There has been much debate as to the extent, timing and exact nature of the impending retail apocalypse that will fundamentally reshape physical retail as we know it. Amongst all this debate, one opinion has gained a consensus. Physical retail will have to earn its place in an increasingly digital world. To do that, it will have to offer an exceptional customer experience.
Clearly, larger retail chains have many competitive advantages when it comes to achieve that aim. They have every benefit that economies of scale bring them - from expertise of staff and investment in new technologies, to marketing spend and influence with suppliers.
On the flip side, independent retailers have an advantage in that they can cater for a very specific niche and are able to create an assortment and environment that fits with their surroundings. Despite the best efforts of centrally-controlled chains, this is much harder to replicate where a team in a head office is managing hundreds of locations. The more that society becomes attracted to unique, personalised experiences, the better placed an independent retailer is to capitalise on this trend.
Take the example of Stag and Bow. An independent boutique in South East London, Stag and Bow was started almost 7 years ago by Pascale Spall and her partner Cyrus. The shop front proclaims that they are “Purveyors of Craft, History and Haberdashery”. What that means to you and me is that it contains a handpicked selection of local crafts, vintage pieces and crafting supplies.
Since opening, Stag and Bow has evolved, offering a wide range of crafting courses, and attracting a loyal following in the local community. This post examines how this small store has managed to create a meaningful, positive customer experience through the ethos of the store, store environment, community involvement and connecting with the customer.
Stag and Bow is a clear example of retail with a purpose. Pascale, trained in couture dressmaking, started the shop with a vision of a somewhere that “celebrated the handmade”. Over that last 7 years they have benefitted from a resurgence in crafting, and a growing “interest in the provenance of something, wanting to know how it’s been made.”
She has a very simple criteria that allows her to make her product selection in line with the shop’s vision.
“Everything we sell in here has a story to it. Somebody's made it with love or it's been passed down from somewhere. With the old pieces, they've been passed on or they evoke a memory in someone. It's a lot about nostalgia. Everything should have had some sort of human interaction, human touch. Everything that is chosen has a story, has a past, a history. Everything will evoke a memory, or will make a memory.”
Pascale says she sometimes looks at what her competitors are doing and wonders if she should add products that are “commercial” but not in line with her ethos. By avoiding this temptation, the shop remains true to her original vision.
The first thing you notice about the shop is the glossy store front with gold foiled lettering and a large expanse of glass. “For 100 years, it was an undertaker's” says Pascale. “I remember the shop front from my childhood and I was fascinated by it even then.”
She uses the theatre of the shop front to great effect with eye catching displays such as a colourful flock of felt balloons.
The interior has the feel of a stage set, with the goods attractively set out as props. Despite a wide product selection, the boutique manages to avoid feeling cluttered or haphazard.
Admittedly, the counter is bursting with all manner of supplies, but these are contained within the wooden trays of a striking original haberdashery counter. In line with the ethos of everything having a story, the counter was passed down from a small village shop outside of Nottingham.
Having grown up in the area, Pascale says that she knows “everyone”. It is therefore no great surprise that the store is so firmly entrenched in the local area.
Firstly, the store promotes local makers and features many crafts made within a small radius. Additionally, right from the start, the store has offered a wide variety of crafting classes, including classes for kids.
However, what helps Stag and Bow stand out is their continuing dedication to the community and the creative ways that they manifest this.
Recently they have expanded to include an after-school crafting club at one of the local schools. This was partly motivated by the fact that skills such as sewing no longer make up part of the curriculum in many schools. There is a plan to expand these classes to cover more local primaries in the future.
Their most recent community venture is a collaboration with another local company. This has involved the creation of a “royal themed” pop-up bar in the store’s basement every Friday and Saturday night.
Connection with the customer
Stag and Bow attracts a loyal customer base and has embedded itself as an authority amongst the local crafting community. Partly this is due to the wide range of classes that are offered. However, another element is a weekly craft meet ups on a Wednesday morning for free. There are certainly casual drop-ins, but at the core of this weekly meetup is a devoted group of regulars who have been coming for many years.
By welcoming these core regulars, Stag and Bow have created dedicated brand ambassadors through the simple act of creating a space in the shop for local crafters to come together.
The connection with the customer is also evident in the staff’s passion for the product, and their ability to communicate the story behind each piece.
Speaking to a recent customer - they were converted from a browser into a buyer when a member of the store staff explained the story behind a vase they were considering. Not only did they know the craftsmen personally, they were able to share that this particular potter’s style had changed in recent years after he had split with his wife!
Through a clear vision for the store, a well executed interior, carefully selected product offering and strong connections to the customer and community, Stag and Bow shows how independent retail can be a great resource for those looking to build an excellent customer experience.
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