%.
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! Cards are very important to us. We’re a card and gift shop but large amount of our business comes from individual card sales. Each sale, no matter how small adds up and if you get the right choice of cards, people will return again and again. An independent shop can’t complete with price alone against the big chains so we have to be innovative to stand out. We need to stock the hard to find cards, the art cards and quirky designs you’ll not find anywhere else. We stock some great cards by a Yorkshire artist; Chris Caesar, which are very popular as they feature beautiful photos of local holiday destinations. We’ve even known our customers to pick up a card to frame and display. Cards can be a work of art and we’re proud to stock such great designs.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
Independents like us rely on the small sales and each purchase really means a lot to us. We’ve recently run a fun Pokémon themed promotion and see lots of new customers visit who’ve never done so before. If each of them had brought a card it would be a small but significant boost to our business. People should never be embarrassed to make a small purchase. Every sale is of equal importance and it’s all about offering great service with friendly advice.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?
We found you on twitter by chance and immediately found the concept to be appealing. Our big three social media outlets are Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We use them in different ways but with the same target: to get exposure for our shop and to engage with our customers/suppliers. Facebook is without a doubt the platform we invest the most time and money into. We post everyday and when possible pay to boost our posts. Still as a small independent shop money is often invested in other areas such as purchasing new stock and the dreaded bills. We see great results from our posts and would encourage all independent shops to dive into social media to see how it can help them get seen by their local community. We feel it’s really important to have an online presence. One member of our team Chris Fox has been invited to talk about our experiences in promoting our shop online at the NEC Autumn Fair this year, so please pop along for some more in-depth tips.
What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
We’re looking into doing a poster and promotion in the shop soon. We’ll also continue to share across our social media platforms to spread the word. We’d love “Just A Card” to have a yearly event. A day or week where all the campaign’s supporters come together to share posts through their social media and display the posters in their shop/gallery. Recent incentives like “Thinking of You” week and “Small Business Saturday” have found increased exposure thanks to similar events and we think a “Just A Card” week/day would be a big success. We’ll also network with our suppliers and encourage them to give the campaign their backing.