Christmas Eve will be the last trading day for The Lynn Tait Gallery in Old Leigh, with the family having taken the tough decision to shut the doors on the shop that was founded by its namesake who died in June, 30 years previous. Meanwhile, one of the many links to Lynn lives on not far away.
Grace Turner worked at The Lynn Tait Gallery as a ‘Saturday girl’, 13 years ago. There, Grace became inspired by Lynn to get into cards and now runs a successful Henries-winning card company, GracieGirl Designs, making handmade cards as well as running her own shop, Artisan, in Rochford, Essex with her mum, Sallyann.
Here, seeing her business very much as a Lynn legacy, Gracie tells her tale…
“Hearing the news this will be the last Christmas for The Lynn Tait Gallery in Old Leigh (with shop closing its doors on Christmas Eve in its current guise), made me feel privileged to have worked at Lynn’s award winning shop as my very first weekend job. At the time I was interested in fashion and concentrating on my textile homework to be able to go to The London College of Fashion University, card designs didn’t feature in my world.
I admired Lynn’s business plan of trade sales and shop premises. I was too young to realise what was involved, but where I am now mirrors Lynn’s career, and if I can be half as successful, it would be such an achievement.
So rewind to 2013 where GracieGirl Designs began. The origami aspect came to life after my now-husband Chris folded a napkin into a dress one evening and I thought to myself ‘that would look great on a card’. Now there are over 350 designs in the Origami range and I hate to think how many pieces of paper have been folded but the designs do create beautiful handmade cards. The team is: myself I do all the graphic layouts and think up the designs; my mum Sallyann who I’ve named ‘macca pacca’ because she helps glue and pack, and Chris still helps me fold all spare hours we have. We got married in April, so he must enjoy it! I’m very blessed to have family support!
Chris and I attended The Ladder Club days in Southend, we picked up a lot of tips for the business which kept us on the right path moving forward.
In May 2014 I took the plunge and showcased at PG Live, it was a successful show winning two Silver Tickets and 32 shop orders with leads for others. The supermarkets and overseas clients loved the designs, it was a matter of could we supply them with the larger quantities. We discussed the pros and cons and decided to keep the GracieGirl brand as a ‘specialist small’ publishers rather than mainstream for the handmade identity to be true.
I’m so pleased we did as in October 2014 GracieGirl Designs won The Henries Award in the Best Handmade or Hand-Finished category. I was completely overwhelmed. To think I was among finalists who included Janie Wilson, The Art File, Wendy Jones-Blackett and Five Dollar Shake – My dream to win seemed extremely slim, but we did it!
Chris took me to Edinburgh to visit a shop who ordered from us at the show called Paper Tiger, where the Valentine’s cards were on display. It was a very humbling day.
After the win
Winning The Henries award gave me the confidence to think ‘what’s next!’ After the win Lynn emailed and asked me to visit the Gallery for a catch up chat where she placed an order, asked for a personalised new school card for Jack her grandson and gave me some valuable advice. It was a brilliant afternoon. I came away from there and started looking for commercial units. I felt a buzz about owning a shop where I could still sell to trade stores but offer a personalised side to the business to my own customers.
Finding a unit
It proved very difficult to find the right shop unit but in July 2015 a little Grade II listed nail boutique was closing its doors in Rochford, Essex. I just knew that was ‘The One!’ I rang mum and she came to look around with me we both left feeling optimistic and within two weeks I had the keys. It was so exciting/nerve wracking/stressful – but still felt right.
So again my supportive family and friends helped transform the boutique in a two week turnaround and we opened the doors of Artisan on Monday 3 August 2015. My dream became a reality that day and I’m so proud of the little shop!
What we offer
It is mum and I who work in the shop offering cards and gifts with personalisation for every occasion in life. Two years on we have worked with 42 couples for their wedding day, which I find unbelievable as I didn’t think wedding stationery would be one of the areas we would cover. In all honesty The Henries win gave me the confidence to go for it.
Customers are always commenting on how unique the products in the shop are, they love the feel of the shop and walk away with a spring in their step. We love that our cards and gifts bring so much joy to individuals for special occasions.
Trials and Tribulations
Each day is different you have your highs and lows, good days and bad. The first year of opening Artisan was an anxious time, not knowing if it will work is the worst feeling! We have extremely busy days and quiet ones. It would be nice to see a set pattern, we still can’t call it. Rochford is a small village with businesses coming and going, people do say ‘you would be better in Leigh, Rayleigh, Brighton’ and yes, we can’t argue with the reasoning or say we haven’t thought the same, but somehow it is working, going from strength to strength by recommendations and word of mouth.
I would like to employ someone for Saturdays and at busy periods, I feel this is an area where small businesses suffer due to the extra costs involved.
Where we are now
The business has found its feet now in its third year, I had to concentrate on getting it all sorted and that put a stop to the trade designs. I’ve designed a new range for spring seasons 2018 and the Valentine’s range has been supported already with orders coming in still, which is great and a big boost to moral.
For now we shall continue doing what we are doing and see where this exciting journey takes us. And as the lovely Lynn said, I will continue to fly the flag for us Essex Girls and I hope I’m doing her proud!”
Instagram – @artisanrochford