BY TAMRA BOOTH, KEEEPS
I realise I open most of these update blogs by saying “another busy month!” and November is no different. I wonder if it will ever slow down but, then again, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself!
This month not only are we still ploughing on with the renovations and fit out of the main Marlow high street shop, but we also opened a pop-up shop round the corner on Spittal Street, which you may have already seen on our socials or perhaps even visited it.
A couple of weeks ago, Jules, our Head of Retail, and I made the trip to a very cold and grey Stoke-on-Trent to have a think about the bigger picture for the business. I’ve also been to see some incredibly talented local potters and have collected some lovely things for our customers to get their hands on, both in-store and online. And we got all festive when we set up a stall at Shiplake College Christmas Fair! So, let’s get into it, I’ve got loads to tell you!
POP-UP SHOP OPENED
Packing, stacking and stocking
The opening of the pop-up shop on the 18th of November not only meant that we could finally have a home for all the pottery we’ve been buying, but it meant that my family and I got our home back after 18 months of being surrounded by not only pots, but packaging, photography equipment and leaflets. It’s strange, it feels really empty now, but it’s just back to how it was before – I guess I’d got used to having the pots around!
It was a mission to move everything there though, as you can probably imagine, pottery doesn’t travel well on its own so it all had to be properly packaged and loaded, not to mention the unloading on the other side. Amber (our lovely studio technician), Lucia (our equally lovely shop assistant) and Jules all saved me having to do multiple journeys, loading up their little cars and packing them to the brim with pottery!
It’s all unpacked now and it feels so good to have a proper little “warehouse” for our stock and we were pretty impressed to see how much we had when it was finally all in one room together.
Jules took charge of the shop and really took the bull by the horns when it came to getting the pop-up shop together. She has incredible merchandising experience and skills and had a clear idea of how she wanted to display the pottery, so I just ended up being head of shelving to ensure she could achieve her vision!
You would think that shelving would be the easy bit, but due to a delivery blunder by everyone’s favourite Swedish furniture shop(!), the day before opening our builder Craig at CBS made a mad last-minute dash, to collect the shelving - big shout out and thank you to Craig!
With the shelves finally up, Jules and the rest of the shop team worked their magic and the pop up was transformed into a cosy, welcoming store within 12 hours.
I was completely blown away by the way Jules brought it all together to make it look so stylish and I’m very proud of the whole team for pulling out the stops calmly and with great humour.
The pop-up has now been open for just over 2 weeks and it’s going well. Given its location, we knew that the footfall would be a bit less, simply because it’s not on the main high street.
However, we’ve had a steady stream of interested and curious customers buying some of our lovely products and enquiring about pottery classes. It’s been great to get to know the community a bit more before we open the proper store in the new year – we’re so pleased we decided to open in Marlow!
UPDATE ON HIGH STREET SHOP
That brings me nicely to the high street store! Some of you may have seen a few updates on our social media about the store, and the extensive works that we have been doing which were completely unexpected when we first moved into the premises.
However, the structural steels are now on site and almost all in place, decoration has started to the ground floor, and the studio wet room flooring has now been laid.. All the first fix plumbing and electrical works are sorted, and the furniture manufacturers are finalising their drawings for the shelving, counter, studio tables and chairs. We can’t wait to see them being made and hopefully I’ll be able to provide some updates next month.
For me, the most exciting bit has been moving a desk into the top floor so I can spend more time on site and watch it all unfold and make sure we do things right first time. The builders at CBS Marlow have so far been brilliant, they beaver away with smiles on their faces and are always happy to help when I need to change anything or need something lugging upstairs!
It’s all really starting to shape up and I can slowly see the plans becoming reality.
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS TURNED ON
On 25 November, THE Chris Evans switched on the Christmas Lights in Marlow, and the main event was directly opposite The White House, our new premises! We had MyMarlow in to take photos and videos whilst Chris and the Mayor did the countdown and (after a countdown from 100!) turned on the lights.
The White House is not only a great location for a shop but the best spot for photos of Marlow high street. The footage they got that night of the bus and the hundreds of people up and down the high street was amazing.
Quick selfie with a Christmas angel at the Switch On!
During the hustle and bustle, I managed to sneak down to the Chequers Pub where the special guests and local dignitaries were gathering and I even managed to shake hands with Chris Evans himself!
He did a great job of switching on the lights and made it a really fun evening for all the Marlow residents!
VISITED SOME LOVELY POTTERS AND COLLECTED SOME INCREDIBLE POTTERY
In amongst all things shop and pop-up, I got out and about visiting some super talented potters, some just for a chat and to check out their work and some to go and collect orders. I can never resist the urge to take a look at other things whilst I’m picking up an order and inevitably leave with more than I went to collect!
First up, was Bronwen who I met at 'Pub in the Park' when she came and found our stall – we adored her from that moment on. Not only does she love what we are doing at Keeeps, but she happens to be an amazing potter – don’t you just love coincidences like that?!
We’ve been meaning to meet up since 'Pub in the Park' in September, and even though she lives 8 minutes away from me, we only got round to meeting this month. I was so impressed by her work and bought a fair bit on the spot (I told you, I can’t resist!). We bought some huge vases which we will be displaying in the fireplace hearths at the White House, and some pretty spherical vases. Her work is functional art – calming and beautifully designed. Bronwen herself is glamourous and a lot of fun, and that flair is really evident in her work.
We showcase and love Lesley’s work here at Keeeps, and it was totally worth the long journey to visit her studio in Stoke Newington (it took 3 hours to get home because of the traffic!).
Lesley and I chatted away about everything, from her story of how she had been in her studio for over 20 years, the pottery she really enjoys making (fox ornaments and Batman mugs!), to where she has sold her work over the years (including the Conran Shops in London and Paris), and who she went to ceramics college with – Johnny Vegas!
Lesley is known as the ‘Punk Potter’, she has strong and educated opinions, purple spiky hair and she is sweet and kind and a joy to work with – her work is colourful and fun, much like Lesley herself.
Lesley unloading some of our Huggable Mugs from her kiln
Last but certainly not least, was a visit to collect one of our biggest orders yet which included some large platters in Noriko's exquisite Dawn glaze (see below!) and lots of Japanese style mugs and, when I say lots, I mean it; there were 3 HUGE boxes waiting for me when I arrived at her studio. In classic Tamra style, I also came away with some gorgeous plant pots which weren’t part of the collection order!
Noriko’s glazes are some of our favourites - stylish, calm and cosy – what’s not to love?
Noriko's signature Dawn glaze - bowls now available at Keeeps
SHIPLAKE COLLEGE CHRISTMAS FAIR
Shiplake College’s Christmas Fair is always a popular one in the local area and it has some top-quality, fantastic local independent traders there, such as Bella & Bo and one of our newest potters, Emma Alington, also had a stall selling her gorgeous bone china, which we now stock both online and in-store – a little taster of Emma’s work is pictured below for you to admire!
We arrived at the college with plenty of time, as we had a lot of boxes to carry in and unpack. As I said with the pop-up store, travelling with pottery can be a bit of a faff as you have to wrap it, wrap it again, then once more, all to make sure it arrives in one piece. I did find myself feeling very jealous of those selling cushions and books!
After a few glitches with the Wi-Fi (isn’t there always?!) and the assistance of a very helpful IT man at the college, we were up and running. Jules was beside herself with excitement when using our new remote payment system for the first time, having spent hours setting it up properly by herself and finding it working so smoothly! Leaving Jules with her new favourite toy, I busied myself with packing up the pottery for customers, making it both secure and pretty while chatting away to them.
The day zoomed past, and before we knew it, it was over, and we were really sad to leave!
KEEEPS ON TOUR
Jules and I visited Stoke-on-Trent last week, to look at the bigger picture for Keeeps, specifically to explore future manufacturing possibilities now that we are managing several wholesale enquiries and orders.
So, where better place to start than the home of the potteries? Stoke was not exactly what we were expecting, and whilst we had a bustling pottery town in mind steeped in history, it has clearly never quite recovered from the demise of the coal and pottery industries. A real shame but something I now dream of bringing my property regeneration experience to one day. When I get a minute!
That aside, Jules and I had a fantastic time visiting the Emma Bridgewater Factory, The Potteries Museum, Middleport Pottery, and the Gladstone Museum where the Great Pottery Throw Down is filmed. There is no doubt that Stoke-on-Trent remains the mecca for manufactured pottery and pottery history.
We left brimming with knowledge and brains whirring with ideas on how we could merchandise our products and how to maximise the Keeeps brand…watch this space!
A few words on the pottery class booking app. So many of you have contacted us and asked when you’ll be able to book onto a pottery class – we appreciate your interest so much! We were initially hoping to release the booking app in November, but with unexpected delays with the shop renovation and fit out caused by those pesky structural issues and current national building material shortages, we need to ensure that we can achieve our targeted completion dates before we release class dates.
We know how frustrating it is for you keen pottery fans, and we really appreciate your patience with us on this – but we don’t want to disappoint you by having to reschedule class dates due to delays. We can’t wait to see you in our classes next year and we promise as soon as we have firmed up dates, you will be the first to know! Simply sign up to our newsletter on our home page to be notified 😊
Another busy month for the Keeeps team, and December is likely to be the same – with my month already starting with a 3 day First Aid Course – customer safety is important to us at Keeeps!
In the meantime, visit the website, we have just released some gorgeous new pieces in the run up to Christmas, and if you’re local to us, go and check out our pop-up store, we’re open Thursdays to Sundays up to and including Christmas Eve!