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Independent retailers don’t want to compete with the big chains and multiples, so coming up with something different is the key, as these three from across the west midlands explain.

Chris Johnson Special Days, Oxford Street, Ripley, Derbyshire We opened in 1997 as a card shop when it was just vacant premises. I worked for CS Holdings who owned lots of High Street names, when they sold a big chunk of their stores to Facia but the people who bought them went into administration about four or fi ve months later. I was a multi-store manager and was made redundant.

I always said that if that happened, I’d try to start my own business. I used to work for Woolworths many years ago and one of my responsibilities was cards. Me and my wife Lynn looked at all different ideas and decided to go down the route of a card and gift shop. Then we looked at all the different areas near where we live and came to Ripley. I ended up taking one of the Government grants to start a business and got £50 a week for six months. We did everything ourselves and, looking back, you think ‘we could have done that a lot better or cheaper’, but we’ve gradually built it up. Since them we’ve tripled the store size with a big extension, and have gone into different things like Belgian chocolates from House of Sarunds. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go. When we started there was only us and Clintons, others have opened up since but we’ve now whittled it down again to Card Factory and another shop – but everybody thinks they can make money from cards these days, all the supermarkets sell them, Lynn and I both do the buying, we look at the ranges and come to a mutual agreement on what we’ll carry. Usually we do it through the reps, the last trade fair we went to, we happened to go on the last day but found a lot of potential new suppliers weren’t interested. The publishers we already dealt with were fi ne but new people just wanted to pack up. They had no brochures or fl yers left so we gave our card

to 10 different new suppliers and asked them to send through brochures and get their reps to talk to us. Only one bothered so we decided it’s not worth spending the money to get two of us down to the shows. It might only be a day but there’s travel and food costs, and we have to pay staff to cover us for the day in the shop, so it all adds up. We’ve found that shops locally have tended to go down


the value for money route so we try to go the opposite, we’re a From The Heart store with UK Greetings and we’ve just started stocking their Papyrus range which are a quality product and have had a good reaction. We try to stock things that others don’t have – the problem is that if we’re doing well with something other people see that and then stock it. On the gifts side, we do the Belgian chocolates though we found pre-packed boxes don’t go down very well here, people prefer to pick their own and put their favourites together. Cherries in brandy and champagne and strawberries are the top sellers. We try to have about 50 different fl avours in the counter at any one time. We also do Boofl e, Love

Home, Wax Lyrical candles, Willow Tree by Enesco. We do a lot of silver-plated gifts and some silver jewellery and all the party stuff, banners, balloons, etc and we do the balloon arrangements for parties. There’s currently no obvious trends really. In previous years

there’s always been a product that sticks out but at the moment nothing is selling particularly well though everything is selling quite nicely. There’s no logical reason or plan, just nothing that’s outstanding. For a small independent, it’s just me and my wife and a couple of staff, the biggest problem we have is suppliers who have no loyalty to you. We have some we’ve worked with for years as the only people in the town stocking their product, but when another store asks for it they let them. We’re the only people who lose out because our sale goes down but the supplier is still selling the same across the different outlets. We have to look for something similar but different. It just waters down the sales in a small town like Ripley, it’s a small market town. But we overcome these problems and we’re holding our own. What always sells very well for us is the Simply Tradition

range from UKG, it’s a good range and goes well so for that reason it’s my favourite range. There’s something for everyone, though maybe not for the under 30s whereas Pizazz by Nigel Quiney is very good for the younger age group.

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