Greetings card success on the Isle of Man
“Be completely honest with yourself. Are you enjoying the job? Can you turn things around or are you just hoping things will magically improve?” Chris Beards, Mantons Cards
This week Chris Beards, owner of the award winning Mantons Cards on the Isle of Man, shares his tips for success after nearly ten years at the helm of his shop. What really comes through is Chris’s entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to try new things – absolutely crucial in retail which moved incredibly fast.
What precipitated your move into retail?
I started as a 14-year-old selling my own band’s T-shirts. Other bands started to ask me to sell theirs and soon I had a mail order, and then online retail, business selling band merchandise. After receiving a generous unsolicited offer, I sold the business at the start of 2008 and made the moved into bricks and mortar retail.
Having taken over the shop in 2008, can you talk through your planning and execution?
I’ve always loved sending greeting cards and Mantons came up for sale a few months after I’d sold the T-shirt business. At the time I took over, Mantons sold a lot of toys a selection of cards and no gifts. Since then we have become greeting card and gift specialists while still stocking a few high-quality toys.
Is there anything special/different about retailing on the Isle of Man?
The cost of everything is higher! Also, it can be more difficult and expensive to attend trade shows and events, so you can feel a little out of the loop. However, we have a great reputation as a card and gift retailer, so we must be doing something right!
You’ve got an intentionally narrow product category to allow you to specialise. What is the most important factor when choosing product for the shop?
The shop team are also responsible of choosing many of the products and the most important thing is the quality, right from its design and feel to the packaging and the value we can offer our customers.
How does your work/life balance look and how has that changed over time?
My family and friends refer to Mantons as my other woman, so I guess I must devote a lot of time to work. I’ve always worked hard but it’s something I enjoy, and I always have time to spend with my family and friends so I feel especially lucky.
How do you feel indie retailers can personally improve and support their own highstreet
It’s really a case of working together to promote their High St and retailers stocking different products to each other. Sadly, some shops just seem to want to stock poor quality versions of things sold a few doors away and this doesn’t help drive footfall.
What are your hopes for your business?
We have been offered a couple of exciting opportunities in the last couple of weeks that I am investigating further. Other than that we always look to grow our existing business year on year.
Does the political situation worry you or do you feel its effects on your business will be limited?
The main problem has been the weakness of sterling that has caused price rises. I’m certain Sterling will recover and just hope its sooner rather than later.
What advice would you give to retailers who are struggling?
Be completely honest with yourself. Are you enjoying the job? Can you turn things around or are you just hoping things will magically improve? Would you be better selling the business or closing and doing something else? If you honestly believe you can turn the business around invest all your time, money and energy as it won’t be easy.
What’s the best thing about being a retailer?
People. I love meeting suppliers and customers. Thankfully nearly all the feedback we receive is positive so that helps! Winning prestigious awards like ‘British Independent Retailer of the Year’ is amazing but none of the awards would be possible without the support of our customers and suppliers.
Are there any jobs in your business that you’ve outsourced to fill skills gaps?
The Mantons team have the skills for most things retail so we have just outsourced things like building works and updating our electricity etc. We are always improving our skills, personally I have attended retail seminars and The Oxford Summer School Retail course to continue to learn.
What was the best single decision you’ve made during your time at Mantons?
Buying the freehold to the building. The ground floor is about 2,500 square feet and it’s five stories so has plenty of room for our offices and storage. As well as saving on rent we wouldn’t have been able to remove walls if we were renting.
Do you feel the role of your website might change in the future?
At the moment I expect the website to remain a relatively small part of our business, but the way tech moves on you have to keep an open mind. Maybe websites will go the way of the fax machine in ten years’ time.
Thanks so much to Chris for sharing his experiences. If you’d like to share your successes and ideally your challenges as well, with fellow retailers on the site, please email me at email@example.com.