Retail 101: How Was It for You?

By Emma Bell
on January 13, 2020

Vivienne Ross - small ceramic bowl. We’ve been hearing a lot on the news recently about profits and turnover being down in the run up to Christmas for high street retailers like John Lewis and M&S.

Well we’d like to give you a bit of good news - that’s not the case here at the Mulberry Tree! In fact it is quite the opposite! Our turnover for Nov and Dec was up by 13% on the previous year and our profits were pretty healthy too!  

For us indies it can get quite disheartening when we continually hear about the demise of the British High Street - in most cases it only reflects the big high street names and isn't what is happening in indie retail world.  Now I'm not saying it's easy, in fact it's bloomin' hard work but it would be nice to have a bit more balanced reporting!

We now just need to hold our nerve in January when it all goes very quiet (cue The Mulberry Tree Gallerytumbleweed) and try not to panic when on some days we only take £20 and you wonder whether you’d be better off at home with your feet up!

Now we could take all the credit and say it’s because we’re so amazing but let’s face it that ain’t the truth! It’s a joint effort between us all - our artists and makers, our suppliers and you our customers. The message of supporting indie retailers is loud and proud and you are responding, so thank you very much - because of you all we have a thriving high street here in Swanage full of wonderful indies and family businesses.  

Independent retailing is without a doubt having a resurgance with many new shops opening up and they are leading the way in creating innovative spaces, ideas and what we think the high street needs to look like and how it can best serve its community.  As we've said before it also means that as an indie retailer we are rooted in our community – not just by the physical presence of the bricks and mortar that make up the building but by the fact that we employ local people, helping them earn a living, supporting their families and being part of their lives.    For our customers, we are often part of the happiest and sometimes the saddest moments Thank Youin their lives whether it be through the purchase of a greetings card, a birthday present or the framing of artwork, photographs, cross-stitches, certificates or memorabilia – it can be really humbling and an aspect of our work that can easily be forgotten.

So finally because you choose to show your work here, because you choose to give us an account to sell your products and because you choose to spend your hard earned pennies with us we’re still here after more than 30 years! Not bad for a small gallery and framers in a little seaside resort on the south coast of England!


Retail 101: Evolving and Changing

By Emma Bell
on November 10, 2019

Latin ēvolvere to unroll, open, unfold.

Ruth Taylor - White Lines However, much we’d like the world of retail to stop sometimes so we can catch our breath the reality is that if we do it’s likely to die a quick death and the gallery along with it.

I was watching a new Netflix documentary last night “The Call to Courage” by Brene Brown (watch it if you get a chance) where she talks about getting into the arena and how this quote from Roosevelt inspired her

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

You don’t need us to tell you that having a retail space is a 365/24/7 endeavour.  Like any living organism it needs to be able to evolve and adapt so that it stays relevant and alive.  This is what gives us the sleepless nights but also gives us the amazing highs.  We’re always thinking about what we can do better, what we can change, what we think you’d like to see, how we can support our artists/makers, how we can ensure that the British High St remains relevant, what is our part in making sure that it does and a myriad of other questions! Hannah Hann - Hannah's Flowers

Sometimes we’ve tried things that haven’t worked, we’ve messed up, we’ve given poor customer service – we could go on and on!  But through it all has been the desire and drive to make sure that we’re still here, our story still unfolding, still giving our customers a great shopping experience, still employing local people and above all having fun!

So as @brenebrown encourages us all we need to “get in the arena, show up, do your thing and don’t be afraid to get your ass kicked a little bit”


A Few Ethical Selling Points: Post by Artist Sarah Ross-Thompson

By Emma Bell
on October 20, 2019

Sarah Ross-Thompson Gallery artist Sarah Ross-Thompson posted this piece recently on her Facebook page - if you're an artist I would highly recommend that you follow Sarah's page she has many useful tips and hints and I would say very much understands both the artist and gallery perspectives in regards to selling. 

"I recently received an enquiry, asking my advice about selling artworks via platforms such as e.t.s.y. The enquirer also asked how selling in this way would sit with any gallery representing an artist. Now obviously I can’t answer for a gallery but I CAN share my personal opinion.

It is an interesting point with more and more opportunities for artists to represent themselves via social media, websites and Open Studios. However, having spent over 20 years working with a large number of galleries, I can vouch for the importance of mutual respect. With a healthy regular monthly income from a number of galleries it is clearly important to me to be fair to both them and me. Here are a few points I consider important.

Pricing Parity. If you sell from your website or on an alternative selling platform it is Sarah Ross-Thompsonbest to keep your prices the same across the board. Undercutting your gallery will always be frowned on and may lose you representation. Given the current state of the High Street, commercial art galleries are struggling along with everyone else, so having customers browse in store and then head off to the artist to negotiate a cheaper price is naturally galling to them.

I have a 25 mile rule, trying not to have galleries too close together in an area. Some galleries will ask for exclusivity and in such a situation it is the artist’s job to decide which one will best represent their work. Although this might seem a bit dictatorial...the business sense behind the request is sound. It is easier for a gallery to sell an exclusive product.

When I used to scout for galleries...not something I do much these days now that I have an established track record...I tried to avoid galleries who already had an artist working in a similar way to myself. If they already had an established landscape printmaker then I would be diluting the customer pool for both of us. I know some artists scour the CVs of their competition (nothing wrong with that) but be cautious about treading on too many toes. Absolutely fine if the artist is no longer with a particularly gallery. A good gallery may reject your application for exactly this reason, Sarah Ross-Thompsonprotecting the interests of their existing artist and this will in no way be a reflection of their opinion of your work.

Ultimately there is no ethical code set down when working as a sole trader artist and most of us end up working things out as we go along. Being consistent, reliable, upfront and true to yourself are key. Always have a defensible position. For the few sales I make personally via Social Media, my website or rossthompsonprints.etsy.com I may have some wiggle room for a small discount here and there or the inclusion of postage costs, but the original selling price remains the same as in any of the galleries I work with.


Retail 101: A Shopkeeper’s Work is Never Done

By Emma Bell
on June 10, 2019

Kate Toms: Riley & LaylaIt’s absolutely true! You wear a myriad of hats from bookkeeper, marketing guru, cleaner, employer, investor & general dogsbody! Often every waking hour is spent on what needs doing from placing orders, paying artists & suppliers, looking after employees, keeping your retail space fresh & inviting, keeping social media channels up to date, answering emails, thinking of new ideas, sourcing new suppliers, updating the web shop, visiting trade shows, the list goes on!

I’m sure all of us who own businesses have days when it feels like it would be simpler to go back to being employed, getting a pay cheque, paid holidays & sick leave and to just go home & be able to stop thinking about work.Oliver Pyle

But if I pause & focus again on the amazing things that come with owing a business & in particular a gallery, like the relationships that we’ve built over the years with artists, some of whom have become our closest friends – where would we be without them in our lives today? We can look back with huge pride & see how many artists’ & makers’ careers we’ve helped launch & others who have gone on to be picked up by well-known publishing & greetings card companies, whose artwork now reaches 1000s across the world – it’s an incredibly privileged position to be in, to have been part of someone else’s success & yes it does overwhelm us at times – we’re a soppy bunch at heart!

It also means that we are rooted in our community – not just by the physical presence of the bricks & mortar that make up the building but by the fact that we employ local people, helping them earn a living, supporting their families & being part of their lives. For our customers, we are often part of the happiest & sometimes saddest moments in their lives whether it be through the purchase of a greetings card, a birthday present or some framing – it can be really humbling & an aspect of our work that can easily be forgotten.

So the next time I get overwhelmed, I’ll take a deep breath, remind myself of the above and count my blessings!


Retail 101: Ringing in the Changes

By Emma Bell
on May 13, 2019

Mulberry Tree GalleryThe eagle eyed among you will notice that we’ve had a little re-vamp in the gallery recently.  Gone are the dark bookcases and sideboards to be replaced with gorgeous birch ply tables and peg-board displays and a near invisible and flexible hanging system in the main window.

Part of the reason we undertook the recent changes was a strong desire to make the products that we sell more accessible – easier for you to see and pick up.  We thought long and hard about the height of the central table – not too high, not too low – with a slight panic when they first arrived thinking they were too big and too high!  The peg board shelves allow us to group items together and create single or multiple tableaux – they allow the products to breathe and let’s face it hopefully tempt you to part with your hard-earned cash!

The reason we are so passionate about supporting British artists and makers is thatKara Leigh Ford Ceramics we strongly believe that handmade products can and do evoke strong emotions within us even if it’s a mug that you use every day.    Knowing that what you are holding in your hand or looking at on your walls or shelves was created by a living, breathing human just like you and me, who faces the same struggles with life and love, who is trying to make their way in the world to provide for themselves and their families is actually pretty amazing.   

When you have a hand-thrown mug in your hand you are holding years of experience, learning, failures, experimentation and honing of a skilled craft – it’s not just a mug, it’s so much more.  I know when I have my morning cuppa I often think about the maker beavering away in their studio and just for a split second I have that human connection even if they aren’t next to me in my kitchen!

Shirley VauvelleWe get those feelings with pretty much everything we sell in the gallery, knowing that our artists and makers have poured their heart, soul and life experiences into what they create.  That’s why we probably have a permanent smile on our faces, we’re chuffed to be surrounded by such lovely things and it’s such a pleasure to share our artists and makers stories with you when you come into the gallery.

If you happen to be in Swanage then we’d very much love to see you and if you’re an on-line follower then I hope these pics give you at least a flavour of what our space is like!


Retail 101: Learning What Not to Do⠀⠀

By Emma Bell
on April 23, 2019

Like most things in life, trial and error is often how you end up working out what works and doesn’t work. I don’t think there is a single blueprint for retail success, if there was, we’d all be doing it!⠀ Retail 101: What Not to DoSo what have we learnt not to do here at the gallery since we opened? I’d say first and foremost absolutely do NOT compare yourself with other businesses – it’s a slippery slope that can lead you down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, feeling like crap, thinking that you’re rubbish and everyone else is amazingly successful.

The advent of social media has only heightened this, and I’ve spent many an hour in the past on Instagram and Facebook looking at other people’s retail spaces feeling so disheartened. You can certainly learn from other retailers and be inspired by them but try to avoid comparisons.

What you have to offer to customers is unique to you, it’s not just about the products you sell, but your philosophy, dreams and values which people buy into. This is why having a diverse and vibrant high street full of independent retailers is what every town needs! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So my lovelies, whether you’re a retailer, artist or maker keep doing what you’re doing and as the wonderful @mattzhaig says “the internet age encourages choice and comparison, but don’t do this to yourself. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ said Theodore Roosevelt. You are you”


Why Hand Written Cards are Important

By Emma Bell
on January 06, 2019

Hare Greetings Card It’s that time of year when the last remnants of Christmas are being packed away and life is returning to “normal” whether that be work, school or a regular routine.    It’s also the time of year that we remember being sat down by our parents and being made to write our thank you letters for the gifts and money we had received.  A chore that we hated, if we’re honest, but a necessary part of Christmas.

As a retailer that sells greetings cards, we can at times get really fed up with the messages that do the rounds at certain times of year that say “we’re not sending cards, we’re donating to xxx charity”   We absolutely get the good intentions and heart behind it and the fact that cards and postage can be expensive.   However, can we also add into the mix that there are a LOT of people that make their living from this industry whether that be the artists, publishers, agents, small independent retailers etc.  If we all stopped buying and sending cards it would impact 10s of thousands of us!   

In this day and age it’s so easy to quickly send off a thank you via What’s App or textMary Sumner Greetings Card without much actual thought into what you’re writing – just getting rid of the obligation rather than really taking the time to think about what you can write.  There’s been much research done of late on the benefits of sending and receiving a hand-written letter or card.

It’s a wonderful way to keep in touch with the people that you love and research has shown that it can actually contribute to your happiness and well-being.   By writing to people and letting them know how much you’re thinking of them and appreciating them makes you more thankful and focuses the mind on the good things in life.  Society is slowly waking up to how important our mental health is and even a small thing like writing a card can have a positive impact on this area of our lives, both as the sender and recipient. 

It’s also a wonderful way to surprise someone – who doesn’t long for the days when their letterbox wasn’t just full of bank statements, credit card bills, flyers and Snow in the Village Greetings Cardcatalogues you didn’t ask for!   If you’re like us as soon as you see a handwritten envelope or know it contains a card, you chuck all the other mail to one side and rip open the hand-written missive!  It’s just so lovely to know that someone has been thinking about you and taken the time to write to you!

So, as we start 2019, how about taking the time to choose a card and tell someone how much you appreciate them!  And by the way, we have a great selection to choose from…


Let’s Get Visual - Top 5 Visual Merchandising Tips for Small Indie Retailers

By Emma Bell
on October 30, 2018

Let's Get Visual - Top 5 Tips on Visual Merchandising for Small Indie RetailersAs we head into November we’re putting the finishing touches to our Christmas window display it got me to thinking about visual merchandising in general and putting finger to keyboard to write a little blog of our top tips.

Visual merchandising is a massive topic and the really BIG brands spend millions on their shop displays, so as a little indie it can feel quite intimidating to feel like you’re going up against the big guys, particularly at this time of year.

Here at the gallery we’ve been hugely blessed and supported by our retail mentor Peter Cooper who, along with little ol’ me come up with the main windows each month. Over the 12 years we’ve been here we’ve learnt that a strong main window which changes regularly does pay dividends even though it’s incredibly time consuming and labour intensive! We’re incredibly lucky to have a large, deep window which has allowed us to experiment and display the work of our artists and makers.

We also try to make sure that our windows reflect our story which is quite a simple one – “ to support British artists & makers and to make your home more beautiful”!

Attracting Customers to Your Shop
A visually attractive window display is crucial to the small retailer – it’s the “eyes of your shop” and if done well can compel your customers to cross the threshold into your retail space.   We’re not above getting our inspiration from the big brands – they have the bucks to create amazing displays but why not pick up on some of their ideas and translate them to you space!   Pinterest is a great place to browse ideas for shop windows – just remember that when you’re searching type in “store xxxx” as you get back more results        

Let's Get Visual - Top 5 Tips for Visual Merchandising for Small Indie RetailersUpdating the Inside of Your Shop
If you’ve got a small space then a quick, cheap and easy way to update your “look” is to paint your walls a different colour.  The wonderful people at Ryder & Hope in Lyme Regis have this down to a fine art – they repaint their walls at least twice a year which rings in the changes and complements the changing seasons.

We have quite a large retail space and trying to take down all those framed paintings is a huge task so what we did was use wallpaper instead!  At the moment we’ve got red-brick which is very forgiving when you have to keep banging holes into the walls to put up pictures!

Grouping TogetherLet's Get Visual - Top 5 Tips for Visual Merchandising for Small Indie Retailers
Blocking products by colour or theme is a really effective tool – it draws the customer to colours that they like and is much easier on the eye and creates a calmer and more serene space for people to shop in.

If you group items that go together this can then lead to customers buying several items as they see that they “belong with each other”.  For us this might be some ceramics with artwork which we think goes well and then the very obvious the fab Archivist Press matches with the candles that we sell – simple but very effective! 

Change Your Displays Regularly
We can’t emphasise this enough – with your larger displays we’d say they need to be changed every 4-6 weeks.  Customers notice when your window and your larger displays change even if you’ve only moved the products around.  We’ve had numerous people come into the gallery saying “have you sold such and such” – often we’ve just moved it around but invariably the customer will either buy the item they were after or buy something else!  Moving things around also makes people think you’ve got new products in the shop, even if you haven’t.

Online Sales
If you’re like us, you’ve probably got an online shop and if you haven’t then it’s something you really need to think about – there’s a billon person audience out there waiting to find you!   We often find that customers will come into the gallery and Let's Get Visual - Top 5 Tips for Visual Merchandising for Small Indie Retailersclock something and then a few days later might buy it online – this is particularly the case with people who are on holiday.  In the same way that you spend time making your physical premises look fabulous we’d encourage you to make sure that your online shop is equally as attractive.  It’s something that we’re working on as we know that this is our weak area – not so much for the artwork but our other contemporary craft and lifestyle products.   We’ve found inspiration from all sorts of places including Instagram and Pinterest in trying to find our online “style” – a work in progress but we’re getting there!

So there we have it – our thoughts on a good retail space…not forgetting that having nice music playing, even though there is a cost to pay for this, makes for a good sensory experience and then the really obvious make sure the shop and products are clean!


Just a Card Day: 28th September 2018

By Emma Bell
on September 24, 2018

Just a Card CampaignYou've heard us talk about the #justacard campaign a number of times and how important it is to every independent shop and gallery across the UK. 

It's not just about buying a card, coffee, cake, ring etc etc. it's about spreadhing the message of how important these are to our high streets and livelihoods!

So for this month's blog I thought I'd do a  shout out for this campaign and "Just a Card Day" and ask you to get yourself your window stickers if you're a shop or maker and if you're a shopper, and I think we all are, then please consider your purchasing from an independent retailer as often as you can.

The aim of the Just a Card campaign is to "encourage people to buy from Just a Card CampaignDesigner/Makers and Independent Galleries and Shops by reinforcing the message that all purchases, however small, even 'just a card' are so vital to the prosperity and survival of small businesses. 

The campaign came about when Artist & Designer Sarah Hamilton saw the quote "If everyone who'd complimented our beautiful gallery had bought 'just a card' we'd still be open" by store keepers who'd recently closed their gallery. This prompted a call to action! Designer/Makers and independent shops and galleries need a voice. People seldom realise the considerable costs involved in exhibiting at design shows or keeping a shop open. Stand fees, power, materials, wages etc need to be met before even a penny of profit can be realised. Running a shop is often a labour of love. Without dedication and passion, and crucially sales, it would be another boarded up eyesore.

Just a Card CampaignAs a direct response to the campaign many people have reported they often feel embarrassed to make a small purchase as they felt this may appear miserly. Something they'd never feel in a large chain store. Since hearing of our campaign they've changed their opinion."

If you want to support the campaign then please:

1. Adding our logo to your blogs, websites etc.

2. Follow @justacard1 on Twitter and Instragram Retweet & spread the word.

3. Download posters and postcards from our website and put them up in your event or shop

4. Get involved with Just a Card Day: 28 September 2018.

5. Purchase  from independent shops, galleries and makers

And finally - by all means compliment people, it makes the world a far sunnier place, but if you can, PLEASE, buy just a card!

#independentpurbeck #independentswaange #supportingbritishartistsandmakers #purbeckgalleryguide


Is it Really Expensive?

By Emma Bell
on September 02, 2018

Is it Really Expensive?I'm sharing a brilliant post from a fellow shop owner, Naomi of Collate Interiors in Axminster who tackles the thorny subject "expensive" - a word we often here in the gallery. Thanks to Naomi for letting me use this post in full

"adjective: expensive

'It's too expensive' - I hear this too much. From people who just are passing the shop, who don't even cross the threshold! Or from people browsing around the shop, muttering under their breath (I can hear you FYI). So I felt like I needed to address this misconception. I'm in no doubt that other shops similar to mine, who are pioneering craft and handmade products hear this too.

Handmade products might seem costly but here I want to try and explain why they are deemed pricey. I am talking about 'expensive' in regards to craft products.

When you buy something that has been handmade, you are supporting the person who made it. This product has a face (metaphorically) it is not mass produced, on a huge scale. The maker has made this with there own two hands, sometimes with the aid of a machine, or tools of some kind. Each piece they make is unique, they might be similar but they are never exactly the same.Is it Really Expensive?

When you buy a handmade product you are paying for the maker's time, their materials, their workshop rent, their passion, their skill. When you buy a mug from no name supermarket (that costs £2) it will be one of millions (resulting in very small production costs). Churned out by a machine with no human interaction. And no love. And NO skill.

If handmade isn't your thing, that's totally fine... but I really feel that this idea that something handmade is 'expensive' needs to be dispelled. It's all relative though isn't it. You could have a small income but if you really appreciate craft, you save up your pennies, so you can treat yourself. If people understand how much work goes into a product maybe they will realise why it costs what it does. It's not 'expensive'.

Here's why...

When you buy handmade you are supporting the makers way of life. It's not always easy for small scale makers to earn a living, sometimes having to take on extra part time jobs to allow them to support themselves in addition to their craft.

Is it Really Expensive?That's one of the reasons for shops like mine, we are a platform for selling handmade products but also we are educating people. We are spreading the word for the craftspeople. Of course, the shop needs to make money too so buying through Independent shops is a great way to support makers and support the shops too. Otherwise we'll end up with no high street shops and just buying online. And that's just no fun is it?!

There is a huge surge on reducing plastic consumption, so let's also try to be more mindful about where we buy and who we buy from. Yeah? And maybe stop using the word 'expensive' when talking about handmade, traditionally produced items."

I couldn't agree more and I think it's important that we are all mindful of the difference between paying for something of value and for something that is expensive and not really worth what you are being charged for it - that to me is the definition of expensive!