We love indie shops here at 91, and often wish we could spend more time in them. Luckily for us, the trend for indie store owners collaborating with creatives to host workshops means we can do exactly that. It really is a match made in heaven. Michelle Evans talks to six shopkeepers to find out more about why they do it and how it benefits both their shop and the creatives they work with.
We all like to feel like we are part of something meaningful. We look towards things that speak about the kind of life we want to lead and hold values that resonate with us. That counts for the purchases we make too, and unlike the consumerism of the late 20th century, the modern shopper is much more mindful, ethical and considered about the choices they make in the things they buy.
Independent shopkeepers with a bricks and mortar residence, know that they offer one golden thing that no online store can replicate: a real life store experience. It’s the chance to connect with customers in a more meaningful way, giving them a more personalised and memorable experience. With this, retailers are finding ways to bring their shop to life by inviting creatives to join them with workshop experiences. It gives a unique way for a customer to participate with the shop, where they can feel part of the brand and learn something, or even make friends. For shopkeepers, it’s also the opportunity to collaborate with like minded creatives, inviting them to set up a mini studio in store, and help show customers what the shop is all about.
At Life Story in Edinburgh, owner Susan Doherty works with artists or makers who are associated with her business. ‘For example, when Squid Ink hosts workshops, they are using Sarah’s (the creative behind Squid Ink) branded mini looms, that we also sell in the store. Participants often come back to buy one for a friend having fully understood themselves how they work and what the benefits of the product are, having attending a workshop.’
Not only does this enhance the story of the product and maker, it also shows that the shop has a love for craftsmanship, and encourages the customer to try craft themselves. The workshops create a buzz, make people curious and want to come in and find out more. This helps to raise awareness of the shop and collaborators alike.
Having workshops in store is also a great way to build community. Natalie Jones has created an events calendar at Caro in Somerset to encourage collaboration. ‘Caro is situated in a very creative and convivial town. We are surrounded by a pool of people with a hugely varied arm of interests which I wanted to embrace at Caro. Having a space to encourage people to get together and learn a new skill or spend a few hours sharing ideas is a lovely thing to be a part of.’
The shop becomes a place of destination and discovery, where people not only build a more personal connection with the store, but also with each other. At Caro, Natalie has collaborated with creatives from jewellery designers to calligraphers to oscar winning photographers and says, ‘It has brought a fascinating mix of people to Caro which is fantastic.’
Upcoming workshop: Branding, Trends, Social Media & Blogging Workshop. Details here.
Veronika Pollard and Petrica Harmsworth had a similar philosophy when they began running creative workshops at Sarah & Bendrix in Cheam, Surrey. ‘We started running the creative workshops (called Inspired Collective) because we wanted to give something a little different to the local community than just a gift store. Our aim was to create a space where people can come together to learn new skills, explore their creativity and make new friends at the same time.’
Workshops are a way for Veronika and Petrica to know their customers more, and develop their relationship with the creative community. ‘We’re really keen on collaborating with local small businesses that focus on handmade, small-scale production, whether that’s through running workshops, stocking their product, and hopefully longer term, helping them to develop their business expertise.’
Fundamentally, the workshops have allowed us to be creative in different ways, brought new ideas and a closer connection to the local community. ‘Quite unexpectedly, we’re now working with a local creative crafting business, in hosting an event for a mental health charity, something we would never have envisaged a year ago!’
Building on shared interests is a very natural way for shops to collaborate with creatives. Kirsty Patrick runs floristry workshops via her shop Home ByKirsty, along with Beth at Forbesfield flower school. Their story began as shop neighbours in Cardiff, and after a few successful classes together at Kirsty’s new shop location in Roath, they decided to make the classes a regular event. With a combination of business savvy and floral artistry they have built a series of workshops across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.
‘We work so well together, not only in our creative style, but we also balance each out – Beth teaching with her incredible knowledge of all things green, while I do the hidden organising and businessy bits. Having a business partner that virtually reads your mind is priceless, as running a business is tough.’ Their work together has become a partnership, where unique qualities of one business and owner, helps the other. Kirsty’s bricks and mortar shop is the business base, while the workshops are in varied locations, helping to find new creative, engaged customers and spread the word about Home ByKirsty.
Hosting workshops or classes can build a closer connection between shops and their customers. It also helps show a deeper message or ethos behind the shop, that people can connect with. At Botany in East London, Angela Maynard has curated a series of events that encourage people to step away from the digital world and make something with their hands.
‘So many of us are stuck behind a computer during the working day or using social media instead of pursuing hobbies like we may have done in the past. So to be able to take a few hours to explore our individuality – either through a wildflower walk used to inspire bouquet making, pinch pot making with a mediative approach, botanical drawing using the shops plant life as the subject matter, or learning about essential oils and how to make your own natural skincare, helps us (I think) to explore aspects of our personality, using our brains in a slower, more relaxed and focused way, that we may have forgotten about or not used for a long time.’ There is something very grounding about doing simple things with our hands, and focussing in a gentle way. The workshops become a form of relaxation, the chance to slow down, learn and be creative.
At Bears Ice Cream company, imagination is their raison d’être: ‘Our mission has always been to give our customers the chance to experience creativity in some way. This is reflected in our unusual Signature Cone menu, the “make it yourself” Glacier or when they sit down and get drawing on our chalk table. Therefore it was a very natural step for us to start collaborating with Michelle Evans of Roxwell Press, on our watercolour x ice cream experience. For us food and art are two different mediums of expressing your passion.’
The class creates a unique atmosphere, and lets people ‘live the brand’, by learning to paint ice creams in watercolour, then creating a real one to eat. ‘Michelle brings her wonderful mix of bright colours into our shop and her relaxed way of teaching is a great start to our Saturday mornings. Collaborating with an artist brings in a great energy and seeing people leave after a painting class with a relaxed smile on their face and ice cream in hand makes our day.’ It has also opened up new avenues of collaboration, with gift and greeting cards designed by Michelle for the shop.
Michelle concludes: ‘As an artist and designer, collaborating with shops on workshops has been a fantastic way to’ step out of the studio and meet a new audience. It’s inspiring to be creative with a group of people, in unusual places, and for all of us it feels like a fresh, liberating experience. We all learn from one another, I get to know a group of people who frequent a shop I feel akin to, and they learn some new watercolour techniques. Everyone comes away with something that helps them develop, something meaningful.’