Behind the Counter: How Cove Gallery Is Improving Customer Experience as a Busy Tourist Venue

In this edition of Behind the Counter, we’re bringing you the insights of Paul Mooney of Cove Gallery, a fabulous little gallery in the coastal town of Weymouth in Dorset.

Paul and his wife Geraldine moved to Weymouth for a change in career and scenery and found themselves purchasing Cove Gallery and falling in love with running a retail business. Cove Gallery sells a carefully curated selection of original paintings, limited edition prints, as well as handmade glass, ceramics and bronze sculptures from local artists, and is beloved by locals and tourists alike.

We recently caught up with Paul to find out more about the journey of Cove Gallery since Paul and Geraldine took the helm and how Vend has made retail life much easier. 

How did Cove Gallery start?

We bought the business on the 1st of November 2018. The gallery was founded about ten years ago by another couple and we are the third owners of the gallery.

We’d been coming to Dorset for about ten years, every summer and we always had it in mind that we’d like to live here. Last year after our summer trip to Dorset, we were both at a little bit of a crossroads in our careers so we both thought let’s have a look at what’s happening in Dorset and if there are any opportunities for us.

We jumped online and looked at businesses for sale. Cove Gallery was the second business that came up! Neither of us are artists or have worked in retail but we both fell in love with the idea of running our own art gallery. We enquired about the sale and everything just went from there. We moved down and it all happened quite quickly and smoothly. 

I’ve been involved in many different business types over the years and have a background in marketing and finance. My wife Geraldine has been in customer service for most of her life, and was working in recruitment and training with British Airways for 20 years. We’ve got skills that complement each other and we’re both very keen on art, so selling what we love is turning out to be a really enjoyable experience. 

Can you describe the Cove Gallery brand? Why are you passionate about running the business and what drives you to run it?

What we really liked about the gallery from the moment we saw it online was that the vast majority of work here was produced by local artists and makers, from the South West of England. Most pieces come from inside a 40-mile radius of the gallery.

The quality is extremely high and all the pieces are unique and handmade. We really like the idea of supporting the local arts community and our focus is on original, unique and high-quality work.

Our four pillars are glass, art, ceramics and bronze. We only have a small gallery which means that we can really focus and develop those particular product lines while supporting the local area.

How do you create a great customer experience in your store and how is the customer service part of that?

What we’re trying to do is help people to enjoy the experience of buying art, to make it pleasurable. We want people to feel that they are investing in something that will last them a lifetime and they can keep in  the family. You can spend thousands of pounds on a new car or a holiday, but a piece of art is forever. That ethos is really important to us. We’re tapping into people’s own enthusiasm for what they’re seeing. 

We also want to help people who haven’t really bought art before or spent a lot of money on art. We make sure to have pieces at all price points, starting at about ten pounds. But even those pieces are originally made by local artists. Prices go right up to two or three thousand pounds for bigger pieces, so while it’s an investment it’s still in an affordable price range. We’re trying to give people the opportunity to buy affordable art and a buying experience that they’ll remember. 

There’s nothing like a piece of original art in your house – a beautiful piece of glass or bronze, or a picture on the wall that’s an original. 

What we love is when people come into the gallery and tell us “I bought something here five years ago and I still absolutely love it.” It’s really nice for us to hear that from our customers. 

To help our  customers with finance, we run an interest-free credit scheme funded by the Arts Council called ‘Own Art’. It enables people to buy works of art by any living artist or maker on an interest-free basis over a ten month period. It makes art affordable for a lot more people, and it’s a really nice way to help people feel more comfortable about buying more expensive pieces in particular. 

What are your challenges as an independent retailer? How do you think independents can be successful against big-box and chain retailers?

It’s quite interesting what’s happening in retail at the moment. I’m new to the sector but I’ve been observing economic trends for many years. Retail is changing very rapidly with online and some very big high street brands closing their doors, including brands that have been around for many decades. 

One of the reasons we were attracted to Cove Gallery is it’s the kind of place we like to shop in ourselves – small and independent. There’s an element of personal service and as a retailer you are able to build an intimate knowledge of your customers and your stock. 

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

From that point of view, we’re in a good position to be on the trend of people wanting more of an experience when they go shopping. We’re lucky to be in a tourist area, right on the harbour in Weymouth – it’s beautiful. People come to Cove Gallery as part of their visit to Weymouth, they love the experience of discovering and exploring the gallery.

I think the biggest challenge facing independent retailers is to keep that interest and make consumers want to physically come into a retail environment. For us, our physical offer is imperative and our online presence exists to complement our physical store. If we didn’t have our store we’d just be a virtual brand that wouldn’t mean a lot to people.

Even though we’re in a tourist area, about 70 to 80 percent of our business is from local people, so we have to keep the place interesting and engaging for them all year round.. I think the challenge in the next year or two is to keep our stock interesting and to keep our customer service levels really high.

We inherited a pretty robust system  from the previous business owner. He was using spreadsheets that worked well, but they didn’t talk to each other and were pretty time-consuming to maintain. 

How has using Vend’s point of sale system improved your business? 

At end of day you had to look at all the different spreadsheet tabs, enter sales into individual boxes, and hopefully it balanced. If it didn’t balance, you had to go through each tab and item until you found what was throwing it. 

The setup worked, but you had to be extremely careful or you could be in a pickle. And it was very time-consuming. On a busy winter day for example, you might have to spend an hour or so just doing the spreadsheets. In summer we are three or four times busier, and I was really concerned about how much time we might have to spend on the spreadsheets.

That was the prime motivator to move to a different system – and reduce the opportunities to make mistakes. We really needed a reliable system that was time-efficient, especially during busy periods.

I would say Vend is saving each  of us around one to one and a half hours every day. 

It means that Geraldine and I can have more time in the evenings at the end of the day. We came down to the South Coast to have a nice lifestyle, do different things, and that extra time at the end of the day really helps us to do that. 

Vend has 100% made things more efficient. The time saved has been huge. At the end of the day when we’re closing up the till and doing our balancing and all the rest,we find that Vend’s sales record matches the card machine and till total nine times out of ten. That means we can just close the till and leave, and we don’t have to worry. Previously, we would have had to have entered everything into the spreadsheet to find out whether or not it balanced. 

It takes me about the same amount of time to load new products into Vend as all our items are individual, but it’s definitely a much smoother and straightforward process. 

Any final words on Vend?

I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the fact that Vend makes it very easy to perform in-depth analyses of our business metrics, which gives me great control over our stock and financial management, there are some areas I’d like to understand a bit more about, but on the whole, it’s given me a much better understanding of how our business works. 

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.