We meet some of our independent business owners to understand how they have been adapting their businesses to meet the needs of customers.
Hootie Toot Jewellery
In 2018 Lesley Powell opened her shop Hootie Toot in Stevenage Old Town. She sells handmade wire work jewellery with ethically sourced and fairly traded materials, crystals, festival wear and gifts.
How have you adapted your business to keep customers happy?
I think we all have to work a lot harder to attract customers, it is not an option to wait for people to find us. I am really active online. I have Facebook and Instagram and post very regularly.
I created my own online shop and I will post anywhere in the UK.
If my local customers buy online early in the morning, I can often have it delivered to them for a £3 flat fee by the end of the same day. I use Box Bike, a Stevenage-based bike courier and delivery service.
Is the environment a key concern for you?
It is very important to me and many of my customers to be environmentally friendly and I am a single use plastic free shop and offer a range of vegan friendly products too.
One of the reasons I use Box Bike is that they use bespoke Dutch e-assist cargo bikes and I like the fact that they are free from pollutants.
I also operate a click and collect system, customers can ring me or use the online shop and I can have their order ready for them to collect when they are in town shopping in other local businesses.
My shop is small and packed with stock and I like to serve customers personally and allow them time to browse. I have implemented a queue system and in poor weather I have a waiting room upstairs in my shop so they can wait in comfort.
Why should people shop locally?
If people want a diverse and interesting high street then they need to shop with local businesses whenever they can.
However it is a two-way process. To attract shoppers, businesses need to adapt to suit customers needs. I work hard to find things that people want to buy that are a little unique.
When you shop in your local high street you have human interaction. I love to chat with my customers – we all need a bit more human contact!
The Bike Stop
Monica and Martin Brown have been the proprietors of Bike Stop in Stevenage Old Town since 2012. The extensive building houses rooms upon rooms of motorcycle equipment and clothing and comprises a coffee shop on the ground floor.
How have you adapted your business to meet customer’s needs?
We invested in a new and sophisticated online shop and we ramped up our social media activity. We installed a studio on the shop floor from where Martin makes short films to demonstrate our products which we post on YouTube and link to our Instagram and Facebook pages. Retail and the way people shop, is ever-changing. To compete with others in our niche it is imperative for us to adapt and learn how to use all the business tools at our disposal. We are not afraid to embrace technology and use it to communicate with our customers and refine our service procedures.
What can people expect to see in your shop?
Our shop is a Tardis; there are many different rooms on our first floor and so we are able to provide customers with personal service. Our static bike is available for people to try out the fit of leathers and other clothing. We also have a cafe on the ground floor of the shop.
Why should people shop locally?
Stevenage Old Town has so many niche independent businesses. Because we stock highly valued brands, and we have such an extensive range, we have a large customer catchment area and our customers regularly travel up to 2 hours to visit our shop. It is really good for the local economy if our customers spend time in the town and visit other businesses to buy goods and services. This local cross referral and increased dwell time doesn’t happen if people buy on the internet. Stevenage has a motorcycle heritage and we think that our business provides an important link to this heritage. This local distinctiveness is what makes a town unique and interesting. We really hope that people see value in supporting the local business community.
We have events for example we have had the CCM motorcycle display bikes and team members at our shop. Racing legends Dougie Lampkin and Carl Fogerty the Superbike visit here as CCM ambassadors.
We are just really excited to see people in our shop and coffee shop. You don’t have to be interested in motorcycles to come in for a coffee and cake!
In 2017 Luke Hannington and Brian Keay opened Revolution Records in Stevenage Old Town. The shop is a record collectors paradise and it sells records, singles, CDs, music CVDs, t-shirts and memorabilia.
Why Should People Shop Locally?
When people buy from a local shop they are contributing to the local economy and keeping the high street open. We offer a personal service, a huge depth of knowledge about our products. We love chatting to our customers and sharing our passion for music. Face-to-face service is incredibly important in retail. We can get to know customers and recommend something they will enjoy listening to.
Vinyl has made a revival lately?
Yes there has been a steady growth in sales, and now 1 in 4 album purchases are on vinyl. Some people say they love the imperfections and the superiority of analogue sound, which changes how we perceive music.
People are investing in both modern and vintage records and we have a large selection of both.
Do you feel you offer customers a unique experience that they can’t can’t get by shopping online?
For our customers, taking the time to come into the shop to choose records that suit them is incredibly satisfying.
Music lovers go through our racks, discovering different artists, and this brings a greater sense of appreciation and connection to what they select.
Vinyl records are great to hold and they have interesting covers, some with incredible art. We are always happy to find music for people and if we don’t stock it we can likely place special orders for customers.
The Old Town does have quite a music niche and some of our neighbouring businesses include Coda, the guitar specialists, the Practice Roomz, and of course we have the annual Old Town Live music festival.