By Kate Marsden
We’re off to sunny Leeds this week, and Chapel Allerton in particular seems like the perfect spot to while away some time over the coming half term holiday! In this thriving independent high street sits the rather lovely gift shop Chirpy, who I first encountered when they popped by our stand at Top Drawer last year. Read on as owner Jo talks about the importance of collaboration and being a little different…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
I’m Jo the owner of Chirpy, a small independent gift shop in Chapel Allerton, north Leeds. I bought Chirpy a couple of years ago, it was my local go-to gift shop and it came up for sale just as I was looking for a new challenge! In my previous life I’d worked in the steel industry and more recently in business support helping companies export. Retail was completely new to me (except for Saturday jobs!) so it’s been a huge learning curve but one I’m loving!
What does a typical day involve?
First job of the day is a coffee then I usually have a look around the shop to see what needs sorting, tidying, restocking or changing around to keep it looking fresh. I try and do an Instagram post first to say hello to my customers, sometimes a ‘card of the week’ post, a new product update or what we’ve got planned that day. There’s always loads of admin to do, emails, invoices, enquiries which I do between customers. Depending on the time of month, season or year, I may have a newsletter or marketing campaign too. I try to fit in as much as I can during shop hours so I can have family time at home in the evenings.
Where do you work? What is your shop like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
The best thing is that I live in walking distance from Chirpy so I walk to work, chatting to customers and other shop keepers on the way. Chapel Allerton is a lovely place with a great community feel! The shop is on a busy little street, with a real variety of shops for people to be able to buy everything they need locally, including a fruit & veg shop, cheesemongers, fishmongers, butchers and even an amazing wool shop! Chirpy specialises in design led gifts, mainly from local and UK makers. We also have a great workshop and events space upstairs, running a busy and varied programme of workshops from weaving to photography, furniture painting to doodling and host private parties. Outside of work I really like getting out into the fresh air, we’ve got some beautiful walks in Yorkshire, and I also love Pilates. I’m married with a 12 year old daughter, so family time keeps me busy!
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?
I think at the moment the challenge is balancing lots of different priorities - customers want value for money as they have less disposable income, but also want good quality, sustainable environmentally friendly products! So as a retailers it’s about trying to find products that tick as many of those boxes. There’s so much competition, so it’s about differentiating yourself and making the shopping experience a great one for your customers, whether that’s getting to know their names, finding specific products for them and always offering great customer service.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I’d like to grow the business by finally selling on line, continuing to offer products, unique to Chirpy and also build the brand to be a trusted for quality, service and great products. I’d like to develop what we use the event space upstairs for, looking at more collaborations with other local businesses.
Do you have any tips for fellow small business owners and designer/makers who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to ask people’s opinion (but also trust your own judgement) and also take feedback constructively.
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?
I love the Just a Card campaign and have been encouraging the rest of the shops in Chapel Allerton to get involved - I’ve used posts to promote Just an apple, Just a piece of Cheese, Just a sausage, Just a ball of wool. This has involved running into the neighbouring shops with my camera and taking random photos of their products! I'm a big believer in collaboration and businesses working together and I think this campaign has been great for that.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
I’ve always loved greetings cards and I think buying the perfect card is as, if not more, important that a present, so this campaign has helped reinforce that to our customers. I love it when people come into the shop to buy a card, when I know they can buy a card from a supermarket much cheaper, I think it is a real show of support for local independent retailers. Chirpy displays the Just a Card sticker with pride, as does my car, and it’s been a great way of getting the message out to customers about how important it is to shop locally throughout the year.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently?
I follow and support the campaign mainly on Instagram as that’s where I post most frequently. I also use Twitter, but not as well as I could, and Facebook. I try and differentiate between what I post on the different platforms to increase reach to different customers, though I have to admit I never follow any of the rules about what, when and how to post!!
What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I think independent retailers and makers just need to keep spreading the word, letting others know about it via social media, work of mouth and other marketing. I think the blog posts supporting companies with their marketing etc. have been a great resource for small businesses. I’ll continue to do this by tagging suppliers, customers and other shops in posts and supporting the specific campaigns, such as Just a Card week. I think these focused week long events are a great way to help us manage social media campaigns and build momentum for the campaign. Perhaps there could be something like a Just a Card loyalty/reward scheme for buying cards- lots of shops do their own but one backed and branded by the Just a Card campaign could be a great idea!