By Tamra Booth, Keeeps
What a month! The whole Keeeps team have been working hard to get everything in place for when the shop opens. I have spent most of January with the builders in the final push to finish the shop fit out, and hope that in the next update blog I can announce our shop and store launch!
In readiness for the opening of our pottery studio, we started January with a staff pottery class and tutor training session. You are going to love our potters, they're amazing! We spent an evening going through the studio and class processes, how things work and where things go as well as the actual format of the classes. Between all of us, we managed to work out what we thought worked well and not so well for the classes.
To put the training session to the test, we ran some 'Friends and Family' soft opening classes in the last two weeks of January.
We ran 10 classes over those 2 weeks, with 5-6 people in each class. As you know, the studio is not yet finished (although it's almost there!) so we had to carry out health and safety risk assessments to make sure we could get everyone into the studio whilst the builders were still working away! A HUGE thank you to the Keeeps team and CBS Builders for their hard work in making it happen and to make sure we gave our guests the best experience possible in our trial classes under the circumstances!
The classes were for friends and family of the Keeeps team and we really wanted their honest feedback. The whole purpose of running the trial classes was to fine tune and perfect the experience for when our customers are able to join us (more on that below!).
Wow. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, and it was fantastic to see our guests having such a good time, looking the part in their Keeeps pottery aprons, with the studio full of laughter. That's really what Keeeps is all about.
In terms of the business, it was an opportunity to gain some useful and constructive feedback on how to make it a really sensational experience for our future customers.
Most excitingly, our guests were very impressed with the building, the way we had tastefully and stylishly refurbished it, and they got on extremely well with our potters - we were so pleased that they enjoyed themselves so much.
This really gave our potters the chance to get to grips with the Keeeps format, and to ensure that our customers have the best pottery experience with us.
In between everything else, I'm always on the hunt for new pottery for you, to load onto our physical and online shelves as well as to meet some new talented potters.
Luckily for Keeeps, one of our founding potters, Amber Boissieux is also Senior Technician at our pottery studio, and her talent knows no bounds. Unfortunately for her, this means we're always bugging her to make us some more pots and we've just bagged some glorious mugs and jugs in her signature colours. She's also working on some new glazes for us which we can't wait to see!
Amber's Sublime Scented Candles
Another one of our original potters, Diana Ambida, who we have co-designed some pottery with previously, was on our pottery hit list this month! Our Keeepers will be familiar with Diana's work. Her glazes never cease to amaze me, she's constantly experimenting and is completely unaware of her huge natural talent and eye for finishes.
I ended up buying quite a lot from Diana, which I'd prepared myself for in advance of the visit as I knew I wouldn't be able to resist! I came away with some stunning Japanese dishes, some black and white glazed serving bowls, platters, mugs, tea bowls and for good measure, some bud vases too. Got to cover all bases!
Just a selection of Diana's work
If you're into colourful pottery, you'll be pleased to hear we have also commissioned some peach, mint green and turquoise pottery from Diana, so keep your eye on our social media!
One of two new potters on the Keeeps roster is charming hobby potter Angela who lives local to our pottery store and studio. We bought a selection of her work, which we will be releasing in store and online over the next few weeks. Her barrel fired pieces are perfection - check out her barrel fired vases below, which we released today as part of Throw-in Thursday!
Finally, we went over to London and met the lovely Claire whose work we have admired for some time. Claire is also a graphic designer and these skills are clearly evident in her edgy and cool designs. We are especially excited about being the first retailer to stock her innovative cat bowls (pictured below) which are designed exclusively by Claire.
Our most frequently asked question: when are you opening?!
SOON! Having somehow avoided it for the last two years, my home was finally hit with Covid, as was my build team, so this caused further delay to the refurbishment. We are really getting there now though, and are currently waiting on the custom furniture to arrive so we can start finalising everything. We are hoping that we will be open by the end of February.
In the meantime, Bronwen, Lucia, Daisy and Jules have all been doing a brilliant job over at our pop-up store on Spittal Street in Marlow. Everything is displayed beautifully and they've been chatting away and getting to know our customers and their pottery needs!
Without realising, I appear to have gained the role of IT manager these days, and I find more and more of my time is spent making sure that all the systems are talking to one another in advance of the store opening.
January is always a good time to reflect and shake things up where necessary for the year ahead so I've spent a lot of time with Jules working out how to assess our data to ensure steady improvement and growth, so we can finetune everything for the next store we open. I've also spent time with Mega Megs (as I call her!) working on our social media strategy, figuring out how to keep building on what we have achieved so far, but trying not to fall down the social media rabbit hole!
We also sourced an air purification system to make sure we have a Covid friendly store and pottery studio when we open - no, Covid, you are not welcome here!
My PA, Amy, deserves a medal for her constant juggling of my diary to make sure I fit in as much as possible - she's amazing.
Finally, we had Yasmin join the Keeeps team at the end of the month, who is now managing wholesale, private pottery class and pottery party enquiries and she has hit the ground running. We are currently in talks with two well known restaurants to make some custom tableware for them, which is so exciting!
We've had some really exciting press coverage in January, being featured in Homes and Gardens Magazine and many pieces of our pottery being used in Channel 5's 'Go Veggie and Vegan' with Saturday Kitchen's Matt Tebbutt.
The team work really hard to get us national exposure, and you're never sure when you send out the products, how much of it will make it into the final feature. We were overjoyed to see so so much of our pottery make the cut, and are thoroughly enjoying seeing our pottery on the telly every Thursday!
All episodes are on demand on Channel 5, with episode 5 airing tonight at 7pm. It's actually a really good programme so I would recommend you watching it even if we weren't on it!
It's been a real challenge to know when to release our classes, with the various delays we have had with the store. What we didn't want to do is release them, then have to delay your booked classes.
I have been working with my web developer Umang to get the booking app up and running for the classes - we changed the software three times but we are now flying with the current set up. It was important that your experience in booking the classes was straightforward and seamless, and we think we are now there.
We will be releasing the first batch of pottery classes in the next few days.
Trust me, it is going to be worth the wait!
Finally, I want to say a massive thanks to my amazing team who work so hard behind the scenes. We can't wait to fling open the doors and welcome you all inside as soon as possible.