Well I was flattered to be asked to write a guest blog last year, telling our tale of year one in business at Bird’s Yard, and I am even more honoured to be able to say that through very difficult times, I am here again to write another guest blog for year 2…
Bird’s Yard is a place for small businesses to “have a go” and test their product in the market
It’s no secret that we are in an economic downturn, and to be honest I am really fed up of the very words, however it is very real in our business and has been a really tough year with lower disposable incomes and the extremely weird and very wet Summer we have experienced to date. Though I am not here to talk doom and gloom, we have survived to date and these challenges only set to make me stronger and more determined to succeed (and the thought of clearing the shop is too much to cope with) .
The idea of Bird’s Yard for me is to let people have a go, test their product, get some real customer feedback and act upon that where necessary. Year 2 has brought lots of internal tenant collaborations, two tenants (Bo Carter and Lisa Jayne Dann) flying the nest and opening new boutiques of their very own and lots of new tenants joining us.
A shop should be a destination!
I am very passionate that a shop should be more of a destination and our most exciting addition this year has been our vintage tea room hosted by the very lovely and respected Marvellous tea dance company. People now have more than just a shopping reason (though we have such amazing designers that should be enough reason), to come the 2 minute walk from the main shopping area, to our shop.
In tough times collaboration and community spirit is the key!
I have learned so much during the last 2 years and I would hope that this is the same for all the tenants that have spent time with us. I really enjoy that we all have a different skillset and work together as best possible to get what we may need with minimum outlay. For instance I have given free shop space to a seamstress in exchange for repairing any of my clothes that have been damaged on hiring out. It reminds me of the olden days (not that I was alive then of course), where people bartered for what they needed.
The local people are important to me too. I love to engage local artists and singers etc to promote themselves and have allowed local students to display their final year installations at the shop.
Recognition through awards makes us all very proud – we’re heading in the right direction!
What I am most proud of this last year is that we have won many awards, as a shop and singularly. We were named in ten of the best vintage shops in the North/Northwest and most recently beat two very prestigious Camden shops to win best UK shop in alt fashion magazine end of year poll. I see this as us heading in the right direction but we still have a way to go before we are earning decent salaries that warrant the time and hard work we all put into the shop.
I have seen lots of similar shops start up since we opened 2 years ago and I think that is a good sign for the high street and even better for the customer. I’m hoping with the relaxed laws on empty shops that there will be a lot more opportunity.
My best advice: Stick at it, have long term goals and realistic expectations
I know it’s been said a million times before but one piece of advice I would give to anybody starting a shop would be to stick at it, have a long term goal and realistic expectations. It doesn’t matter how much I try to get that message to some new tenants it doesn’t go in and its heart breaking for me when it doesn’t work for them because like me and my first shop 5 years ago, it doesn’t matter how great your product is, it’s a relentless task to keep promoting it before you have your reliable customer base.
Customers are the top priority
Customers are of course your number one priority and with shops like ours, we are still quite unique in the fact that we are like a department store but you get to meet the designer direct, and more often than not have a bespoke piece made up for you.
We are still very much aware though that it has been at least 10 years since independent shops thrived so most young customers think its “weird” that we might talk to them, and its hard enough getting older customers into the mindset that we can talk to them without just trying to force a sale on them. We have all been institutionalised whilst shopping in larger stores. Select the item and pay for the item with minimum interaction, if any…
I am pleased to say though that once they are over the initial fear, we show we don’t bite and their shopping experience can in fact be very enjoyable… that way we know we will see them again, and their friends, and their families… in fact most of our business is very much word of mouth and I especially love that the mum’s that go up in their children’s estimations when they discover this “cool” shop.
And the future?
Very much looking forward to year 3 and with the wish list given to the council for some Mary Portas money, maybe my vision will be somewhere near fulfilled… an arty hub of local creatives and likeminded customers. Somewhere they can shop, eat, drink and generally love to be. Time will tell!
Bye for now, Michelle AKA Bird xx
This blog was written by Michelle Walton of Birds Yard in Leeds.