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Talking Point
Three childrenswear retailers discuss how they integrate into the local community.

By Laura Turner

11 October 2016

ASHLYN GIBSON
Owner, Olive Loves Alfie, London N16; Olive Loves Alfie East, London E20
Do you believe it’s important to integrate an independent business into the local community?
We rely on the support of our community so it’s important that we give something back. Being part of the community is one of the gems of being an independent store; we have a genuine interest in our neighbours and our customers. All of my staff live locally and are part of the local community.
 
In what ways do you do this? 
In Stoke Newington we support local schools by making raffle donations for summer and Christmas events. We dedicated our window to a primary school art exhibition. In our new store in East Village, Stratford, we have the space to hold workshops and ‘mama meets’ that are a focal point for local parents. We hold product launches here for British designers and run a series of pop-up shops. We’re also very active on social media – Instagram is particularly effective.
 
How has working with the community helped your business/sales?
Olive Loves Alfie East is central to the community. Hosting events gives people a lovely emotional attachment to our brand and means that people feel happy to pop in and browse or just to say hello. We have just turned 10 in our Stoke Newington store, and the sense of family and community that we have built up over the last decade is incredibly strong. Lots of families who move away from the area are loyal online customers.
 
What are your plans for the rest of the year? 
We have a series of illustration and creative workshops in our Stratford store and continue to build on our ‘mama meets’ that we run in collaboration with local blogger Finlay Fox.


KATE AUSTIN
Co-owner, Spotty Herberts, Bath
Do you believe it’s important to integrate an independent business into the local community?
Absolutely. Taking time and effort to integrate our business into the community benefits both parties. As a shop for children we enjoy building and maintaining our relationships with local families. In this way we can tweak our buying to find new brands we know they’ll love.
 
In what ways do you do this? 
We love putting on a party and hosting an event. This summer we began ‘The Great Spotty Herbert Stickman Hunt’, hiding many little pipe cleaner people around the children’s spaces of Bath and offering rewards for their return. We regularly donate to local charity raffles and attend summer and Christmas fetes with our special shop in a box, ‘Spotty Herberts Supplies’. Each year we donate a percentage of our takings to the Bath branch of SANDS Charity.
 
What do you find the best means to promote anything you are doing?
We are very lucky in Bath to have a wide and supportive network of social media accounts and websites that promote and support local independent businesses. Venturing outside the shop and into the community has undoubtedly introduced us to new customers. We have met some great people, made many new friends and have also discovered small local businesses making beautiful products which we are very happy to support and stock at Spotty Herberts, most recently Bimble Shoes and Sleepy Doe Pyjamas.
 
What are your plans for the rest of the year? 
The end of the summer means the exciting arrival of autumn/winter stock. We have a giant homemade spider that each year becomes a little creepier. A bowl of something gory on the shop counter and we’re ready! We are also planning Christmas decorations; something magical and surprising for the window and big hanging decorations inside. 


SUSSANNA DI PALMA
Owner/manager, Pickles and Poppets, Bristol.
Do you believe it’s important to integrate an independent business into the local community?
Absolutely. As an independent business, you, by very definition, ‘stand alone’. Being involved with the local community gives you a sense of family and solidarity beyond yourself, which in turn enables you to sow that back into that community.
 
In what ways do you do this? 
We host ‘fun days’ in the shop, inviting passers-by and regular customers to participate in lucky dips, ‘pin the patch on the pirate’ and prize draws on special occasions. We also get involved in the events put on by other independent businesses local to us, perhaps providing face painting at street parties, raffle prizes for schools, or stalls in Christmas markets. We also like to build relationships with fellow traders as well as customers, sharing storage space with them, inputting ideas and thoughts to the collective business guilds or offering promotional vouchers to other businesses.
 
What do you find the best means to promote anything you are doing?
We are still fairly young and so getting our name out there has been a slow process, but one that grows with our reputation. We are hoping that our website and social media pages will increasingly help with this too, but in the meantime, chatting to customers and friends alike encourages relationships and support from both sides.
 
How has working with the community helped your business/sales?
Being part of a community has greatly helped our business and sales. When the community do hear of you, we find ourselves stacking up a large amount of ‘regulars’. These people have occasionally turned into partners. For example, the company who did the photography for our website, Wild & Small, started out as a conversation between me and a customer. We struck up a deal. They very kindly did a free shoot for the website and we in turn now promote them in the shop as well as online.


 

 
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