I have recently discovered the brilliant and incredibly useful Indie Retail Academy. It’s packed with everything that a designer/artist/maker/craft seller needs to know about getting your work into shops.
It is the work of Clare Yuille, who also runs Plaisir with her husband Anthony, an on-line, and real life boutique shop in Biggar, just outside Edinburgh.
She has agreed to let me interview her!!!
Hi Clare, how are you? What’s happening in your shop today?
Hi Charlotte, it’s lovely to speak to you! Today in the shop we’re creating a new window display and unpacking some new cards and prints from one of our favourite artists. And eating chocolate chip biscuits. In fact that’s an important part of our plan for the entire week.
Yummm! I wish I could visit your real life shop, but I’m too far away. Could you describe your shop and tell us what it’s all about?
Our shop is called Plaisir, which is French for pleasure or being pleased. We sell fashion, homeware and gifts with an emphasis on handmade work by British artists and designers. Our style is colourful, happy and relaxed. My business partner Anthony and I are also professional actors so we tend to come at things from a creative angle. We have a roll-top bath in the middle of the shop which is currently filled with mint imperials, we give away free cake every Saturday and we change our window displays every week. We have a lot of fun!
The Indie Retail Academy feels like it was written especially for me, it answers all my questions about how to make it into retail. It also makes me feel OK about all my artistic insecurities! How did it all come about?
First of all, I’m so glad you’re finding it useful – that makes me very happy indeed. Indie Retail Academy springs from the fact that, like every other retailer in our niche, we’re inundated with product submissions from artists and designers. Most of those submissions are of a very poor standard. The product itself might be great, but an awkward or pushy email from a prospective stockist can really put a shopkeeper off. I think that’s a huge pity, and that it doesn’t have to be that way.
As I’m an actor, I also know what it’s like to try to make a living in a creative industry. It’s hard. Actually, make that haaaard. I think there isn’t enough support for creative people who run businesses. Sure, you can get help with making a business plan and doing your accounts, but when it comes to the emotional aspects of getting your venture off the ground you’re pretty much on your own. Even if your friends and family are very supportive, I think it helps to hear advice and encouragement from someone on the inside. That’s what I wish I’d had when I was starting out.
One of the things I’m most proud of so far is the Indie Retail Starter Kit – it’s a free bundle of resources for people starting out in wholesale. Judging by the feedback it gets, it’s something that artists and designers find very useful.
You write a very useful post about the importance of branding for an artist/business and suggest we ask retailers for their opinions.
Terrified to ask this but what are your opinions of the Strange Bird Brand? Be honest I can handle it!
I think you’ve got a great brand. I love the muted tones you use in your work, and the rounded, organic shapes. It’s retro but it has a modern edge. In terms of ideas, maybe you could think about brightening up some of your photos, and consider taking some lifestyle shots too. It’d be good to see one of your bags next to something like a vintage film poster, or in the hand of someone wearing sixties-style accessories. That might provide a bit of background texture and colour, as well as helping to express the essence of your brand.
I also think your work has great appeal for men, or for women shopping for men. Lots of people tell us they have no problem finding something great for their mum or sister, but that buying a present for their dad is a nightmare. Your stuff is the perfect solution! Maybe you could also think about using a male model for some of your photos, and styling your bags with some guy-type stuff.
You must have a great time going to all the craft and designer fairs, searching for the next beautiful things to go in your shop.
Have you any tips on what makes an eye catching stall, and what is the most exciting 'style of the moment' that draws you in?
Anthony and I do love attending craft and trade shows – it’s one of the best parts of our job. There are a few things we look out for. First it’s great to be able to see the name of the artist or company immediately, and for it to be in a form that’s easy to read. We also like bright, organised stands that are well merchandised. By far and away the most important thing, though, is the person behind the table.
We say hello to every customer who comes into our shop, and we feel very strongly that the same principle applies to craft and trade shows. Eye-contact is crucial to your success, but so often we see sellers looking at facebook on their phone or with their head buried in some craft activity. I understand that not everyone’s comfortable selling their own work, but if you’re not I think you should find someone else to do it for you. It’s that important. If you’re enthusiastic, relaxed and focused on your customers, you’ll sell more. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
In terms of new styles, we’re pretty open-minded. We know what works at Plaisir but we’re always looking for variations and stuff we haven’t thought of yet. We want to be surprised!
What do you think about the massive surge of in craftism that seems to be taking over the world! And do you know where it’s heading??
I think the huge interest in handmade goods and craftsmanship is in part a reaction to the economic climate we’re in. People have less to spend so they want quality rather than quantity. I’m interested in how young artists and designers are taking ancient techniques and using them to produce something very modern. It’s actually a great time to be an artist and to start a creative business – there’s lots of interest out there. I can’t say for sure where it’s all headed, but I know it’s somewhere good.
What are you next plans for Plaisir and Indie Retail Academy?
At Plaisir we’re starting to plan our Christmas ordering. It seems ridiculous but it’s such an important time of year that we really do need to be prepared this early!
There are also lots of new things coming up this autumn at Indie Retail Academy. I’ll be stocking the Indie Retail shop with new guides and resources for a range of common problems faced by artists and designers who want to sell their work to shops. I’ll also be launching the pilot version of my first online course, and teaming up with The Design Trust and School for Creative Startups. It’s going to be a very busy six months!
It’s been lovely chatting with you Charlotte, thanks so much!
Thank you Clare, you're a star!
Thank you Clare, you're a star!