Friday, 9 April 2021

The changing face of retail in a time of Covid...

Non essential bricks and mortar shops are reopening on Monday after months of being closed - but if feels as though they’ll be opening their doors to a much changed retail landscape. So many high street names have gone permanently. It’s so sad to see household names like Debenhams go, but in a way, for many of these retailers it isn’t a huge surprise. Some of these businesses have been slow to realise that it isn’t just about making cold hard cash, it’s about putting the customer first and in the front when they make decisions about how their business evolves and behaves. Shopping nowadays is about adapting to change, realising what people want - it’s about conscience , responsibility, being fresh and innovative.

Covid has forced retail to change or die. Old established retailers going bust makes us all sad because we have a connection built through years of tradition. I still think the most shocking closure in recent years was seeing Woolworths go, and I still miss it!

My local Woolies in Dereham before it closed

I think many of us still feel a bit nervous about going back to shopping on the high street - we’ve spent a year training ourselves to stay safe, be precautious and careful, and I think a lot of us will be feeling naturally reticent about wandering around shops like we used to. Plus, of course, we’re still going to be wearing face masks and social distancing, and that makes the thought of browsing casually around shops still feel pretty impossible and gloomy for the time being.

As a small business owner, it’s hard to feel confident when you see huge, established retailers struggling to survive. It takes nerves of steel not to run for the hills sometimes! But it’s important to remind yourself that being successful isn’t just about the big numbers: lots of shops, big profit margins, a huge staff. Now, more than ever, it’s about putting the customer first, thinking about what they need and like, helping them, and being responsible when it comes to the planet. 

I’ve seen a complete shift over the 12 years since I started PhotoFairytales - we’re all so much more mindful about what we bring into our lives. Buying conscientiously rather than impulsively, being deliberate in our choices. What we buy is a commitment. It’s about buying things we love from retailers we care about, rather than just ‘stuff’ (for want of a better word!). With so many people losing their jobs and having to watch what they spend over the last year, this is more important than it ever was.

I believe that customers now don’t buy ‘from’, they buy ‘into’. We’ve all done it: buying from Shop A because it makes us feel good (better service, nicer shop, better buying experience, more ‘quality’ feeling…). Sometimes it isn’t all about cost, even in times of austerity. It’s more complex than that now. Customers are far more aware of how a business conducts itself, how in touch with it’s customers it is, with changing styles and trends, with the care and attention it puts into earning your custom.

In theory, it should be much easier for a bricks and mortar shop to be able to look after it’s customers: after all, it sees them face to face. But all too often that’s not the case. My very first job was working on the shop floor of Laura Ashley. We were told that when a customer pays using their credit card we should surreptitiously read the name on the card, and then say “thank you Mrs X” as we passed it back to them. Call me a rebel (and I did get told off more than once), but I NEVER did that - apart from the fact that it felt weird and a bit stalker-ish, it wasn’t remotely natural! It felt fake. And despite it trying to make it feel more personal for the customer I thought then (and still do) that it made it more impersonal. Was I right? What would you feel if a member of sales staff did that with your card?!

Laura Ashley in Norwich... as was

Face to face retailers don’t have the monopoly when it comes to looking after customers. That’s because it’s not all about the transaction, it’s about service, care, aftercare, advice, expert knowledge, giving people time, being approachable and helpful, letting people know you’re there if they need you (and making sure you get back to them in a timely fashion when they do!). Excellent service can be replicated online - and it’s your right to expect it! 

I suppose essentially what I’m saying is that every pound spent is a vote - and we should all vote wisely! Imagine for a minute if every retailer only had 4 years, like a government. After 4 years they only get to stay open if customers vote for them. And in a way, that’s basically what we’ve all been doing: voting, with our hard earned cash! So, here’s my bit of ‘electioneering’!:

  • My manifesto is: Better gifts, better experience - to make shopping enjoyable and friendly. Customers are my community, people with a shared philosophy. The distance between me (Sarah) and you (lovely customer) should be tiny (especially when compared to the big high street retailers).
  • My philosophy is: Happy customers, happy business. It’s that simple. 
  • My mission is: To help people find a gift that they will love giving, to make other people as passionate about gift giving as I am. To consistently work hard at adapting, evolving, to follow styles and trends whilst maintaining the sense of quality, detail and longevity.

My business has to be sustainable for me too; I have to be able to sustain my family, keep the orders rolling in. Tiny independent businesses like mine (run from our family home, no staff, no warehouse, no ‘departments’, just me) don’t have the money, staff or advertising budgets that large companies do. But what we do have is agility. We can adapt with speed to offer people what they want: quickly, efficiently, with flair and personality. Businesses like mine remember customers, they have a friendly personal way of doing business - so many people that I count as friends were once customers. It’s about building relationships, not reading a name of a credit card as you hand it back.

There’s always going to be a place for high street shops, of course there is. All I ask, on my behalf and all of those other micro online businesses out there, is that you keep us in mind over the next 12 months. We kept going through all 3 lockdowns, with a cheery (mostly) disposition, adapting to the weird fluctuations of the retail world during coronavirus (zero orders one week, sales up 200% the following week, post office counters not always open when we thought they’d be, people suddenly needing to buy face masks rather than meals out!). We’ve adapted, cared, invented and evolved - and whilst it’s been stressful and meant a lot of long hours or hard work, it’s also been a hell of a lot of fun: long may it continue!

Stay safe, stay well,

Sarah x

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Brand New: Personalised Door Hangers

Time for some spring newbies!... This is a project I’ve been working on for weeks now, an idea I’ve had in my head that I simply had to put into action: introducing my new personalised wooden door hangers! 

Personalised Do Not Disturb Door Hanger

I wanted to introduce a line that was practical and would prove to be a really useful gift idea for people. I’ve created 9 different designs for the range, with something for all ages - from baby’s nursery to mum’s home office. 

Personalised Door Hanger Wooden

The hangers are really robust, made from natural birch wood. Although they’re strong, they’re also really light so if you want to take it with you on your travels it will slide easily into your work bag. Each door hanger features the natural wood grain, so every one is unique. They’ve been very carefully sanded for a really smooth to the touch finish too. 

Personalised Door Hanger Craft Room

Each design is available in simple, classic black - I wanted to create something that would fit into any surrounding, with a modern smart feel.

Personalised Baby Sleeping Door Hanger

Each door hanger is handmade to order, and comes with free UK delivery (of course)! Visit the website by clicking here to view all nine designs.

Hope you like them, 

Sarah x

Friday, 18 December 2020

Goodbye 2020!

In, oooh about 20 minutes, I'm going to be shutting up shop for another year and heading off on my Christmas break. But before I go, I just wanted to wish you a VERY merry Christmas - eat, drink, enjoy, and say goodbye to 2020 with joy in your heart. It might not be the Christmas you'd planned, but may it be wonderful and magical, whatever you're doing. Thank you so much for all your support over the last 12 months - old customers, new customers, yet-to-be-thinking-about-it customers: each and every one of you. 

Have a great time, and see you all in January! 

Sarah x

Friday, 13 November 2020

Why I'm supporting Adoption UK this year...

Every year I like to support the work of a great UK charity - so for every one of the Personalised Santa Letters and Telegrams that are sold this year, I'll be donating 50p to this year's cause: Adoption UK.

This fantastic charity operates around the UK, supporting adoptive families. They told me: 

"Three quarters of the children adopted today have been removed from their birth families due to abuse or neglect. Adoption alone doesn’t erase the trauma they have suffered, and they find relationships and everyday life incredibly difficult. Adoptive families face daily battles to get the longer-term support and specialist help they need. Since Covid-19 struck, many families have told us they are under even more pressure, feeling increased isolation and are heading towards breaking point. Our advice and support services are a lifeline for struggling adoptive families. They provide the empathy, connection and vital guidance that help make family life manageable and happier again. With funds we raise we will be able to respond to more calls from families in crisis, reach out to those struggling and in need, connect them to other adopters who can help them put the steps in place for a brighter future."

So that means, each and every time you order a Santa Letter or a Santa Telegram, you'll be helping families and children around the country. But, I have a passionate request for you...

Adoption UK are running a fundraising campaign called The Big Give Christmas Challenge. During the campaign, every donation they receive will be DOUBLED - which means that 50p could become £1! But, this will only be possible for orders that are purchased before midnight on December 6th. So, if you're thinking about placing an order for a Letter or Telegram from Santa this year - please, please do it by December 6th if you can. Then your support will be worth twice as much!

Personalised Santa Letters & Telegrams - written and signed by the real Father Christmas, from just £6.99 including P&P

Orders will be open until December 17th, but if you can place your order before midnight on December 6th that would be absolutely fantastic! Click here for full details on the PhotoFairytales site.

Sarah x

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Be inspired by... November

This month is the one where the festive season can really start to kick in - and often make us all feel a bit stressed and over-whelmed. Before the chaos of Christmas begins, why not take some time to regroup and think about the joy this month brings? It's not just a gateway into Christmas: it's a beautiful month in it's own right. If you're feeling a bit jaded though, and finding it hard to find the joy of chilly November - especially during Lockdown 2:0 - take a look at my brand new Pinterest board this month. It's full of stunning images that really capture the beauty of the month and I know it will leave you feeling inspired - and maybe even ready to pull on your coat and wellies and head out for a lovely autumnal and atmospheric ramble through the countryside - or a stroll through the chilly, misty streets around your home?!

Now is a great time to grab a bit of 'me time' too - long soaks in the bath with a magazine, a glass of chilled wine, and a couple of candles (and a lock on the door!). Why not book an evening to yourself to enjoy the things you've been longing to do for ages? Cosy up and watch that film (don't forget the popcorn and Revels), or pick up that book you've been wanting to read for ages. Plan a lovely, relaxing Sunday brunch with the family - one where everyone just digs in and helps themselves, where the toaster is within arms length and you take time to read the paper or chat. Pause, and collect your thoughts before December arrives and we start to feel the pressure of Christmas.

Start thinking about the family traditions and rituals that make this season so much fun - you may have missed going out to a fireworks display this year, but you can still enjoy gathering your little family together with fun family games, and gorgeous 'picky' food that everyone can help themselves too.

Make November the time when you pause for a moment - take in the wonders of nature, the crispness of the air, the russet shades and bare tree branches, the mist gathering in the fields, the cosiness of coming in through your front door at the end of the day and sinking under a cosy throw and putting your feet up. This is a month all about YOU.

Sarah x

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