BY TAMRA BOOTH, KEEEPS
We can hardly believe it’s been a whole month since we released our September Update – where is the time going?! This month has been a major one for our new shop and studio and we have lots to tell you.
It’s definitely been a month of ups and downs, and whilst working on the shop and studio has taken up the vast majority of my time this month, I’ve managed to get out and see some of our studio potter suppliers, and I’m working hard on getting the pottery class booking app up and running. The app has taken longer than anticipated to select and build and I felt like I was swimming against the tide, but I finally feel like we’re getting somewhere. Making an IT system work in practise is key. It is all too easy to accept that ‘the system can’t do that’ but sometimes you have to push a bit harder to ensure you end up with a more intuitive experience for customers!
In this month’s update, I will focus on the progress of the pottery store and studio as promised in last months’ update, so here’s everything that’s been going on with the shop on Marlow High Street.
Design meetings for pottery store & pottery studio
Due to my property and design background, I have managed or overseen plenty of property renovations over the years, so originally I was going to design the pottery store interiors myself. However, with the growing workload created by effectively building three businesses at once (the existing website business which is growing steadily, the pottery shop and the pottery studio), panic set in and I wondered how on earth I was going to get this all done and tie all three together, whilst also juggling my property career and the kids.
I had already done initial mood boards and Pinterest boards and had a clear vision for the pottery store and brand. I wanted it to be beautiful and colourful, avoiding the white painted gallery look, creating something warmer and more accessible, but stunning and smart too. I was looking at a lot of luxury shoe stores for display inspiration and I was drawn to the Tory Burch stores with their individual personalities but luscious interiors.
For the studio upstairs, I wanted this to be practical and functional but for there to be hints of colour and for it to flow seamlessly from the downstairs pottery store producing a complementary contrast. The whole idea behind the design is to show visitors and customers how, in a stylish context, pottery can look incredible and be set off by different backgrounds, in contrast with the making of pottery upstairs which is a more real, grounding, and relaxing experience.
With all of this to organise, I reached out to a few retail designers and they quickly pitched to me with the main challenge being the required turnaround of 3 weeks! The winning pitch was from an agency with a genuine interest in Keeeps and the senior designer Keith's personal passion for pottery meant they understood my vision and what we are trying to achieve. He worked tirelessly, and we were in regular and often late-night conversation over design ideas and challenges. When the designs arrived, I was literally speechless, and a tear came to my eye, it’s like he had read my mind and more. A few tweaks later to make it more functional and improving the customer journey and experience, we handed the drawings over to the builder Craig. I am now working closely with Craig to cover all angles and make it cost effective and practical – again lots of late-night Whatsapping!
Dealing with a listed building
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge with the building is the fact that it is so old. Built in the 1700s and Grade II Listed, we are having to make sure the White House is carefully and sympathetically renovated, fit for purpose, and structurally sound for the next 300 years. Most of the work to the building must be run by the Listed Building Officer to make sure we are preserving the building and not diluting any of its character. I feel very strongly about creating lasting legacies with property, and choosing care and attention over cost, although day-to-day this approach takes a lot longer (and costs more!) than when dealing with a 'normal' building.
With the Listed Building officer's approval and working with the landlord, not only are there now steel posts and a beam going into the White House (which we did not anticipate doing at the start), but works have also been carried out on the roof to stop the leaks which also meant a ceiling and two walls had to be replaced.. After a few weeks of concerns and lengthy discussions, we have made major progress and we’re almost out of the woods in terms of the shell of the building. Delays and price increases on materials such as timber and steel are not just what you read in the paper, they are real issues. But once we have everything in place in the next few weeks, then the fun can start with getting the interiors in place!
Given the delays on site, it was becoming clear that a late-autumn opening date was not going to be possible. We were obviously disappointed, and I was gutted to have to put back the opening date, but I decided not to dwell, to roll with the punches, and come up with a plan B, which we are excited to reveal to you here!
Christmas pop-up shop reveal
Whilst work continues at the shop on Marlow High Street, we will be opening a separate pop-up shop in November so you can swing by and get a taster of the products that will be in the ‘proper’ shop, which we anticipate will now be opening in January 2022. Whilst this does mean that pottery classes will not go ahead until early next year, it does mean that you can come and have a look at some gorgeous handmade pottery, buy Christmas gifts and vouchers for your loved ones, chat to us about pottery classes, and have a look at all of the amazing items that can be made with clay! The pop-up store is located in the old Fullard’s Jewellery shop, opposite Arlo & Jacob on Spittal Street. It opens on 18th November until 24th December, and we cannot wait to see you there.
Met with suppliers for the pottery store
We’ve had lots of meetings with potters this month, buying stock for the pottery store and the pop-up pottery store, so you can expect to find a large range of stylish and functional pottery made by UK potters. We source practical and beautiful handmade pottery which will make not only a gorgeous gift but one that your loved ones can use and admire every day, from ceramic kitchen gadgets and kitchenware to stunning vases, candles and home accessories.
One of our potters that does function and style perfectly is the lovely Robin Walden, whose talent is astounding, and whose work is unique and utterly special. We met with him at his Cotswolds studio this month and, as always with Robin, we ended up buying a LOT more than we originally planned (seriously, his work is irresistible) but we know our customers love and appreciate it, so who can blame us?
We also had a Zoom call with Ali Tomlin and bought some gorgeous porcelain pendant lights to hang in the pottery store and more of what has sold well previously, so you’re in for a treat with these. Ali delivered the pieces to us last week and we gave her a little building site tour of the shop! She used to be a graphic designer and her work is striking, stylish and subsequently very popular with our customers.
Emma Alington also popped over to see us and is our first bone china potter. She grew up locally in Maidenhead and still lives in the area and her clients include Fortnum & Mason, the Fat Duck and she has been featured on ITV. We are going to offer a range of Emma’s stunning work in the pottery store which we are sure will go down a storm!
We also met with Jane Potter (yes, that is her real name!) and ordered some custom made, huge, beautiful vases for the shop. As you know, the White House dates back to the Georgian era (built in the 1700s), so picture gorgeous ornate fireplaces decorated with large vases. It is going to look amazing!
As you can see, it has been a huge month for Keeeps with some big decisions made. Our booking app will be ready for you to check out the first batch of pottery classes very soon, with classes starting in January 2022 and we will provide an update on that next month. In the meantime, keep emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in taking a pottery class in the new year and make sure you pop by the pop-up shop when it opens – the date of which we will confirm shortly on our social channels.