In The Digital Era
'It’s encouraging to see a growing vigour in independent retailers across the UK. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the customer both needs and wants to be present when shopping for some items, as well as having online options, and that this will hopefully have a positive impact on independent shops.' Alan Hawkins, CEO, British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA)
We hear a lot about the death of the high street, how internet shopping is killing off our favourite shops. It is true that many of the independent shops on our high streets have pulled down the shutters and moved online, but this has not diminished our love of the trusty shop. Contrary to the assertion that the high street is dead, 2015 actually saw the growth of independent retail units in the UK. So, why do we still love a good old-fashioned shop, when shopping from home has never been easier? We spoke to four of our favourite brands to see what's keeping their tills ringing in the age of one-click shopping.
“It’s about the language and the landscape your product lives in; the packaging, the entertainment, circus, the education – all those things encompassed. You look at all the great brands that succeed today – they have storytelling elements. They draw the consumer in to be the creative heartbeat, as well as the consumer of their product.”
Jo Malone MBE
In a small town topped with a castle, down a cobbled street and hidden inside an old industrial building that once made needles, you find will Popsicle, a neon explosion of colour, design and fun. In a town characterised by subdued Farrow and Ball lounges , tones of flint and grey skies, Popsicle and its creator Sharon Makgill are flying the flag of colour in this very British County Town.
Everyone in Lewes knows Sharon for her love of colour, and she describes herself as a 'walking rainbow, flying the flag of colour'. In the 1980s when everyone was wearing black, she would be travelling the London underground wearing rainbow leggings. Sharon has always had a love of colour and often wondered where it would lead her. 'People need colour in their lives, it will never go out of fashion' Sharon has always loved the idea of creating her own unique space and with a background in the visual arts, merchandising, retail and floristry, she was determined to make this vision a reality. In 2014 Popsicle opened its doors for the first time and flooded the county town with colour.
Opening an independent shop is never easy, but Sharon was determined she would not simply take the online option. For her, online is "boring". She loves the touch and feel of physical goods, to smell the candles, to touch the fabric, it's all part of the retail experience that cannot be replicated online. Popsicle is not just a shop it's an experience and Sharon likes to "put a smile on people's faces, to be able to give someone a little lift is so special" she says.
There's something about the human connection that makes shops like Popsicle so special and valuable in our communities. Sharon takes retail therapy to a new level, and many of her customers visit regularly for their shot of colour therapy. From cancer survivors to those simply having a blue day, just being in Sharon's shop lifts the spirits '. She firmly believes "you don't need drugs, you just need colour."
"People need colour in their lives, it will never go out of fashion"
This year Popsicle celebrated its second birthday with a series of number 2 illustrations designed by some of her favourite designers. Popsicle is not just a friendly space, it's a great example of talented branding and a keen eye for good design. Sharon knows it's important to create a strong brand and was inspired by Danish design where "nothing is ugly and everything is thought through". She worked with Design agency Studio Makgill to produce a strong & recognisable brand identity. Sharon is also keen on championing artists, designers and makers. She sells goods by quirky makers like Lou Taylor who creates perspex jewellery, artist Olivia Bullock and French Illustrator from Brighton, Hello Marine. Popsicle does not only stock great design pieces, Sharon also believes in sharing the design experience and offers workshops making festival headbands, t-shirts to inspire interest in design concepts and creativity.
Although she loves the space she has created, Sharon likes to get out of the shop and embark on inspirational trips. She visits Morrocco to buy directly from the makers enabling her to get a sense of the heritage of the product. She likes to use other small businesses in the U.K and abroad, to ensure that her products are ethically produced and not created in exploitative sweatshops.
Sharon has created a space that makes her happy every time she opens the door, adorned with multicoloured pom-poms obviously. Her shop is a vibrant welcoming space and she 'Likes to keep it real with affordable goods with a sense of fun'. From young girls spending their pocket money on hot pink hair slides to a grandmother indulging herself with a neon scarf, Popsicle brings a little colour to a land of grey skies, a little slice of the rainbow, a little piece of happiness.
Top & bottom: Popsicle, Lewes.
Photographs: Steve Nyman & James McCauley
The history of Cire Trudon begins in Paris in 1643. Claude Trudon opened a shop on the rue Saint-Honoré where he sold candles to the public, supplying church candles to the neighbouring Saint Roch parish. From humble beginnings, the Trudon family established themselves as the finest wax and candle makers in the French kingdom, serving the Court of Versailles and later becoming the official provider of the Court of Louis XIV. So popular with the monarchy were his candles, that Marie Antoinette continued to send for their candles from her prison cell!
Cire Trudon were also famous for their factory, the biggest and most beautiful wax-producing factory in the French Kingdom! Trudon’s Latin motto and its emblem were engraved on a stone plaque on the factory building: a depiction of hives and bees bordered by the saying: deo regique laborant – “They work for God and for the King”. The Trudon's were incredibly skilled and produced a wax of very high quality, collecting wax from the best hives in the kingdom. Once recieved it was bleached through a series of pure water baths, dried in the open air and whitened by the sun. The factory also imported the finest cotton to manufacture the wicks and Cire Trudon candles became the utmost luxury, the very best that money could buy.
Long after the demise of the royal courts and the birth of gas and electricity, Cire Trudon still supplies the Saint-Roch church in Paris, which has been burning their candles ever since its creation in 1643. Their shops are now scattered across Paris, London and New York and are decorated with antique blue and gold, candles displayed in glass domes. Although their candles are available to purchase online the world over, Managing Director of United Perfumes Chris Yu, strong advises visiting one of their stores in you can.
'When it comes to smell you can never replace the physical experience. Walking into our Chiltern Street store the first thing you’ll notice is the unique scent of all the 30 different scented candles mingled together to hopefully transport you to another time. So many times our customers in the shop actually close their eyes when they smell - then a huge smile breaks out on their faces. No matter how hard you try you just cannot recreate that online.'
Everything about their shops reflects the quality, history and provenance of a brand that is fit for kings and Queens. You are not simply buying a candle but a piece of French History, a flickering testament to quality, longevity and artisanal excellence. Now close your eyes and imagine that...
Top & bottom: Cire Trudon. Chiltern Street, London
Photographs: Paul Raeside
Situated on the bohemian island of Södermalm in Stockholm you will find PÄRLANS, a caramel shop with a difference. Caramels were very popular in Sweden, especially in the 1930s. Gradually over time they fell out of favour and were only consumed at Christmas. In 2010 PÄRLANS set out to bring back the beloved treat with beautifully packaged artisan caramels and caramel sauces. They now distribute their products worldwide to places as far flung as South Korea.
Literally translated as Pearl, a Swedish nickname for someone dear, PÄRLANS offers much more than a sugary fix. Visiting the shop at Nytorgsgatan 38 is an olfactory, nostalgic and sensual experience that could never be replicated on the digital mall. Although they conduct a large amount of business online, opening a shop was crucial as Lisa explains
"Our product, artisanal caramels, was something new to the Swedish market and we had to be totally transparent. Next to our shop we have a kitchen where we cook our caramel, and there are big windows facing the street. People passing can feel the sweet smell of the buttery caramels, see the fresh cream and real butter that is going into the copper kettle, and the old vintage machinery. In every sense, they can feel that our caramel is different than the ones you can buy at the big supermarkets."
What PÄRLANS offer is a story, a little escape from the often harsh reality of the modern world. Even during economic recession people still find the money for relatively inexpensive sweet indulgences. When people twist open the wrapping of a vanilla & sea salt caramel and pop it into their mouth, they are not only tasting the joy of the sweet, salt and butter combination, they are engaging with a story, a little bit of gentle nostalgia. Inspired by the look and feel of the 1930s and 40s, customers can watch perfectly lipsticked girls with their hair curled, stirring the copper pots whilst listening to vintage jazz. But the experience doesn't stop there; when they get home, open the silk ribbon, unfold the tissue paper, twist open the wrapper and pop the caramel into their mouth, they are again experiencing the magic of PÄRLANS. As Lisa explains, "People are fond of products with a story".
According to Lisa, the recipe for PÄRLANS success is simple "I believe that many people are fascinated by what we do, and they really love the atmosphere. It makes them happy, it is as simple as that I think."
Top & bottom: Parlans caramel shop at Nytorgsgatan
Photographs: Joline Fransson
Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, close to Spitalfields market is a culturally diverse and creative area, attracting shoppers and visitors from across the globe. Here you will find the much talked about Labour and Wait, serving their loyal customers in a former green tiled Victorian pub. Labour and Wait is a design led shop selling homewares, hardware, gifts and clothing. Their brand is focused on tradition and durability, a brand whose identity has been strong enough to support concessions in New York and Japan.
For founders Simon and Rachel, a brand is not simply a mark of fashion but a particular experience and environment. Although online trade is vital to their business, Simon believes that "A physical shop is really important. Online shopping is convenient and is a very important sales channel, but it cannot convey the essence of a brand the way a physical shop can. When you step into a real shop you are entering the ‘World’ of that brand. There are many sensory experiences, which cannot be replicated, from the feel of the products, the way the staff interact with the customer, even the smell of the shop or the type of music being played. These qualities are essential in conveying what a brand stands for."
Online shopping may often be cheaper and more convenient but there is definitely something to be said for the human touch, opportunities for human interaction. As well as selling quality goods, Labour & Wait like to offer some good old-fashioned customer service in a global city that can often lack human intimacy. "When we opened Labour and Wait we were keen to create an environment where people could meet and where the customers would feel at ease to talk to the people behind the counter. We hoped we could create a friendly atmosphere where people could take their time. Hopefully this is the case. Many customers have become good friends. Our customers really do seem to love coming to our shop. They often comment on the atmosphere, the general ambience and particularly the smell!"
In order to understand the allure and perseverance of the shop, it is important to realise that the shop is not simply a place for the exchange of money for goods, but a place of human interaction, storytelling, magic, tradition and history. When we enter the best shops we are transported into the world of the shopkeeper's creation, a sanctuary or an awakening. When we take the goods home we take a little bit of the experience away with us, imbuing the object with a very special quality that cannot come from an online process. Shopkeepers can be a comfort to the lonely, inspire us with their stories and creative brands, make our lives a little more magical with daily moments of simple happiness.
Napolean was only half right when he said "L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers" , shopkeeping and shopping are a global passion, from Shoreditch to Stockholm, we all love a good shop. Little theatres of creativity, where basic exchanges have more value than the sum of money spent.
Top & bottom: Labour & Wait, Shoreditch
Photographs: Copyright Labour & Wait
Lagom Design would like to thank all of the shopkeepers who took part in the creation of this article at such a busy time in the retail calendar.