Learning To Survive

This is my most recent blog written for the Southern Daily Echo:

What did my shop achieve in 2010? Like most shopkeepers, I’m tempted to say ‘surviving’ was achievement enough. We did manage to do a little better than that. Our Winchester shop saw sales increase by 20% although that would have been better but for snow decimating some of our best Christmas trading days. Our website yourlifeyourstyle.co.uk increased its UK ranking by around 25%.

In a way, though, these achievements are also to do with survival. The longer you are around, the more people get to know you and visit your shop or website. Even so, there’s still a lot of work to be put in as well. All small shop owners will tell you that long hours and very little time off go with the territory.

It’s been a year of learning. We’ve learned a great deal about what sells and that has helped us make good decisions about what might also go well. For example, Steiff Teddy bears and Caithness Glass paperweights were a natural addition to collectible products such as Dartington Pottery, Jo Downs fused glass and Dora Designs animal doorstops. The last year’s success with handmade British hats and Blondie Mania leather handbags was built on the previous popularity of our silk scarves and Bill Brown natural bags.

We had some luck- the cold weather did lead to us selling a record number of Dora Designs draught excluders and handmade faux fur slippers. The Brooks Centre where our shop is located underwent quite a transformation with improved marketing and promotion and, of course, the arrival of Primark.

To improve our website’s Google ranking required considerable work- and that’s just to get it from outside the world’s top half million to inside the top 400,000! When you run a small business, you have to do as much as you can yourself. I’ve learned a lot about ‘search engine optimisation’ during the year, to the extent that I’ve even been able to help some other people improve their site rankings.

By the way, I’m all for competition but at the moment, I’m glad Google dominate online search and advertising. It’s time consuming enough working with one search engine without having to worry about a dozen others.

So that was the year. Most retailers are probably feeling it could have been worse, given the recession. As for 2011, I am confident Your Life Your Style has a robust enough customer base and an attractive enough offer to see us survive another twelve months. Generally I suspect the rise in VAT and unemployment will hit margins and turnover and tip quite a few other shops over the edge.

Happy New Year!

By Paul Lewis

After a short stint as a journalist, I have spent most of my working life in marketing and retailing. I love theatre and have been lucky enough to work in theatre marketing for many years. I provide small businesses and arts organisations with holistic marketing at an economic price through my company Seven Experience Ltd

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