It’s a long one but all the gossip is in here!
Wow what an eventful last 12 months we’ve had! I thought now would be a good time to summarise what went on and where we’ve ended up!
This time last year we were frantically finishing the renovation of our new HQ – a Barn! After a few months hard work, 70 Litres of paint (which took 3 weeks to apply), countless late nights, cuts, bumps and bruises, strops and expletives, the bespoke build of a beautiful oak finished coffee bar with a Belfast sink (my pride and joy) we finally completed Meadow Barn which was officially opened by Claire Perry MP in April last year – I thought that was going to be the highlight of our year but it really was just the start.
Then, just as we were settling down again, in July 2016 we were announced in the Telegraph as being one of the 2016 Small Biz 100! A celebration of great small businesses across the UK. A very proud moment for me and one that would end in a visit to 10 Downing Street later in the year. An awesome experience and one I will never forget.
Throughout the rest of the year Chris and I continued attending various events and artisan markets. We grew our online business and Boutique@Home parties. It was on one Sunday when we were trading at the Farmers Market at Swindon Designer Outlet in brilliant warm sunshine that I thought ‘I love it here but when the winter comes it will be windy, wet, cold and ‘orrible’ and I really don’t want to put us through all that again for a 3rd year’. We had already struck up a bit of a relationship with one of the Retail Account Managers at the Outlet and I asked him about the possibility of bringing our gazebo inside the Outlet for the Winter months. I thought we could just take a select few of our bestselling brands and maybe offer a hamper/gift wrap service. He liked the idea but wanted to come over to Meadow Barn and find out a bit more about what we did – he had a few other ideas for us to consider.
We met at Meadow Barn and had that chat. He loved the barn and everything we did! I explained a bit more about what I wanted to do and why. He asked me to leave it with him as he was due to attend a meeting with the rest of the management team at the Outlet to discuss Christmas 2016.
The very next morning, he called me and said the Team were really excited about PinkBox Boutique as a concept and wondered if I’d be interested in operating their Christmas Village that year. Rather than me bring one Gazebo, he offered me 5 Christmas Houses and a huge space to set up in a prime position. We would be their Christmas ‘headline act’. I’ve never been particularly phased by the idea of ‘big stuff’ so jumped at the opportunity – I could worry about the ‘how the hell’ later!
Eventually the deal was done and we moved into the Outlet at the end of October 2016 to stay until December 27th. 59 trading days, an awesome team of 14 newly recruited staff to help run it. A managed to convince a selection of our fantastic suppliers who all did as much as they could to help me deliver a beautiful Christmas Village offering our range of inspired gifts from inspiring creators. Now it wasn’t all plain sailing, in fact it was very hard work but looking back and although I didn’t realise it at the time, I was on a 3-month crash course in working with the ‘big boys’ – little did I know then that this period would shape my business through 2017 in ways I never considered possible.
About 3 weeks into our time at Swindon, the success of the Village was actually starting to concern me. I ended up in a really dark place worrying about how I could possibly sustain the performance we experienced in the run up to Christmas, after Christmas. When everyone else was patting me on the back saying how brilliant it all was, all I was thinking was that come January I had no idea whether I’d still have a business! How could I replicate this success doing what I had been doing before? The truth was, I couldn’t and I knew it.
In December, whilst still at the Outlet, I decided that I probably needed to stop doing some of the things we had been offering at PinkBox Boutique and focus on the stronger parts of our business. Do less, but put everything into it and do it even better! Then, just at the right time, the Outlet approached me and asked about my plans post Christmas – they had been really impressed with our Village, our operation and our work ethics. They had received great feedback about us. Equally, we had had a long stream of customers telling us we had to come back too! McArthur Glen, one of the biggest retail landlords in the country wanted to offer PinkBox Boutique a partnership. To open permanently at Swindon and consider other ventures at their other Outlets across the country. I was bowled over by that opportunity – they wanted to work with me and my brand!
January is always quiet in retail land and for me has traditionally been an opportunity to plan. So I set about working out what a partnership with McArthur Glen might look like, where else that could take me and what I’d need to be able to do it. I also formalised my decisions about the parts of our business we would leave behind in order to follow this new exciting journey.
So the upshot of all that planning is that we will no longer be offering our Boutique@Home shopping parties and we’ve stopped doing pretty much all of the markets and events we were doing. This allows me to focus on the website, our shop at Swindon and the next PinkBox Boutique shops.
We are now open at Swindon Designer Outlet – 7 days a week! The brands we have in our shop, which is just outside John Lewis are:- Wiltshire Chilli Farm, Chef Bernie’s, The Gift of Oil, Stainswick Farm, In a Pickle, Rosie’s Relish, Hawkshead Relish, SpiceNtice, Cornish Charcuterie, Hive Originals, Root Candles, Eco Chic, Thoughtful Bamboo Socks, Sunday Girl Posh Retro Pinnies, Isle of Mull Soap Co and our own PinkBox Intensive Beeswax Balms. We have a temporary set up currently but have engaged architects to design us a branded PinkBox space which we can roll out wherever we want. If you are visiting Swindon stop by and say hello to Lottie and Caitlin – our new team (shortly to be and a.n.other (and occasionally Chris and I). Shops number 2 and 3 are now in planning too! Watch this space for details of #2 as it’s coming very soon!
These are now our core brands but we will have more lovely products on our website and there will be seasonal guest appearances in our PinkBox shops. We are also offering a free Click & Collect service on our website. As we open more shops, our Click & Collect locations will also grow. Our values remain the same which is that we like to work with smaller businesses and our range will continue to be free of artificial colours, fragrances, preservatives, chemical nasties etc – through our suppliers we will continue to offer the inspired gifts from inspiring creators we are so proud of.
This also means *gulps* that we have decided to give up Meadow Barn – because our new direction means that we can never use it for the purposes we originally intended so in real, cold hard cash terms, it becomes an expensive storage facility. It deserves better than that – we had a chat with our Landlord who has always been supportive of the small businesses he homes and within 3 days, he’d found another exciting small business to take it over – someone who will love it (and our coffee bar) as much we did. We still need an HQ though and I couldn’t help notice that our Landlord had started work on renovating a tiny little barn in the Yard. When I asked him about it, he said he was just doing some emergency repairs before it finally fell down and he intended to keep his kids bikes in it whilst he decided what to do with it. He smiled when I asked if he’d turn it into our new HQ – another deal was done and we hope to move in sometime during the summer. It is much smaller but it is perfectly formed and we love it just as much as Meadow Barn. We won’t be holding any stock at the Yard any longer so PinkBox by Appointment is also disappearing! We are moving our stock to a managed warehouse. They will deal with all our internet orders and ensure the shops are replenished with stock as they need it.
It’s going to be a big year for some of our suppliers too, not least Wiltshire Chilli Farm with their latest kitchen refurb and extension – some of you will know that Kevin Gover from the Chilli Farm is also a director of PinkBox Boutique (and my Ex but we are still good friends so it all works). He now needs to focus on the push to grow WCF and I now need someone who can help me be a bit more grown up about our financials and funding requirements so Kevin is stepping down and I have appointed Angela Alexander to the role of Finance Director. Angela has a wealth of financial management experience, we share the same birthday and a love of lunching so I figure it’s a relationship that should work well. We all wish Kevin and all the guys down at The Wiltshire Chilli Farm lots of success with ther plans and look forward to even more yummy chilli goodies coming our way to share with you!
I still firmly believe you are only as good as your team and I continue to enjoy the support of my customers & suppliers (most of them are now good friends as well). I couldn’t do any of it without the support of my friends and family who constantly have to put up with my ridiculous drive, ambition, stubbornness and all the ups and downs of running a passion led business! I certainly couldn’t do any of it without my best friend, partner and Logistics Manager Extraordinaire, Chris – thank you everyone and here’s to a fun packed year!!