Object & line
By Kate Marsden
Between Christmas and New Year, we found ourselves wandering around Lincoln while waiting to meet some friends for lunch. I turned to my husband and told him that we needed to look out for Just A Card stickers, and at that very moment one caught my eye! So I had to do my duty (and don’t worry it didn’t make me late for my pizza!). I popped in to the beautiful Object & line for a chat and to buy (a little more than) just a card, and now I’m really happy to share this lovely shop with you here! You see the shop stickers work in all sorts of different ways…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
Hello! I'm Jill and I run Object & line. My husband Barry and I moved to Lincoln in 2007. We’d moved by way of Essex, Cleveland and Manchester. Lincoln is a small, perfectly formed city, an increasingly popular place to live. Our backgrounds are in art and design and we both originally studied at Goldsmiths. In 2010 we set up Object & line, first as an online retailer and in 2013 as a shop in the city’s historic Bailgate quarter. We love well made, well designed and decently priced homewares, sourced from across the world.
What does a typical day involve?
I'm in the shop most days so when I'm not with customers, I'll be ordering in new stock, changing the window displays, taking photos for Instagram and doing the general upkeep that comes with the job. We sell online through Trouva so there's always a lot of packing to do too! The work load changes month to month. Christmas has come and gone—we’re now planning for the year ahead, researching new product ranges, making contact with suppliers and doing the rounds of trade fairs.
We also recently opened a vegan and vegetarian cafe called Bailgate Deli just around the corner. The aim was to diversify and expand our offer to reflect changing retail habits and demographics. It’s been interesting to see how many customers are regulars in the shop and the deli. We’ve got to know them well and now have a large, very friendly customer base. Barry runs the deli while I focus on the shop. A distinct perk is the arrival of a great coffee in the morning, served of course in a range of cups we sell in the shop—a good example of cross selling.
Where do you work? What is your shop like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
Object & line is in the middle of Lincoln's busy Bailgate, which is known for independent shops like ours. The shop has become full of vibrant colour - from painted wooden toys to patterned water bottles and hanging mobiles. Hopefully our customers always find something new! Keeping up to date with new trends is really important, so we head to Europe for inspiration a couple of times a year - Copenhagen, Paris and Amsterdam are great for that—and Berlin is on my list this year.
Work takes up a lot of my life, especially in the run up to Christmas. In between I’ve always loved gardening as a way to relax. The vegetable plot has proved valuable in providing fresh food for the deli, so work is never far away!
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing shop/gallery owners at the moment?
Everyone will know that it’s a tough time for retail at the moment. It’s a perfect storm of increasing fixed costs like rent and rates, escalating purchasing costs heightened by the poor exchange rate and other economic challenges, including Brexit. Online selling is both a threat and an opportunity—we’re fortunate to be selling through Trouva and have stopped selling through other channels, finding the management of multi channels unnecessarily complex. We know that customer confidence across the country is critical. It ebbs and flows during the year but we have seen changing long term habits in buying homewares.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
I'd love to source more work from young illustrators and designers - I'm always on the lookout for great cards. I’m not planning to move or expand but know that the shop is on a journey.
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 have a few star products that you stock every year and perfectly sum up your brand. People will tell others where they got them! It can be daunting, but spend a bit of time emailing a press release about new products to journalists - we got really lucky in our first year when Vogue named us one of the 100 best places to shop online—that made a massive difference to us as a new business. Know your location well—location is absolutely critical. Know your systems well—good point of sale software will make a heck of a difference.
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?
Not at first, I took Just a Card quite literally. It’s much broader though—I’ve looked across our ranges to find products that customers are happy to buy on impulse.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
It works and is the subject of growing conversations with customers. We need to reinvent the high street in a way that our community feels greater ownership of their locality. The campaign sticker has been in a prominent position on the front door for a year now and is noticed.
We hear customers say more and more about valuing local shops and stopping relying on gratuitous online buying.
Your campaign is of great importance to us both now and into the future.