A few years ago i started keeping a diary of my life as a shop keeper with the idea of one day editing it and publishing it as a book. I realised that with the way my mental health is this is highly unlikely to ever come to fruition so instead I've decided I'll use the content as blog posts and upload the chapters / months here gradually on my blog. They might be entertaining reading for someone out there. Let me know if you enjoy reading them, a glimpse into my life as a high street shop owner.
The title i probably would have given the book would be....
'Thank you have a nice day'
24th Aug 2021 : 1.30pm
You know, on days like today where it is quiet and I barely see anyone I truly do ask myself what am I doing wrong here? Why is there no one coming into my shop? Look at all the beautiful things I have adorned the shelves with; don’t you all want these beautiful things?! Then I remember that I’m at the top of a quiet high street and most people probably don’t even know I’m here.
Marketing they say; marketing. Like I haven’t thought about that! I spend half of my life navigating social media, trying to keep up with the latest trends and the latest ‘must use’ system. I’ve found a fantastic software package though, Canva it’s called. It’s been brilliant, I’ve had great fun getting back to designing, I’ve managed to create my own logo for my recently launched ‘Betty’s Books’ and some various ‘branded’ infographics to use online too. I was feeling proud of myself up until I realized that its another thing to add to my ever growing ‘to do’ list – update infographics and get them out onto various social media platforms.
It’s so quiet today. You’d think by now, after what is nearly 10 years of owning a shop I’d be used to this. Sitting alone, thinking about what I need to do, avoiding the boring tasks and instead thinking up other fun and interesting tasks for myself. Moaning about not having customers to serve and then realizing that if I don’t actually DO something then how will they know to come visit me!
10 years, wow, I guess it nearly has been. I opened my first little shop space in what must have been 2012 when my second son was just a newborn. I used to take him and my first born who was a toddler into the shop and activity space where I sold arts and crafts suppliers and ran workshops for children. I felt so proud of myself opening shop, it was my dream after running the business in my garage the prior years. It was hard work, I can’t believed I managed it to be honest, taking care of a tiny baby, a toddler and running a children’s activity center / shop. What on earth was I thinking? I did have staff then though, so I wasn’t alone. I essentially paid other people to work alongside me rather than take a wage myself. That was what business start up’s did I thought, it would only be for the first 2 years. I’d done a business plan, I knew what I needed to do, where I needed to get in order to achieve what I wanted so I could take a salary, be my own boss and life the dream life as a shop keeper. Oh I was naïve; the world had such different plans for me.
I was living in Taunton then, where I was born. I was newly married, 23 years old (I think, my memory on some things isn’t great) and I had worked a number of jobs previously. I’d never really felt right though, I’d always felt drawn to the idea of running my own little shop, being my own boss and sharing my love to creativity with others. I had dreams of building up my arts and crafts centre in Taunton, I wanted It to become not just a shop but a destination. I would spend my days working and my nights dreaming, planning, coming up with new ideas on how I could improve the shop, researching what new products to order in. I was obsessed, I can see that now. My mental health has always been an issue, manic depression they called it when I was a teenager, bipolar they call it now. At the time I was on medication, I was seeing doctors regularly I thought I was stable but I think really I was just about coping. I was a young mum and wife, I had a lot of responsibilities and I truly believed I was living my best life. After I think it was around 6 months maybe, I decided to move from the small space I was renting above a soft play centre into a big high street shop. It was a big place, 3 stories high. It was too big; I know that now. I jumped in at the deep end like I always do, something I’m still making the mistake of now. At the time though it was exciting, I had registered the business as a limited company (another poor business decision, one that I took advice on but now realize from the wrong person, they just wanted my money I think) So there I was, the proud owner of a limited company, a high street shop (all be it one that was in a small street just off from the main high street) and mum to two amazing boys who had by this point started nursery so were only with me in the shop part of the time. I had everything I had ever dreamed of having; apart from customers. Those were the main thing I needed and if I’m honest with myself I didn’t have them. Not enough of them to make things financially viable. I had a small following of people who had attended my centre and shop before and they loved it and supported me in my big shop move but I needed more people and fast. I had bills to pay, much bigger ones than I had in my previous shop space. I dug deep, I did everything possible to get the word out. The trouble was I was doing it mostly on my own, I didn’t really have the support of friends or family. Noone really understood me or what I was trying to achieve. Some friends got involved, tried to help but each only stayed for as long as they were getting paid; they were not helping me out of kindness but because it was easy money. I paid them to do various things to help me when what I really needed was a support network of friends to help me with small things and keep me n track.
I employed more staff, again paying others rather than myself, to keep things running. I was scared to close the doors of the shop for fear of missing a customer so I opened all the hours that I could afford too. I used every penny of my savings just to keep the place open and I spent 90% of my time there, missing out on so much time with my boys as babies. This is something I massively regret now. I really do hate myself for the fact that I didn’t just slow down, didn’t focus on them as babies and their needs. I’m still making that mistake now I guess, still working 6 days a week, they are older now of course and things are very different so it’s not as bad as it was then.
Crickey, customers, 4 at once. What a treat. I wonder if they will buy anything. I had better sign off for now and get back to this later.
Well one of the many that came in made a purchase, that is something. The others seemed to like the place, said kind things. It’s always lovely to hear but it really doesn’t pay the bills; of which there are many.
That’s my own fault though, I have a problem with spending, especially when in a ‘mania’ mode, I want to buy so many beautiful things to put in the shop forgetting I have a long list of invoices that need paying off first. Speculate to accumulate, isn’t that something they say? I don’t know. What I do know is having an empty shop wouldn’t really help would it, I need the shelves full of interesting arty and bookish things to get people to come in and fall in love, to spend their hard earned money. So my spending is warranted, surely?
I’m seriously on one today, even I can sense it, I’m in a bit of a panic because I have the dentist this afternoon. 4.15pm, it means closing the shop early too, I hate doing that. Not early according to our listed opening times, those I’ve kept to the term time hours (that’s a whole other story) but I do tend to stay open until about 5pm during the holidays just in case I can catch extra trade from staycationers in the area. My poor boys miss out, which frustrates me but it really is a catch 22, I need to earn to keep a roof over their head, to afford to buy them the things they want and take them the places they want to go but to earn I need to keep the shop open long hours in order to catch trade. There is no pattern to the trade here, it rises and falls.
25th August 2021 : 10am
The dentist wasn’t so bad yesterday, no injection required and luckily Jon, my husband, finished work on time so was able to keep the shop open for me until 5pm. We caught a few late afternoon sales which was good because today is another sunny day and unlikely to be very good for sales. It’s funny, being in a seaside town people always seem to think that sunny days mean busy days. The opposite is in fact true for retail like mine, in a location like mine. On overcast days people are more likely to browse around the high street looking in the shops, on sunny days people tend to chill out on the beach until they over-heat and then have a browse later in the afternoon; though by then they rarely end up making purchases as they’ve spent their money on food/drink for the day and ice-cream.
OK, I was explaining how I got here, in Seaton, yesterday, where was i? I think I got to the part where I was in my new 3 story rented high street premises; spending money on staff rather than paying myself still. Things were going OK, I managed to stock the shop well, I was running workshops, events and craft birthday parties. I took on two apprentices and got them through their courses, I was just about scraping by which was all you could ask for in the first few years of a business. Things were going ok. Well they went OK for a while, until the end of 2013, in December 2013 my personal life took a massive hit. I was a young mum and wife and found out that my then husband had done something terrible, something unforgivable and something that essentially destroyed our lives. I couldn’t forgive him and so we split. It was a really difficult time, I felt like I had no one, I was never really close to my family and had very few friends. I managed to keep the shop afloat, just about, but I didn’t have the same passion for it I had had before. My mental health suffered and i didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life anymore.
It was in early 2014 that one of my friends, Jon, my now husband, (another long story) became a much closer friend. He helped me out of the black cloud I was on and he encouraged me to push forward with my ideas. One of which was to open a sweet shop after the towns sweet shop had closed down. Just up the street from my arts & crafts shop together we opened a sweet shop ‘Creative Candy’ we called it. It was a fantastic distraction from life, from everything else going on around me, but that is really what it was when I look back on it. A distraction. It did OK, it was covering its own costs, I was there most of the time and had staff looking after my arts and crafts shop a few doors down. This wasn’t ideal running two shops because it was twice the stress when really I should have been focusing on my children. Their parents had just split up and they were so young. I really should have thought more about them and less about distracting myself with business ideas. Jon and I looked after each other, we worked well together. He helped out in the shop whenever he wasn’t at his other job and over the months we grew closer and closer. I think we began to realise we were not just best friends to each other but there was something more there.
I’m not sure if it was the stress of having two shops, the feeling of guilt that I was falling in love again so quickly, the feeling of hatred against myself for not putting my sons first or whatever else but I began hating my life and my shops. I wanted to get away, I wanted to run away. I started looking for new locations, somewhere to relocate myself and my sons. At this point I didn’t really believe anything would come of the relationship between Jon and I, I knew we’d always be close friends but I didn’t think that anything more would truly last. Who would want me, a divorcee with two children and two slow burning businesses. I considered closing both businesses but in the end I kept them both running between me and staff. When I was looking to move away I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted it to be far enough to start again but not too far that I could go back to visit my Nanna and my Dad now and then. I know I said I wasn’t close to most of my family but my Nanna, my Nanna was different. She was my rock and the most important person in my entire life other than my children. She was the one person who had believed in me from day one, who never gave up on me. She was tough when she needed to be tough and she was kind and loving when she needed to be. I owe everything I am today to my Nanna, everything. So the search began, I looked online every day and viewed a few places.
I’d always thought about living by the sea so when this property in Seaton came up I knew I had to take a look. I booked a viewing of a run down old building on the high street just yards from a post office and just a 5 min walk from the sea front. I could just about afford it, but it would take years to afford all the work needed to get it to a livable standard. It was a big risk to take.
*** So this was the first part of the diary I was keeping, there is a lot more. Would you like to read it?