Remarkable Retailers 2019

Insights from innovative retailers across the UK

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In-store experience, technology and BEYOND:

Retail success stories and advice from innovative UK retailers

  • Sustainability
  • Experience
  • Technology
  • Product

Independent retailers across the UK are thriving through innovation.

A panel of Vend retail experts hand-picked 14 groundbreaking retailers from a list of thousands and discussed what innovation means to them. They define it in a range of ways, but they have one thing in common – they love doing things differently.

Some are innovating through memorable in-store experiences, others with modern technology. Some have a focus on sustainability, while others innovate through the product itself.

Read on to discover their stories and advice for other retailers.



Crafting brand with backstory

  • Founded: 2011
  • Located: Newquay, Cornwall
  • Retailer: Jake Patterson, Creative Director

"Keep staff to a minimum and put your till by the doorway to prevent theft and promote a friendly environment without being too pushy towards your customers. Have a good product mix including some more affordable small items so every customer can leave with something."

Jake Patterson

Watershed is an independent brand and concept store, born out of a love of the ocean and the founders’ desire to run a business rooted in storytelling and strong values. They sell custom surfboards along with a well-curated selection of accessories.

As well as their Newquay location and a thriving online store, Watershed is home to a number of additional experiences which epitomise the breezy, oceanside lifestyle the brand embodies.

Creative Director Jake Patterson explains, “we built the Surf Shack to give our customers the full experience of the life of a surfer and living by the sea. It enhances the story of the brand and provides customers with insight into the Watershed lifestyle. We already had a cafe, and an on-site barber’s and the Surf Shack felt like the final piece of the customer experience.”

The result has been a loyal customer base of fans and advocates, who strongly identify with Watershed’s ethos.

Jake’s straight to the point advice for other retailers is, “negotiate hard on the rent, it’s not cheap running a physical store. Location is also very important, do not compromise on this.”


The Edit

Award-winning store design

  • Founded: 2016
  • Located: 4 stores in Cheshire
  • Retailer: Penny Rawson, Founder and Managing Director

"Let your vision guide the small decisions you make. Especially when it’s visual things, instead of making a decision on a tile, I think about the vision of the store and then think about whether those items would then fit into my store."

Penny Rawson

In an increasingly digital retail world, The Edit thrives by delivering a memorable in-store experience.

They have four beautiful boutiques located across Cheshire plus an online store, where they sell cool, contemporary womenswear and on-trend accessories.

The Edit's boutiques have an innovative store design with “massive fitting rooms with loads of space, so you can take kids in if you want. There's room for people to sit and give you an opinion. It's a really comfortable shopping environment," explains Penny Rawson, Founder and Managing Director. The fit out is cherished by customers and won the Drapers Award for Best Store Design in 2017.

Rather than having a structured training regimen, they are careful to hire salespeople who are both passionate and highly experienced.

Penny explains that The Edit’s staff have a very natural way of selling. She says, “they’re building relationships with customers so they don’t feel like they’re being sold to.”

Penny’s advice to retailers starting out is, “have a vision in mind of what you want your business to look like and let that guide the small decisions you make.”


Soden Style

Trend-led seasonal pop-ups

  • Founded: 2018
  • Located: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
  • Retailer: Emma Holbrook, Owner and Curator

"I believe customers are looking for more meaningful retail experiences that have a place in the heart. As a retailer, I want to nurture that ethos with style that evolves with the season, so we can keep curating new stories to share over and over."

Emma Holbrook

Soden Style is an interiors concept store with an innovative business model. It is a trend-driven seasonal pop-up, only open for short periods.

"The store runs as a seasonal pop-up store, which really differentiates us from other interior stores on the high street. Each time-limited theme blends a 'look of the moment' with lovingly curated treasures from travels both near and far,” explains Emma Holbrook, Owner and Curator.

“The store represents a discovery experience for the customer, who can explore the stories behind the pieces sourced from all corners of the globe, while embracing our eclectic vibe that distinguishes the Soden Style brand.”

Emma’s advice to people wanting to get into the retail game is “to have a strong identity with your own unique selling point, something that makes you stand out from the others." She also advises retailers to be flexible and reactive, an advantage independent stores have over large-scale retailers.



Workshops and 3-D virtual shopping

  • Founded: 2017
  • Located: Hertfordshire
  • Retailer: Emma Bustamante, Owner and Founder

"Be flexible and reactive. That's what sets small independent retailers out from the crowd; our ability to turn on a penny and react to the market and to our customers needs."

Emma Bustamante

Cositas have a stunning range of home furnishings and giftware in their St Albans shop, but that’s not all they offer. In 2018, Cositas launched a 3-D virtual tour that lets people explore the space and shop. They also rent their space out as a pop-up to independent brands to give them an opportunity to showcase their products in a brick and mortar environment. In addition, they run their business as a creative hub, with a substantial calendar of creative workshops.

Owner Emma Bustamante explains, “it's a win/win situation. With the troubles facing the retail sector in the UK at the moment, it helps with our rent and creates a greater range of stock, while supporting small businesses who wouldn't ordinarily be able to showcase in a shop. Cross-marketing with social media is also a big advantage in helping get our name out.”

Emma’s advice to people wanting to get into the retail game is, “to have a strong identity with your own unique selling point, something that makes you stand out from the others." She also advises retailers to be flexible and reactive, an advantage all independent retailers have over retail giants.


We Built This City

Live canvas for artists

  • Founded: 2014
  • Located: London
  • Retailer: Alice Mayor, Founder

"What we like to do is bring artists into the space to do workshops to create live work. We give over our storefront for three months to a different artist each time, who have this amazing live canvas to work on."

Alice Mayor

Starting out as a pop-up, We Built This City is a popular brick and mortar store in London’s famous Carnaby Street. Their mission is to revolutionise London souvenirs by bringing together London-inspired goods from artists, designers and makers, living and working in the city.

Founder Alice Mayor says that We Built This City is “offering visitors from across the globe (along with London locals!) the chance to take home a unique and lasting piece of the city, whilst supporting London’s creative community at the same time.”

Customers can meet and learn from the artists directly, which also helps to drive new audiences to London's creative communities.


Isle Skye Candle Co

Environmentally conscious retail

  • Founded: 2006
  • Located: 5 stores across Scotland
  • Retailer: James Robertson, Founder

"We are constantly inspired by our beautiful natural surrounds here on Skye. So, we always try and be as environmentally friendly as possible so that hopefully we can help make that difference."

James Robertson

A passion for all things natural has always been at the heart of Isle of Skye. From the brand's inception in 2006, they have had a conscious commitment on the use of natural ingredients and finding new ways to be environmentally friendly. Sixteen years on, sustainability continues to be a cornerstone of the business, which spans five brick and mortar sites, an online store, plus stockists across the UK.

Founder James Robertson says he and his team are inspired by the picturesque surroundings on Syke, a remote island off the coast of Scotland. The team are constantly finding innovative ways to make the manufacturing process more sustainable, including offering incentives, such as discounts and loyalty points, to customers in return for bringing back their used products. They then clean and refill the products, mitigating sending extra waste to landfills.

James' advice for fellow retailers is to “get a good inventory management system on the go so you know instantly what stock is going to really make you money and help pay the bills. Also having an easy checkout and loyalty system really helps to impress customers and keep them coming back.”



Data driven product selection

  • Founded: 2011
  • Located: 3 stores in London, Brighton, Bristol
  • Retailer: Sidonie Warren, Co-founder

"There's a lot of discussion about this being a challenging time for retail, particularly on the High Street. Take a step back and you'll notice many unique brands that are thriving. These brands stand apart from the rest, so be unique and find your balance of creativity and commerciality."

Sidonie Warren

Papersmiths is a design-led stationary and paper goods brand with four beautiful brick and mortar spaces in London, Brighton and Bristol, and a concession in the Coal Drops Yard development in Kings Cross.

One of the secrets to Papersmiths’ success is having highly unique stock. The team works hard to source items that aren’t stocked anywhere else in the UK. They also have a relentless focus on stunning store design.

Sidonie credits her in-store software solution with giving her the time to invest in finding niche stock, because of the time Vend saves her across admin and inventory management. Once items are in-store, Sidonie tracks them using Vend to see what is performing well and uses the data to make informed purchasing decisions.

“It’s fascinating to see which products are most popular and why. Plus, it helps us make better buying decisions.”

Sidonie advises other retailers to find a balance between creativity and commerciality. She wears many hats in the business, including overseeing buying, product development, store experience, design, marketing and PR, while always working on business growth and looking out for new opportunities. She also advises other retailers to

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