Behind the Counter: Cositas

Cositas is a furniture and gift shop located in the quaint city of St Albans just outside busy London (UK). The store was founded by the bubbly Emma Bustamante, who opened the space to sell trendy products and host hands-on creative workshops in store.

Cositas is a vibrant shopping destination where locals frequently pop in to chat, see what’s new, and attend workshops to learn all kinds of skills including how to make lampshades, jewellery, leather clutch bags, as well as calligraphy, patchwork, and screen printing. Cositas customers love learning new skills and having something truly unique to take home with them.

We caught up with Emma to learn about how she runs her retail biz and is overcoming some of the local and national challenges of being an independent retailer in the UK. Read on for her success story and sound advice!

How did Cositas start?

I hadn’t ever planned to open my own shop, I worked in retail in interiors for ten years working two days a week and teaching furniture painting workshops. Circumstances changed and I found myself having to rethink my career.

I couldn’t imagine working for someone else because I love the freedom. That’s when I thought, I’m perfectly suited to have a shop of my own. The next challenge was how to fund it!

Can you describe the Cositas brand and what you do that’s special?

Cositas is Spanish for ‘little things’. For me, that was the best example of how I could explain it’s the little things in life that count. The offering that we have is fun and really current. It’s fashion, on-trend, and definitely Instagram-worthy, which is what I really wanted. I wanted to have products that I was proud of.

We run workshops as well so we’re teaching people how to make lovely, gorgeous things for the home. We like embracing the community, involving people, and inspiring.

How do you create a great customer experience in-store?

I opened the shop as a home interiors and gift shop with furniture painting workshops. Within six months the furniture painting workshops became so popular that we started employing other workshop leaders. A year after opening we were running a really big calendar of 25 workshops with 10 different workshop leaders.

We’re really mindful of creating a customer experience that online stores can’t. When customers come to Cositas they can chat, test paints, do workshops, and all those things they can only experience by walking through our doors. We adopt a really friendly and chatty approach to customer service.

For the online customer experience, we have a 3D virtual tour of the store on our website. We’re all about experience and really embrace that aspect of retail. We have nice scents in the store, different things everywhere you look. We make sure we offer a good experience in all of those areas.

What are your biggest challenges as an independent retailer?

It’s no secret that retail has seen really challenging times lately, especially over the last year. There are extremely local and national challenges. Locally to us, the road that we have our shop on has had a reduction of 60% in retail outlets. There were six different shops you could visit before you stumbled upon Cositas, now there’s two.

On the positive side, people are coming because they want to see us. We’re trying different things like having pop-up shops which is great as it gives us publicity, things to talk about, and a reason to engage with our customers. It also brings more people down towards us and gives them a reason to come down. They might have come to Cositas recently, but a new pop-up shop is whole brand-new offering that’s current and on trend. That’s how we’re combating lower footfall.

Nationally, Brexit has had an impact, and business rates and rent are really high. We’re trying to overcome this by increasing our sales and staying really on top of our finances. We’ve seen positive changes already though. There’s been benefits of last years budget which has meant business rates have been reduced for small businesses. That’s been a great improvement.

I think people’s eyes are now open to the struggles that retailers have been facing. Nobody wants the High Street to die; everyone wants to keep supporting it. It’s up to us to think of ways that they can do that.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt setting up your store?

A fabulous lesson I’ve learned is you don’t have to be brilliant at everything. You just have to surround yourself with people who are. Where i have limited expertise I work closely with my colleagues who are really good. Where I’m not so strong my colleague has picked up the reigns, and all of the sudden she can work the backend of a computer. My other colleague can Mail Chimp like there’s no tomorrow.
You don’t have to excel at everything, just find someone who does and have them in your tribe. Work together because as individuals we can’t be good at everything.

What was the situation prior to Vend? What were the challenges?

Before Vend we were using a free ePOS on iPad which didn’t meet our needs, especially with inventory management and reporting. When we first changed to Vend it literally look us half a day and we couldn’t even remember the old system. Vend it so easy to use, I think it was destiny we used it and it works perfectly for us.

I also love the whole company ethos is progressive, vibrant, and young – that really fits with us, our brand and works well with the people who work here.

How was it getting set up with Vend?  How easy was it to get up and running and how easy was it to use the system and train others?  

I had help getting set up with Vend from Jonathan in the Customer Success team, who like an angel, was there from the very beginning to talk me through literally everything. He helped with simple things like a plug becoming loose to the printer, and helped me find easier ways to do things. He knows the system so well and it wasn’t confusing for me at all because  he knows exactly what I should be looking at and what actions to do. Now he’s taught me to troubleshoot as well.

That was a huge reason I chose Vend, knowing there was going to be someone at the end of the phone to help me through anything. I feel so supported by Vend and they actually care, which as a small independent business is a really great feeling.

An area that Vend has made an impact on the business: reporting

It’s amazing to have Vend’s software in place, especially the reporting which I use on a daily and weekly basis to analyse how the store is doing. I can look through and see which departments are selling the best.

For example, if furniture has been slow but our art has gone through the roof and we’re up 30% sales on mirrors, then I can adjust my buying accordingly. Vend lets us keep on top of our best sells and therefore increase our profitability, because the software allows me to work as quickly as I do and be reactive with my stock orders.

Do you find that using the Vend and Xero integration is useful?  

The Vend and Xero integration is really useful and was really easy to set-up. I knew I wanted to use Vend and chose Xero for it’s integration with Vend, which my accountant was thrilled by because she loves working with Xero! It’s all streamlined and works really well from beginning to end with Vend, Xero, and then some smaller little apps that help with daily reconciliations.


About Lucia Afanasy

Lucia joined Vend in New Zealand in 2017 before flying across the world to join the London team. She works on all things marketing across the UK, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Her passions and work experience include retail, production, and social media. When she’s not in the office, Lucia loves exploring London, planning trips, and trying to keep her plants alive.