CWB Independent Retail Awards 2015, Best New Store.
By Laura Turner
13 June 2016
Twenty questions with... Kate Austin and Emily Ingram, co-owners of children’s boutique Spotty Herberts
in Bath, and winner of the Best New Store in the CWB Independent Retail Awards
1. What’s an average day in your job?
Kate Austin: Work starts after school drop-off with a stroll down through Bath to the shop. Walking through the shop first thing is the best time to spot stock that needs tidying, moving or replenishing. First comes coffee and a quick check of emails and social media, then I gather orders that have come in overnight ready for packing. Throughout the day the priority is our customers, but in between serving we’ll take in deliveries and check up on general day-to-day admin duties.
2. Did you always want to work in retail?
Emily Ingram: Doesn’t everyone dream of having their own shop? I used to set up shop on the dinner table as a kid, get all the food out of the cupboards and then not put it back. I still have my little plastic till. Kate and I both have retail experience and we love being creative. Bath is beautiful but lacked a good children’s independent. We talked and dreamed about it for quite a long time; it was Kate who finally said, “Let’s do this.”
3. What do you love most about your job?
KA: Meeting customers – you never know who is going to come through the door. Being in central Bath we meet tourists from all over the world; it’s fascinating to hear about their journeys. Our local regulars pop in often and we get to know the children, which is lovely. Emily has one particularly regular customer; each Friday she pops in to say ‘hello’ and to buy a jelly burger and a tiny treasure for her pocket.
4. What’s your least favourite part?
EI: I’m not sure there is a least favourite part; maybe for me not being in the shop enough. We both have children so getting the work/home balance right can be tricky. The kids come to work with us sometimes, which can be interesting and expensive. There’s always a toy they ‘need’. Kate’s daughter Zillah is a super saleswoman; the boys, not so much.
5. What is your greatest retail achievement?
KA: It has to be winning our CWB award. To be awarded Best New Store so soon in our adventure is thrilling. We have a lot to learn and this award has given us great encouragement to continue doing the best we can to build a successful shop for children.
6. What motivates you in your job?
EI: Our customers and the shop itself, seeing how far it’s come in just a few short years. The positive comments from our customers, or just people passing by, are so encouraging. We love turning the key in the mornings, putting on the kettle and some good music. Happiness is a great motivator.
7. What do you love about the industry?
KA: We have really enjoyed meeting makers, designers, suppliers and fellow shopkeepers. All have welcomed us and been supportive and flexible, letting us learn our way through the selection and buying process. We’re constantly finding beautiful new product to add to our wish list.
8. Who is your dream celebrity customer?
EI: We’ve had quite a few already, but we’d be quite chuffed if Mary Portas
gave us a visit. Chuffed but nervous. We met her very briefly at last year’s Bath Literature Festival
and she gave us some great advice.
9. How did you decide on the shop name?
KA: ‘Spotty Herbert’ is an old term for a mischievous child with that look in their eye. Both Emily and I refer to our kids as ‘Spotty Herberts’, initially without knowing we did. It seemed the obvious choice for our shop name. Only very recently Emily’s father was overheard bemoaning, “What are you up to, you Spotty Herbert?” to her son, Kip.
10. Do you have a business mentor?
EI: Not currently, no.
11. Which is your favourite kids’ brand?
KA: A tricky question as we love so many, but I think our choice would be Tootsa MacGinty
. One of our first trips to trade shows, before opening the shop, was especially to see Tootsa. We’d read about a new unisex British brand that was pioneering gender neutral clothes, proper happy clothes for children to play and be children in and we knew we’d love it.
12. If you launched your own label, what would it be?
EI: We spend a lot of time outdoors in quite drab anoraks, so I’d love to develop a range of unisex outdoor wear. Probably inspired by the great explorers and adventurers, with coloured waxed canvas and home-knitted jumpers and balaclavas: practical and beautifully made.
13. What would your dream store be?
KA: More square metres to combine an events area with the retail space.
14. What’s your strangest customer request?
EI: We haven’t had many strange requests, but I have had a lady pray for me in the shop. Kate loves it because I get all the ‘unusual’ customers. I’ve had fortune tellers, yogic gurus, lots of people crying, the works. Kate, however, has had a visit from a performing dog, so I think she wins.
15. What is the best and worst piece of business advice you’ve been given?
KA: The best; to do one important thing every day and to trust your judgement. The worst has to be the frequent cold calls from service providers advising us to switch.
16. What do you wish you’d known before you started Spotty Herberts?
EI: That Kate and I would hardly ever spend the weekend together again, which she might see as a plus. We do get to go away on buying trips together though, so it’s not all bad.
17. Where do you find inspiration?
KA: My mother began my family’s business when I was very young. She bought a small amount of camping equipment and began to hire it out from home through the local papers. From here, she and the rest of my family built and grew a very successful retail business. She was my first influence and inspiration. Today I’m constantly inspired by the increasing number of small independents creating beautifully stocked and curated shops to give the customer a real experience.
18. What’s your productivity secret?
EI: Loving what we do, coffee and Kate, the driving force in the business. I’m still working in my job in wholesale, so Kate keeps everything on track. She often has to give me a gentle reminder or a huge nudge. I do get things done eventually, but not at the speed she would probably like.
19. Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
KA: We’d like to be in a larger space with room to bring in more brands from our wish list and to incorporate a designated events area. We will also continue to develop and refine our website and grow sales online.
20. What difference has being a CWB Independent Retail Award winner made?
EI: This award has certainly opened doors to new suppliers and makers. Customers coming into the shop are always interested in our little glass trophy – we’ve even had people passing by and, on seeing the award, popping their heads in just to say “congratulations”. Thank you CWB, we are very proud to have been awarded Best New Store.