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March 25, 2024 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: & halt

Based on a shared love of modernist yet timeless design, the life-changing re-focus of the global pandemic inspired Nick and Alex to take the plunge and open & halt - a refreshing lifestyle concept, abundant with aesthetic and purposeful contemporary design
Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.
Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Hi Nick, how would you describe & halt?

We often describe it as a curated edit of homewares with a story and a purpose. We shy away from trends and seek out design-led pieces that you’ll enjoy for many years. Whilst we’re a store that contains lots of ‘stuff’, we’re not fans of stuff for the sake of it. We like products that won’t date and will last a lifetime. We always joke that you could live without every one of our products – you don’t need them – however, we want you to want them. Every item comes from a fusion of functionality and design, but it’s the latter that will always be the motivator to purchase.

We love products with provenance and can bore anyone (that’s willing to listen), to death with the story behind the product. We focus on making design accessible. Filling a space with high end design pieces would be easy. Filling the space with affordable designs, especially those with a Bauhaus/modernist aesthetic, remains our focus.Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store. Owners of &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

“The name & halt came from the moment of self-reflection and a time when the world stopped.”

 

What did you do before setting up your business?

I was in visual merchandising and retail design within the apparel side of the industry. I worked for many years at Reiss as Head of Global Visual Merchandising and then moved on to Charles Tyrwhitt working on VM, store design and in-store marketing. My partner, Alex, had always worked in retail management, the last role being a flagship manager for M&S.

We’ve worked on opposite sides of the retail spectrum for years and always had to operate with the greatest respect for each other’s roles, (where there can often be conflict). We have very different perspectives and varying skillsets which seems to work really well on both a strategic and day-to-day basis.

What inspired the idea of setting up your business?

I’ve always been interiors and retail obsessed and always dreamt of one day opening a shop. You get caught on the corporate hamster wheel though, and I considered it terrifying to jump off and risk everything. The pandemic however, forced my hand somewhat – first I was furloughed, and this was the first time in 20 years that I’d actually stopped what I was doing for more than a two-week period.

It was a time of huge self-reflection and soul searching, asking myself if I was truly happy with the path I’d found myself on. I soon realised that whilst I loved what I did, I was a bit over doing it for someone else. I was then later offered redundancy, and this was the encouragement I needed to tip me over the edge.

In terms of the brand, we always wanted to pitch it a little off centre, consciously avoiding what was already out there and carving out a design-led niche that we felt was needed at an affordable price point. The name & halt came from the moment of self-reflection and a time when the world stopped. This developed into simple branding and then we started the process of finding products we felt reflected our brand ethos. We then had to sit down and literally teach ourselves how to run a business. We went in with our eyes wide open, but it was still a massive learning curve.

What is the ethos or values behind your business?

The name & halt is a conscious reminder to pause and reflect, and a brand statement. We like products that create a moment and elevate everyday experiences. We live in some crazy, stressful times, and we think for self-preservation reasons, it’s vital to pause when you can and have a moment outside your day-to-day world.

We like to source products that make this moment as special and as personal as possible. It might only be a cup of coffee, but the coffee can be made ‘slow’ from the perfect dripper via an ergonomically pleasing pour-over kettle, into a tactile cup that pours to perfection.Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store. Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

Other retail is always our starting point. We’re hugely inspired by what’s out there and will always seek out inspirational retail across all sectors.

We also tend to fixate on people and what motivates them. Where do they eat, what do they drink, what car do they drive, where do they go on holiday, etc. There’s almost always a subconscious common thread through them all which we find fascinating. It was then about tapping into this when developing the brand. Being super clear about who we’re aiming at and never wavering.

We tend to have some major Bauhaus vibes running through our product offering, so we’ll always seek out great modernist architecture when travelling. We recently returned from an inspiration trip to Berlin and got far too excited about the Bauhaus museum and shop.

Tell us about your curation – how do you source your collections?

We currently stock products from over 80 different suppliers. This is a mix of tiny independents and some slightly bigger brands. We tend however, to only stock a handful of lines from each supplier and then curate the offer ourselves. Our customers respond well to this and tend to shop based on desire, not brand loyalty.

Whilst we have product from all over the world, Denmark and Japan tend to be the biggest sources of goods for us. There’s a real aesthetic crossover and a shared passion for minimalist detail, material, and functionality, rather than design for design’s sake. We consciously avoid going down a particular genre route, for example, Scandi would be too broad a stroke for us and therefore compromise design integrity. We have nothing from Sweden, yet over 20 brands from Denmark, for example.

In terms of sourcing, we do a lot of online and Instagram deep dives. A click, to a click to another click and before you know it, we’re obsessing over a rare Korean spoon! It’s hard to reign things in sometimes.

We also look at our favourite worldwide interiors stores outside the UK for inspiration. We back this up with trade events such as Maison d’Objet and 3 Days Of Design, where we can meet the makers and designers. We’ll always leave time for lots of comp-shopping however. We’ll seek out the best stores in their homeland and do a thorough deep dive.

 

“We tell stories throughout the space and aim to create an experience through service and environment.”

 

How did you approach the design of your space?

We wanted to create a slick and clean environment where the product can take pride of place. A striking yet accessible backdrop that would instantly resonate with a design-focussed consumer. We quickly identified a neutral palette and then focussed on three main materials – walnut, steel and polished concrete. The modernist influence popped up again and added a slightly harder edge to the overall aesthetic.

The environment is calm and considered and offers a refuge from the outside world. We consciously avoided anything gender or age specific along with any digital. We tell stories throughout the space and aim to create an experience through service and environment. We then looked at the sensory elements of the space. Deep, oud-based scents from Japanese incense, soft yet focussed lighting and edgy electro music to pique interest.Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store. Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

Tell us about your location and community…

We moved to Brighton from London a few years ago and were immediately struck by the friendly and welcoming nature of the city. It’s a kooky and creative place that welcomes anybody in a very non-judgemental way. Whatever your ‘quirk’, there’s a home for you here.

Central Brighton became the obvious place for the store, and we focused our search on the areas adjacent to the historic lanes. We’re in a new addition to the lanes, developed on the site of the old Hanningtons Department Store. Whilst we’re adjacent to the mid-upper market chain stores, our lane is a little haven for independents. It has a genuine community feel and our neighbours are incredible.

In fact, way too much time is lost in an average day by hanging out in each other’s shops and putting the world to rights. That, or talking each other off a ledge if business has been tough.

Has your business evolved since you began?

We opened the initial space in October 2021 and it took off from day one. It grew steadily and it soon became apparent that we would need more space at some point. This combined with the fact that we were beginning to develop some amazing relationships with our regular customers, and they were beginning to come to us for assistance in sourcing bigger items that we didn’t currently stock.

We started looking at new locations with greater square footage in early 2023, but were reluctant to move from a location that we loved. By chance, the adjacent store became available, and we decided to go for it. We acquired the space with the help of a super supportive landlord and knocked down the adjoining wall. We then refurbed the space and opened fully in September 2023. We now have the ability to stock a wider selection of product and the range has grown to include things like rugs, lighting and select furniture pieces.

Is the online community important to your work?

We’re incredibly happy with how our store is evolving and this is our comfort zone. We’re not great however, at general brand awareness and how to build an online business. We can ensure everything we put out there looks good, but we’re not great at getting it in front of the right people.

As such, we’ve acknowledged that we need help in this area, so we’ve outsourced the technical side to an external agency. It was important for us to find the right people to partner with. Someone that both understands and appreciates our brand ethos. We’ve created a very tactile and personable environment in-store and have gained the trust of our regular customers. Our challenge is how to get this message across online. Whilst we’re all about ‘bricks and mortar’, we’re fully aware of the need to grow the online business if we’re to maintain any kind of growth.

Instagram is very important to us, but again, we could be better at it. It’s a great way of bringing our brand to life and also an opportunity to network with suppliers, contractors and customers current and future.Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store. Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

“Every time a customer says something nice about our store, we genuinely get emotional.” Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

Working as independent store owners – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

We can honestly say that every single day is both terrifying and exhilarating! We will never not enjoy the creative freedom and control that comes with running your own business. We make our own decisions and live or die by them.

Every time a customer says something nice about our store, we genuinely get emotional. It’s such a hard and long process to go through the sourcing/purchasing/merchandising/marketing of getting every single product on the shelf. It then sits there, exposed – and you just have to cross your fingers that someone likes it. We’re still blown away every time somebody picks something up off the shelf and brings it to the till to pay. It’s both validating and humbling in equal measure.

The challenge, beyond the commercial necessities, is being able to switch off. We remain terrible at this! We consciously make time to go to the pub, or out for dinner of an evening, where we promise not to talk about work. We usually last about two minutes.

Of course, the main challenge is the lack of a guarantee of a salary going into your bank the same day, every month, along with pension contributions and paid holidays. It’s hard to walk away from this, but we still wouldn’t change anything for the world.

How do you approach marketing and PR?

We’re more quiet than we’d like if we’re honest. Despite being super proud and confident about what we’ve created, we’re still modest about putting it out there. We’re not hard sell people and are fully aware that some will love it and others won’t.

We look to collaborate with our stockists where possible, in terms of showing the product in the best possible light with a view to them promoting us through their channels.

We also have a great customer database whom we communicate to regularly. We create material that comes from us directly, with a personable tone of voice. We then tweak this material for new customers and share via Instagram, etc.

We’ve also leant on external help when it comes to PR. We’re very aware of our weaknesses and are grateful for expert assistance when needed. The challenge is keeping control of all output.Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

Favourite makers or products that you sell?

Whilst we’d never even consider a product that we don’t feel passionate about, we do have a couple of suppliers that have been incredibly supportive since day one. When we pulled a brand pack together pre-launch and approached a number of brands, we were often turned down by some of the bigger brands who weren’t prepared to take a punt on us. (it remains satisfying, however, to now be chased by them).

Two smaller brands that stand out are Sheyn and Sophie Home. The former being an incredible 3D print studio from Vienna, and the latter a London-based textile company. We genuinely adore these business owners and couldn’t be more grateful for their unwavering support. Of course, it helps that they’re also some of our best sellers.

As we push into the world of beauty and home fragrance, it’s great to have some incredible brands with a story on board, such as Haeckels, Kleen Soaps, Union Of London and from Japan, APFR.

What have been your business highlights so far?

When we first opened the shop Alex was still working full time, as the business was unable to sustain us both. When the expansion opportunity came up, we saw it as an opportunity to grow with the ultimate aim of supporting us both. When we signed the additional space, Alex handed in his notice. A terrifying moment – but a real turning point in our journey. We’re now at a point where we can both focus full time on the business and we’re incredibly proud that we’ve got here relatively quickly.

Our other main highlight was our launch party for the new space. When we threw a first birthday party in the original small space, it was us, some family and friends, and a tiny amount of customers. It was a real life-questioning night. Fast forward 12 months and the party for the new space was incredible – jam-packed full of the most amazing customers who were genuinely out to celebrate our success, saying the most incredible things to us. It was so unbelievably humbling, and we still get completely choked up when talking about it.

What does your ideal day off look like?

When they’re so few and far between, it’s tempting not to leave the sofa. However, we always have a vain attempt to switch off from the business and consciously try and do things unrelated to retail. We forget how lucky we are with where we live when we work so many hours, so we like to try and explore the area as much as we can with lots of coastal walks and sampling of new pubs and restaurants. It’s also our only opportunity for a good family catch up, so we try and combine the two.

If we’re not doing this, then we’re drawn back into all things homewares. So, we jump on the train and pop to London for a good look round some independent homeware stores. We’re constantly looking for new ideas and inspiration, and London is perfect for this.Shopkeeper Spotlight with &halt, a Brighton interiors and lifestyle store.

Any good advice for aspiring store owners?

Remain focussed and then do things with conviction. Don’t waver from your original concept until, at least, you’ve given it everything you can. It’s all too easy to panic and veer off in a different direction, but you lose what’s at the heart of your concept this way. By trying to be all things to all people, you tend to end up being nothing to anybody. Remember that it’s not a vanity project. Try not to take things too personally (we’ll let you know when we’ve achieved this).

Analyse every single thing about your competitors. What are they doing well and what are they doing badly? The latter is a greater opportunity than the former.

On a commercial level, the biggest challenge we found when starting out was the location and the footfall versus rent quandary. You’ve got to be super confident to go for the high rent model from day one. Equally however, don’t be lured in by a low rent offer on a premises that is way off pitch. Becoming a ‘destination’ is tough and takes time. Our advice would be to go somewhere in the middle. Busy adjacent.

What does the next year hold for you?

We’re not very good at standing still and as such, have three main focusses for the year ahead.

The first is growing online sales. We’re not the best at promoting ourselves online. We’ve therefore acquired the services of an amazing external agency who will hopefully grow the online business and increase our, currently lacking, brand awareness.

Secondly, we are on a continual hunt for new and exciting product. We have a good few trips planned in an effort to source amazing things that you won’t have seen elsewhere. We also want to explore the possibility of manufacturing our own products, either solo or collaboratively with select, existing suppliers. This is something we’ve dipped our toes into and had great success with.

Finally, we’re looking at potential brand extensions. Areas that can sit under the & halt umbrella and help us increase brand awareness.

andhalt.com

@andhalt

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