By Kate Marsden
We’re off to visit a gorgeous little shop this week which is right up on my list of places to actually visit! Honeybourne’s is a really pretty spot which stocks lots of my favourites and plenty of things which are new to me too. Read on to meet owner Hannah and find out more about the highs and lows of shopkeeping…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I'm Hannah - I run Honeybourne's, a small gift shop in South East London. I'm both the owner and main shopgirl (plus admin assistant, chief gift-wrapper, cleaner and book-keeper!) so the short answer to this question is that I do a bit of everything!!
What does a typical day involve?
I arrive at the shop at about 9.30am having stopped off for a coffee at the cafe next door; that part's non-negotiable! The first half an hour before we open is spent righting wonky stock and making sure displays look good, cleaning and opening post. I enjoy the calm quietude of this time particularly during busy periods like Christmas as it can be the only time I get to myself all day! We open at 10am and I tend to spend the morning replying to emails and doing admin, possibly my least favourite jobs involved in running the shop. When we have deliveries, which is most weeks, I unpack, sort, price and put out the new stock, thinking about what story I want to tell about the product and how it interacts with what's around it. In the afternoon I often re-merchandise particular areas, have a think about what's selling and what isn't and use the internet to find new suppliers - mainly by scrolling through Instagram which I find very soothing.
Obviously I intersperse all of these activities with my most important job - serving customers! My absolute favourite part of the day is chatting to regulars and friends; sharing local gossip and catching up with news. I also have a great relationship with the other businesses on the high street and can frequently be found either in my shop or one of theirs having a natter!
Where do you work? What is your shop like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
Honeybourne's is based in Ladywell, South East London which is where I grew up and worked as an English teacher. We're a tiny little gift shop and predominantly sell cards, gifts and art by local designer-makers or small British-based companies. We aim to have a range of products to suit all ages, interests and budgets and inevitably this leads to a very colourful and eclectic shop! When I'm not working I can generally be found walking my dog Teddy in one of our many and glorious local parks, or hanging out with friends at home, with good food and plentiful wine. I'm a simple creature!
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?
Where do I start?! Rising rent and high business rates (despite the recent stay of execution this is still a worry for lots of us) combined with stagnating wages causing customers to hang on to their cash, has really depressed the retail sector over the last few years. Brexit hasn't exactly helped either as lots of raw materials now cost more and buying from abroad is also more expensive than a year ago due to the drop in value of the pound therefore margins are being squeezed left, right and centre. It's a pretty gloomy picture to be honest! However, I don't think it's hopeless, although I definitely think as an industry we'll have to consider our value to the customer going forward and adapt in order to survive. Thankfully, small independent shops and galleries have a really strong narrative and ethos and I think that will really help.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I'd like to get the shop to the point where I can leave it in capable hands a bit more regularly than I currently do. A website for e-commerce is in the works, but I refuse to rush or put out something that would compromise what we're about, it so it may take a bit of time to get right. Eventually, I'd love to renovate our downstairs space to create a place to buy beauty and homeware in a really sumptuous, spa-like environment - that's a bit of a pipe dream but I think it's good to aim high!
Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Gosh, one thing I totally underestimated was just how resilient you have to be to run your own business. Much of the hard graft is done on your own so surround yourself with supportive people, some who do similar things to you so you can lean on them for industry appropriate advice, and some completely divorced from your work so you can get some headspace/have a rant! I've met the most wonderful community of local female creatives and entrepreneurs and their help and cheerleading has made all the difference. One of them was featured on this blog not so long ago - Becci of Betty Ettiquette stationery and cards has been an absolute gem in terms of the help she's given me and Honeybourne's over the past two years! Also, try not to take things personally. In the first few years of running a business countless things will go wrong - big and small. Learn from mistakes but don't beat yourself up otherwise you'll struggle to find the mental energy to keep going. Conversely, (and I'm aware I'm starting to sound a lot like the song 'Sunscreen' by Baz Lurhmann) celebrate every single success, no matter how small. They are all important and will re-invigorate you.
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 like that the message uses cards as an example of a single purchase as they're most gift shops bestselling products and are pretty much available in nearly all shops and galleries. Obviously it's not just about cards - if we only sold those we'd not survive long. But it's a great way to start the conversation about putting your money where your mouth is in regards to supporting independent business and artists. It's a really accessible message and I think that's important. I like to think of our cards as a gateway product to all our other lovely pieces so it makes a lot of sense to focus on them!
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
It's really important! I believe that every decision we make in regards to where we spend our hard-earned money is a political one. We can't just want to have lovely little shops on our high streets or galleries full of beautiful art on our doorsteps - we have to buy from them so that they aren't just a nice idea. My partner, who runs the butchers across the road from me, came across a useful metaphor for describing this phenomenon - it's like a Church in a pretty village. Everyone wants it to be there but if no-one goes apart from on high-days and holidays it won't be for very long. I know sometimes buying from small shops like mine can be frustrating. We don't have as much choice as bigger shops or chains, our prices are higher than the internet and we don't bulk buy so sometimes we run out of things or they are incredibly limited - like the local art that we sell. However, we contribute to local events and charities and help to create something which is really quite priceless - community. We curate products with meaning in beautiful spaces and there's a level of personal service you just don't find anywhere else. Thankfully our customers recognise and reward these things - we are very lucky with the support we've received from the people of Ladywell and South London in general. The people who shop with Honeybourne's have clearly got the message already!
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?
I heard about the campaign on Twitter which, despite also being a really effective time-suck when I should be doing admin, is a great place to find other independents and make contacts in the industry. I love to use Instagram to find suppliers and see what other lovely independent shops are doing - there was a really great challenge over April called 'My Shoplife' which was started by a fab indie shop in Scotland called 'Pencil Me In'. I loved that as it was a great way to tell our story and hear what other people in the industry were up to - we've formed a little collective out of it which is brilliant. The more we all work together, the better we'll do.
What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I think we as business owners can be more open about the challenges we face and how much we value every single purchase - even just a card! I think we also need to champion our role in local communities even more than we do now, and be really clear that spending money with us supports a more human and ethical form of consumerism than we're used to hearing about. Spreading the word about the campaign is key too, hence why I'm more than happy to put posters up in Honeybourne's about Just A Card!