Two roads diverged in the wood, I took the one less travelled by, that made all the difference……. As this September marks our 10-year anniversary as an independent retailer, we want to look back at our journey over the last 10 years. This is a story of my own personal journey.
Being the Black Sheep
Do you know how a black sheep feels? I certainly do. I am one of them. My brother, cousins, old classmates and friends left university to go on to have successful professional careers as fund managers, university professors, business consultants, architects and so on. However, l left university to go in a very different direction. At university, I was ambitious and was studying a master’s degree in Zoology, so it came as a massive surprise to everyone when I changed direction to become a shopkeeper who runs a small business instead. So much so, that I hear my career choice is often a hot topic at family gatherings and school reunions.
It is no secret that running an independent business is difficult, fifty percent of start-ups fail within the first five years. Our own struggles started straight from day one when we first opened our doors, back in 2008 – the year of the financial crash. It was disheartening times, stories of business closures and people losing their jobs were all over the news. It was down to sheer blind faith and our appetite for challenges, that we decided to go ahead with signing the lease anyway, unaware of the massive changes facing the retail landscape down the road.
Our daughter was only three when we opened our shop. During the first year of business, we had no choice but to leave her with childminders 6 days a week, just to keep the business afloat. By the time we sat down with her on Sunday, we had no energy to play with her. One of my deepest regrets is not spending more time with her and missing out on that part of her childhood. I remember she once drew a picture of a little girl sitting on her own crying and another person on another planet, and she said to me, ” Mummy, this is me crying, and that is you, in a different world.”
Multitasking is the story of our life, I can’t remember the number of manic days of trying to get everything done under one roof………supplier catalogues and customers’ enquiries, marketing posts, pallets and pallets of new stock, dressing a new window, all the paperwork, you name it.
10 Years of Ups and Downs, 10 Years of Singing a Song of Independence
My husband and I are both Christians, and we believe it was our faith that has kept the business going, seen us through the hard times, and given us strength in times of need.
I had never run a business before Scape. I didn’t have any knowledge of how to run a business, as I had previously put all my energy and focus into studying zoology. I went to every single free course and seminar I could find from trade exhibitions, Dorset chamber of commerce, Bournemouth university and so on, just so I could gain the knowledge on how to run an efficient business. Over the years I must have attended hundreds of seminars. I have learned about marketing, PR, branding, visual merchandising, accounting, leadership and management. I was also lucky enough to win the scholarship to go to the Oxford summer school retail masters course, which is the best retail management course in the world and run by said business school, Oxford university.
We have faced many obstacles along the way, including the roof repairs of Westbourne arcade, which meant scaffolding was outside our shop for a total of 10 months. It felt like we were working on a construction site! Not to mention the ongoing local car parking issues, road works, leaking roofs, Brexit and landlords demanding 60 percent rent increases. What’s that famous saying? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Our hard work has been recognised though. We have been nominated three times and been a finalist for prestigious national awards. The people we have worked with along the way have all been so talented and have left their own footprint on our business, and we’d like to thank each and every one of them.
Every day we are reminded of how much we have achieved as we always get customers commenting on how much they love our shop and how quirky and unusual we are. We could burst with pride when we see customer’s homes filled with all things Scape, from furniture to paintings and even mugs.
If I Had a Chance to Turn the Clock Back, Would I Still Choose Retail, Would I Still Choose Westbourne?
Absolutely. At this day and age, there is no denying that retail is really hard work, the retail industry is going through such dramatic transitional changes, due to the rise of online shopping and 3D-printing etc. Look at the high street now, look at the news, almost everywhere you look, you will see another retailer closing down or going into administration. All retailers are facing phenomenal challenges.
That’s why my husband and I feel enormously proud that we took on such a difficult challenge and made it so far. My husband was a trainee underwriter at Lloyds of London but left the position because he didn’t like the corporate work environment. He then went on to become a florist and later a yacht skipper. Neither of us wanted to work for a big corporation, although it could probably have been an easier path. We have always had this dream of building a business which showcases the most beautiful handicrafts from around the world. If we had a chance to turn back the clock, we would still choose retail and I would still choose Westbourne. We wouldn’t want to miss all the lovely people that we’ve met along this journey.
Like in the fairy tales, where you have all these animals who come out of nowhere to help the hero or heroine who is lost in the dark forest. In real life there are also helpful animals, they’re just disguised as human beings or marketing consultants……
Looking ahead, we are looking to continue building our brand, which celebrates love of travelling and the spirit of independence!
We are launching our 10th anniversary furniture edition. A lot of the furniture has been proudly designed by my husband, inspired by his years of travelling as a yacht skipper.
He started his early career training in floristry where he really began to appreciate colour and texture. He ran a successful floristry business for many years before he sold it. Then he embarked on a career as a professional yacht skipper on various consignments for years. It was during his travels to many different obscure locations that he met a lot of talented artisans creating wonderful furniture, homeware and giftware pieces, often lovingly made by hand. Immensely inspired by the designs and the craftsmanship of their work, he has helped our furniture supplier to come up with designs that appeal to the western market without losing their own originality.
Love Jenny From Scape xxx