Case Study: A fabulous first year in Stirling

Case Study: A fabulous first year in Stirling
“I listened carefully to what my customers needed and I invested heavily in marketing in every way I could including hand delivering leaflets to almost all of Stirling” Lisa Davidson, Tinkerbell’s Emporium

Lisa Davidson in her shop, Tinkerbell’s Emporium

We Love to hear your stories here at Inside Retail and I’m especially excited about this one from Lisa Davidson, Creator of Tinkerbell’s Emporium in Stirling which sells fairy and other magical ephemera to adults and kids alike. She’s had a stonking first year and has been kind enough to share her how her dream shop came about.

How did you decide to take the leap and become an independent retailer yourself?

I had been planning the shop for six years prior to opening I knew it would happen one day. I had a wonderful career in the hospitality industry spanning 14 years starting out cleaning bedrooms in a small hotel on the Island of Islay where I grew up through to achieving my ultimate career goal at The Gleneagles Hotel. After 5 years at Gleneagles I realised the time was right and I was ready to make my retail dream a reality,  ’My Next Chapter’ as I referred to it was about to begin (and yes everyone thought I had gone mad).  It was the biggest leap imaginable and I haven’t ever looked back.

I had my business plan perfected and made sure I explored every avenue in terms of shop fitting, rent and basic things like utilities and insurances. The shop fit was my biggest expense but I had saved so hard in the lead up that I was able to have everything I wanted in my own bespoke design including my fireplace and brick wall!

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The shop fit heros – fireplace, cart (left) and stone walling.

Can you tell me how you decided where to be, and what to sell?

I loved Stirling, such a quaint City steeped in history and as soon as I saw the empty shop I knew instantly that it was the right place for me.  Knowing what I was going to sell was easy, I had been planning my shop inside and out for so long that I had considered every detail from smell to sight to touch. Realising the vision was the challenge!

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You’ve had a great first year so you obviously made some good decisions, what is the most important factor when choosing product for the shop?

For me it is knowing your brand and sticking to it, my shop was always going to be an emporium which lends itself to selling lots of different items however I do have a theme which is about bringing the woodland magical feel to the shop. I do that through products, shop design and product display which for me is plenty of wooden logs, my beautifully crafted wooden cart in the centre and using lots of fairy lights and trailing ivy to create a magical restful place for customers to enjoy the shop.  Music plays a big part too and I listened to endless hours of fairy inspired music before finally settling on an album by David Arkenstone, which has become part of the brand and customers love it.

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Lisa’s fairy fireplace

What advice would you give others for their first 6 months of trading?

I started slowly despite having so many ideas about changes I wanted to make to the shop. I listened carefully to what my customers needed and I invested heavily in marketing in every way I could including hand delivering leaflets to almost all of Stirling, just to be sure I knew that my leaflet would be separate from everyone else’s. I think it’s important to give 100% on every single aspect of your own business.  I have always been a ‘roll up your sleeves and get stuck in’ type of worker alongside being a slight perfectionist and this combination works well.

How do you market the shop?

I do everything possible alongside my old fashioned flyer delivery.  I use social media and allocated a budget to place myself in as many directories as possible.  There are new interactive screens across the UK, two are in Stirling, and I feature on these which is great for tourists looking to shop.  I worked hard on Trip Advisor and am ranked as the second place to shop in Stirling and I recently upgraded my Google listing to include a 360 degree virtual tour of the shop which will be on my website too as of November, this will really help showcase the magical feeling of the shop.  I think it is important to invest as much as possible in marketing and be as creative as you can.

How did your first Christmas go? Any surprises?

Last Christmas I had only been open for 2 months and because I turned the whole shop into a magical winter wonderland I think everyone thought I was a Christmas shop! I set up a full size red post box to allow children to send letters to Santa and I wrote back to them all with a gift after the fairies took their letters to Lapland.  My customers definitely appreciate how much effort I put in to making everyone’s experience personal and as magical as possible.

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Retail Detail! Lisa’s handwritten replies to her young Christmas customer’s letters to Santa

How does your work/life balance look and how is that compared to what you expected?

I used to work the craziest hours in hospitality so I know how hard it can be on family life but for me it doesn’t feel like work anymore. I absolutely love my shop, it is so much fun and I spend plenty of time at home now, always in time for dinner!

What are your feelings on the health and vibrancy of your highstreet?

I think Stirling is blessed with lots of different little shops and streets for visitors and locals alike to meander through, the big shopping centre provides all the high street shops that you find in any city and my shop definitely wouldn’t fit in there so I find it a perfect balance.  I make it my aim to always help customers find what they are looking for in Stirling so I regularly go and look around the smaller shops to make sure I know what they have, I send customers to other shops every day and I know they appreciate this support, it is how any community of shops should be and I definitely feel part of ours.

What are your hopes for your business?

Fun is always top of my agenda, every day I am thinking of new ways to wow my customers and I love this about being in charge of my own business and being able to make changes on a daily basis.  I have been asked if I will open a second shop but for now I am delighted to be such a big part of making little dreams come true every day. Some of my customers come to the shop calling it “their happy place” and that is as big a compliment as you can get as a shop owner.  There are lots of avenues to explore such as story telling for children, kids parties, competitions…it really is endless but for now I am staying focussed on enjoying year two and seeing how the business grows as it moves into a more established position within the community.

What advice would you give to retailers who are struggling?

If I ever felt that my shop was struggling then I would ask for help but right now I am loving the journey that I am on.  I think that often retailers can struggle if they are in competition with either online or offline retailers selling the same products and I am lucky enough to always stick to unique items, unusual gifts that aren’t in any of the surrounding shops which makes me a go to place for people looking for a gift with personality.

What’s the best thing about being a retailer?

Definitely the interaction with the customers, I meet such wonderful people every day and my customers often give me unusual projects to work on whether it is sourcing something they can’t find or building an indoor fairy garden for their living room. My customers know that I am on their side.

What was the best single decision you’ve made so far within the business?

To embrace social media and use it to help the business, and it really does. I use Facebook to stay in touch with my customers and regularly run competitions to give back to those who support the shop.  I have given away everything from Unicorn Bundles to Fairy Gardens!  I use the seasons to determine what I do next, Halloween sees pumpkin carving in the design of a Fairy Garden and of course Christmas gives me a chance to indulge in my love of a Winter Wonderland, the children love it.

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Do you feel the role of your website might change in the future?

My website was always secondary to the shop unlike a lot of businesses which rely on their site to sell. For me it remains a huge challenge to create the shop atmosphere but I will use the quieter months to focus on making any changes I can to capture more of the ambience of the shop.

What is your biggest achievement this year?

I have made the finals for the Stirling and Falkirk Business awards in for Best New Business and also Boutique Gift Shop of the Year, and I’m so proud to be involved in it.  I am hosting a birthday party for the shop and I am hoping that by having an event like this will generate more sales which should in turn make some space for my Christmas stock.

How do you support local services?

I feel that it so important to give back to the community as much as possible and so each month I support different local events with raffle prizes where I have supported everything from MacMillan Coffee mornings to ladies days to the Scouts! This year I sponsored a runner in the Stirling Marathon and she did amazingly well. I love being part of all of these things and it builds more and more trust and respect within the community at the same time.

*Thanks so much to Lisa for sharing her retail journey, we’ll look forward to checking back in as she gets stuck into her second year. If you’d like to share your successes and ideally your challenges as well, with fellow retailers on the site, please email me at *sophy.searight@ascential.com.

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