This is your growth year: How to take the next step
“Targeted PR for us has always worked better than a scattergun approach.” Alice Major, We Built this City
Back in November 2014, Alice Major started her company We Built this City as a ‘London souvenir revolution’. It began as an eight-week pop up shop in London’s Carnaby Street so that visitors and locals could ‘take home a unique and lasting piece of the city’. The pop-up went so well that they were invited back in Spring 2015 and are now a permanent fixture, being hailed by Time Out as the ‘Best Shop in Soho’. They now have a collection of artwork and products from an impressive 250 creatives (plus some brilliant workshops and live events in store). We chat to Alice about her top tips for growth and how to drive your company forward.
As an independent retailer what have you found to be your biggest obstacles for growth and how have you overcome them?
When we first launched we had very limited start-up funding, so weren’t able to spend anything on traditional marketing. Instead we relied on PR contacts and the power of social media to build the brand and drive new customers into store. With such high footfall on Carnaby Street though, in the first eight weeks we decided to focus most of our energy on converting as many customers into store as possible - with live artists working in the window and giving away a free WBTC Gazette that mapped out our mission to revolutionise London souvenirs and introduced them to our creative community.
With such a small team in the early days, we also knew we were going to struggle to launch our e-commerce store at the same time as the bricks and mortar store. We had to make a call to focus our limited resource on refining and growing sales in-store and delaying the online launch until we had our feet fully under the table on what is such a big retail opportunity on Carnaby. My biggest fear is taking too much on all at once and doing everything badly - better to take each step at a time, learn more about the customer and get it right. We’re just about to launch our online store after two years trading on Carnaby and we’re unbelievably excited to see the international growth that it will offer the business.
As an independent retailer, you have to wear so many different hats until you can start expanding the team. That’s hard because you’re running in 100 different directions at once and can’t see how you’re going to grow anything without dedicated focus on each area. As soon as we had some money in the bank, I hired talented buyers across gifting and art - and a dedicated marketing manager. That’s given us an excellent start, but with over 600 SKUs and around 2000 people walking through our doors every day, the next critical hire is a merchandiser who can start digging into the sales data and helping us improve our product lifecycle. Retail is detail as they say.
When you are time pressed, what are your PR and marketing essentials?
We focus on the easy wins. We’ve worked hard over the last two years to develop some great relationships with journalists and influencers on London and travel titles which have had proven impact on footfall and sales. Targeted PR for us has always worked better than a scattergun approach.
We also focus on keeping our Instagram community up to date with new products and artist collaborations - we focus particularly on Instagram because it has again proven to increase sales in-store. We’ve also been able to make a surprising number of online sales through the channel before launching our full e-commerce offer.
As a creative retailer committed to supporting London artists, we also constantly seek to offer our customers ‘more than a transaction’ with a full programme of artist-led in-store events and workshops. This opens up a constant stream of additional PR and marketing opportunities for the brand and is a win-win for our artists and customers in the process.
What considerations would you make when hiring your first member of staff?
Our first store was a pop-up and we were given three weeks from the pitch to making it a reality, so hires had to be made incredibly quickly. I focused a lot on whether people could help me sell the brand and our artists in what was then going to be a very short two-month run. I now look for both that passion in the business, and our wider mission to help creatives, but also for people with nuts and bolts retail experience who have great attention to detail and can spot new opportunities for growth and improvement. Above all though, the most important attribute for me has to be that they 100% believe in your product and are excited to help you take it to the world.