Sunday, April 28

so you want to set up a shop?

We get asked quite often about setting up a craft shop, what advice would we give etc so figured it might be helpful to put a few things on the blog.  As always, not saying this is a foolproof plan or even that what we did would work for you but if nothing else it might get you thinking about what you need to consider - and most of all, good luck! If you don't try you never know what you might have achieved :)

Business plan - ok so this sounds a little formal when all you want to do is knit, natter and enjoy creating.  It doesn't have to be a formal document, but there does need to be some sort of plan.  Even if it's a really basic diagram of what you want to do, ideas of how to get there, what you will sell, who will help out and a rough idea of what you would like to see in 5 years.  Then get the most negative person you know to pick holes in it!! If you can answer and stomach being picked apart and still be determined with a sound idea chances are it will work.  If however you end up sobbing going 'but I just want a pretty shop' then you may to re-think some bits.  Start again, re-write it, go back to grumpy guts and stand your ground.  It may take a few goes, but believe me if you can get past grumpy guts you will have had to consider all the things that might not work and come up with a cunning plan to get round them.  We all need cunning plans to succeed.

Location - this is absolutely critical.  Easier said than done when rents etc are high these days, but would urge you to do some research.  Just because you walk past an empty shop and think 'that would be great as a craft cafe' consider why it's empty?  Did the previous tenant struggle with footfall, did they move, did they close because of ill health?  There are tons of reasons why people close up, just make sure it's not something that might affect you such as footfall.  Do not rush into long term contracts until you know it works - always go for short term where possible, or even blag a corner of someone else's shop till you figure out your stock and customers and know it's working.  Empty shops are often available to start ups for peanuts because they would rather something than nothing - be cheeky and ask! Be aware where your limit is, if you really can't afford it then walk away as there will be other opportunities.  Think of it like buying a house and what you would look for and then replace personal with customers' needs.  If most of your crafters are in a wheelchair a second floor shop is not going to work well.  Try to see venues as a customer not a business owner first.

Customers - without them you are pretty much sunk! Sorry to sound brutal but unless you do all your sales via the internet you are going to need customers.  Don't rely on all your friends and family who are so so supportive in your front room, they have lives too and unless it's something they want to buy or have the time chances are you probably won't see them much.  Again do some research, it doesn't need to be vastly high tech just sit on a bench near where you're thinking of opening up and ask yourself 'this person walking past, would they come to my shop?' If you're brave enough, take some flyers and stop and ask them.  You're going to need a skin like a rhino later so just bite the bullet and stop folk!  The worst they will say is no thank you, the best they will say is wow that's just what I was looking for, when do you open?

Time - the evil thief of creativity! There is going to be tons of work in the background when you are setting up and do you have the time to do it all? Can you go into partnership with people and share the workload?  If you have small people to collect from school you're not going to be able to open till 5 unless you get some help.  It's fun to help at the beginning when it's all new and full of possibilities but you will need the help in month 3 onwards when the slog kicks in.

Systems - sounds deathly dull but you're going to need them! Think about how you work best and play to your strengths.  Some are experts on excel some love pencils - doesn't matter, just make sure you know what's going on and can show this.  You will need some way of tracking people's stock, who they are and keep records because the tax man is going to want to talk to you later - and trust me they always find you!

Change - things change, constantly so accept and embrace it.  You have  a unique position in that you can change quickly, you can respond to customers and sellers easily - you are not a high street giant with a chain of command to work through.  Use this to your advantage, it's your massive plus point. What works for Martha next door may not work for you, but equally you will have several donut brain moments where you go 'ahh that needs to be done like this' so go with it.  Concentrate on the changes that keeps you going, if you are struggling to get customers in the door change your window display, change your marketing.  Try to be as self aware as possible, if you are great at the customer service concentrate on that first and get folk to help with the bits you struggle with.

Money - ahh the sordid topic of coin! Get as much for free as you can, including time.  Time is the biggest cost to any business, and not just paying people.  If you are doing one thing you can't do something else - work out if you were to pay yourself for a task where is that best spent? Back to working out your strengths and weaknesses, ask friends what they consider your best points. Always start with free, then barter, then pay for things.  Ask people if they can lend you display items - you'll be surprised what's lurking in garages and attics. We work on buttons, barter and borrow!  But, and this is quite critical - you do not want to look like a messy throw together, upcycle where possible by using pretty fabrics as covers for units that don't match or ribbon to hold up signage. Be gently critical and think 'would I walk in here? What is my eye drawn to?'  Again, if you're brave enough ask grumpy guts to pick holes and work on the things you can easily and cheaply first.  Things take time, don't expect it to look superb from day one.

Failure - be realistic, because it is sadly an option.  Apologies for sounding negative but once you accept this possibility somehow the risk seems so much smaller.  If the worst that happens is you tried but had to give the keys back then what could be the best? The best could be you working with your creative friends in an environment you love and making it work for and around you.

Instinct - don't be fooled, this is a massive asset to the small business - especially a creative one.  You will get a gut feel for people, customers, trends, what might work so use it.  And be yourself, always.  You have to sustain this, you have to drive it forward with your vision so pretending you love pink and dressing the shop in pink because you saw it in a magazine will not work unless you really do love pink.  Falsehood is quickly exposed, and you do not want to be considered false.  Kooky, ecclectic, slightly bonkers but lovely is all fine and to be honest partly expected but false never.

Above all, have fun! You chose to do this, you stuck your neck out so try to enjoy the bumpy ride and with tenacity, hard work and using your strengths you could be the next big thing!  Hope it helps, Hippo xx