Thursday, February 12, 2009

Retail Therapy: Of Cabbages & Kings

Quick Facts:
1. One employee (Jessica/owner) & lots of helping hands
2. Works about 42 hours a week spread over 6 days
3. Started to write a biz plan, but then everything happened so quickly it was never properly finished.
4. Doors opened on Tuesday 20th May 2008. I’ve been selling online since July 2008

1. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first opened the shop - something that neither biz how-to books, small biz workshops prepared you for.

I think that the most noticeable difference about being self-employed and running your own business is that rather than just completing a set of daily tasks, I now am always thinking and planning at least three months ahead. It’s quite peculiar thinking about Christmas in June

2. How did you come up with the name? Can you share other names that were close runner ups or ones that would have been disastrous in hindsight?

A friend suggested going against the grain and rather than having a short onomatopoeic word, why not have a whole sentence? I then started reading a few books that I thought I might take inspiration from, including Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through The Looking Glass, where I revisited The Walrus & The Carpenter. Of Cabbages & Kings just seemed to fit the idea perfectly.

There was divided opinion on ‘Cockahoop’, meaning ‘insanely excited’. The designer was keen as she had lots of ideas for logos, but others thought it might be misleading in a very bad way!

1. Soldier Egg Cup by Reiko Kaneko - £9.95
2. Coco Bag Blue by Emma Gordon - £38.00
3. Custard Cream Brooch by Biscuit Boutique - £7.50
4. Blue Hummingbird Breakfast for One by Lillibule Ceramics - £37.50
5. I Heart Cake Necklace by Hoolala - £32.00
6. ‘Winging My Way Back To You’ Globe Necklace by Eclectic Eccentricity- £14.50

>> click to continue reading interview

3. Were there any stand out books, resources or tools that were really helpful during the planning phase or even up until now?

Not especially. I just found that the almost everyone I spoke to had at least one useful idea or suggestion, and that even if I didn’t realize it at the time I was absorbing it all up like a big sponge.

4. Can you tell us a little about your background and what compelled you to get into retail and start an online business? (I'm not sure if I misunderstood, but you mentioned something about it being a former "sweet shop"...)

I’ve always been interested in the creative arts. At university I studied Art and Visual Culture and following that I continued printmaking and life drawing. Over the years I’ve built up quite a large network of friends and acquaintances, who are also talented artists, designers and makers. After having worked closely with two small family-run businesses, a picture framers and a furniture and flooring retailer, I developed the confidence to think about setting up something of my own.

The principal idea behind Of Cabbages & Kings was to bridge the gap between the art gallery, the craft market and the gift shop, and to provide a permanent space for crafts people and independent designer-makers to show and sell their work. The online shop has really just been an extension of that.

5. Do you have a magical "buying" formula and what three tips can you share with first-time buyers getting ready to make their first batch of wholesale orders?

I’d like to say yes, but really I just rely on my own personal taste. I like to be enthusiastic and have confidence in my products. If I’m not sure about something, I generally just don’t go there. I also try to consider how I’ll display merchandise and whether it will compliment the shop. I feel like I have quite a distinctive ‘house style’ that I try to adhere to.

6. Do most of the other designers you carry approach you, or do you actively seek out new designers/crafters? If so, where?

A bit of both: I get a lot of local artists and designers who come in off the street who, if I like their products I tend to give precedence to as I believe in supporting the community. Others approach me by email after having discovered the online shop. I try to go to as many degree shows, art markets, design fairs and exhibitions as I can, but it’s difficult to find the time as I need to be in the shop as much as possible.

7. What is your process in choosing merchandise and what 3 things can artists do to stand out in your mind?

I have a few staple designers, but as the shop is so small I need to keep it evolving so people stay interested. I tend to work season by season and pull out a few key products that really reflect the time of year.

1. Originality. A clever, original idea always grabs me.

2. Attention to detail. Finishing, packaging and presentation.

3. Be flexible. Because the shop is in its infancy, I’m still getting to know my market and it’s good to be able to experiment with merchandise. It really helps if I can trial pieces or if sellers are willing to take on small orders.

8. Please allocate % of time you spend on the following activities:

Buying: 5%
Marketing & Promo: 30%
Production & Operations (photos for site, hang-tags, display): 10%
Customer Service: 30%
Fulfillment/Shipping: 5%
Accounting/Billing/Finances: 20%

9. They say that "A business that doesn't grow eventually dies..." How has your shop evolved since you first opened your doors back in May 2008?

Because of the location of the shop, I can’t rely solely on footfall to pay the bills. Through the contacts and communities that I now network with, I have now started organizing art and design events as a way of promoting Of Cabbages & Kings as well as sourcing extra income. I now see these events as key to the success of the business in the future.

10. If Oprah decided to give you $10,000 tax free for your business, but you had to spend it in one week, what would you do with it?

At the moment it’s freezing in here, so I’d definitely invest in some kind of heating system. I’d also like to advertise the website more and perhaps get some professional advise on e-marketing.

11. What's one thing that you wish you had known prior to opening your shop?

Just how long it takes to establish yourself.

Thanks Jessica!!