Behind the Counter: Cream Cornwall

Team Vend is thrilled to put the spotlight on Cream Cornwall, a homeware store that sells unique and high-quality pieces with a coastal vibe.

Founded in 2012, Cream is the brainchild of Rebecca Heane and Alison Hughes. Rebecca’s background was in textiles and she designed fabric to sell to other designers and Alisson was trend forecaster for a design studio in London.

After meeting at a workshop and exchanging ideas, the pair decided to join forces to start Cream Cornwall.

Fast-forward to 2019, Cream Cornwall has grown to be a well-loved, multi-channel business that sells distinctive products to shoppers everywhere.

We caught up with Rebecca, the co-founder of Cream Cornwall and asked her to share her thoughts and success secrets. Check out our conversation below.

Can you describe the Cream brand and tell me a bit more about what your role in the business?

Cream is a Cornish lifestyle brand, all the things you want to create a perfect Cornish home, wherever you live in the world. We wanted to create and sell things that people on holiday wanted to take back, something really beautiful and reflective of Cornwall, not typical tourist stuff.

Our brand and a lot of our products have a coastal feel that appeal to people all over the world, one of our biggest customer bases is actually in London. You don’t have to live by the sea to like what we do, it’s contemporary enough to transcend all of that.

We do a lot in deep blue and white. People like it immediately — I think blue and white is in our DNA. There’s something that everyone likes about blue and white. It’s classic, but our unique design is on a big scale and cropped, so it’s not twee. It’s quite bold so it appeals to both men and women. The line drawings make it look delicate because of the detailing in the drawings, but it’s still strong.

When we started out we used to do everything — make the candles, lamp shades, print the fabrics of the cushions. We were a real cottage industry, mainly because we just had to. We didn’t have the funds to get massive amounts of production done. When you start you don’t know if an item is going to sell so it’s quite tricky.

We started off by getting some China made with our designs on, got some fabric printed and made some lampshades that we learnt how to make by going to a workshop.

We were so happy with what we created we set up a large window display in Alisson’s house, a gorgeous Georgian house with three windows on the road in the little fishing village we live in. Next thing we knew, there were all these people outside looking at it. People started knocking on our door asking if they could buy it!

How do you create an exceptional experience in your store?

There are quite a few things we do to. Alisson and I have traveled quite a bit and love that in Europe everything gets wrapped beautifully, whether you’re buying a piece of cheese or a bunch of flowers. That was something we wanted to recreate at Cream. We had our Cornish toile design printed onto tissue paper and gorgeous corded string bags made for us.

Whether people buy a fridge magnet or a lampshade, everything gets wrapped in tissue paper with red wrapping, it’s really nicely done. It also gives us a chance to talk to our customers whilst we’re wrapping. People just love it and they love the bags.

In the store we always have a diffuser going with one of our fragrances as well. As a small independent these things do have a cost, but I think it’s well worth it.

What are your thoughts on the retail landscape in the UK?

Since we started Cream in 2016 the landscape has changed very quickly,  particularly in the last two years since Brexit happened, and I think it’s taken everybody by surprise. It also coincided with more online shopping and big chains closing, so it’s been like the perfect storm has happened recently. In our town, we’ve lost our Marks and Spencer’s and some other big shops have closed.

Luckily we are left with quite a few independents battling on. It’s not easy, there are two sides to it.

I think that people like to shop online for things that they know, like batteries or groceries, and have them delivered the next day. It’s fantastic. What it can’t do is give me the experience walking into a shop will give me, when I want to be inspired, or need inspiration or assistance.

I might go online if I’m looking for inspiration for a new look for my living room but I’d much rather go and talk to somebody and look at some really gorgeous things. I think that’s what will win out with the High Street – it’s customer experience. They may well come into the shop, talk to you, then order from your website. But at some point, people do actually really like to come and talk to someone and I think it’s a very important component of retail.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned when setting up the store? What would be your top pieces of advice for someone thinking about getting into retail?

The top piece of advice I would give everything a SKU of its own in the beginning!

I would also say to prepare for success. In hindsight, we didn’t prepare for success and there are things we should have done at the beginning that would have made the business so much easier, like getting a really good inventory system. Also, get a good accounting platform and make sure they talk to each other because it makes life so much easier.

If we had done that and tracked everything from the beginning it would have given us a really interesting view of our business growth over the years. At the time we may not have wanted to spend the money, but it would have made our lives so much better. When you’re starting up you need to be confident that you’re going to be successful and grow, and you need to find software that can grow with you.

We use Vend for our inventory management and point of sale software, Xero for accounting, Shopify for ecommerce, and Paymentsense for integrated payments in-store. Everything is on one system and it’s fantastic. The days are gone of apps working in isolation, it’s got to integrate and we need things to work together seamlessly.

How easy was it to get up and running on Vend? Do you find it easy to use in-store?

It was really easy. We had fantastic support from Jonathan in the Customer Success team, he’s been really great. We just had to get everything into a spreadsheet and upload it.

A point of sale has to be easy and Vend is really easy to use. It’s quite an easy system for anybody, you don’t have to be an expert in inventory or software. I think most people can easily use it, it’s not difficult. We haven’t had any issues using Vend in the shop, it’s been great.

I love the sell screen and reporting. We’ve had Vend for over a year and I love the comparisons in the reporting. It’s really useful for us to go back and look at high-season and see what we sold, and then plan our orders based on that. It’s invaluable information for a retailer.

How has Vend made an impact on your business?

As a small business owner, the less time you spend on admin the better. Vend leaves me with more time to do other things, like buying, designing, and creating. Being able to use it remotely is also really important — I use often use my phone during the day to look at how the shop is going if I’m not there. I can easily change prices on things and look at stock, or find the answer to a question from a customer. It’s very simple to use remotely.

Vend definitely saves me time, it’s hard to remember what I did before I had it really! I don’t know exactly how many hours a week but it’s probably a lot. You can look at the touch of a button and know exactly what stock you’re holding, what you sold, and project forward from that, it’s brilliant.

Do you have any plans for Cream in the future that you could share with us?  Is there anything on the horizon that you’re looking at doing?

If you asked me three years ago I would have said we wanted to open more shops but with the uncertainty around Brexit, we want to wait until everything settles down. We have two great shops and in the summer we get a lot of footfall.

We want to take Cream to the masses. We want to start going to some retail-facing shows to put us in front of more customers and raise brand awareness. We will possibly wholesale again through the person running those events for us, but we want to find the right person.

We also intend on building the online business and really want to focus on that for the next year. There are a lot of people that are new to our brand so we want to make our website more like our shop. That is our challenge for next year really.


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.