Cardie celebrates two decades at heart of Stoke Newington community
Twenty years as an indie card retailer is definitely something to be proud of, and that’s what Dom and Heidi Early are celebrating as co-founders of Earlybird Designs greeting card outlet and publisher.
“We used to supply the shop that we moved into with Dom’s card designs,” Heidi explained, “the owner wanted to give up the shop so asked if we wanted to take on the lease, it was only three years so we thought it was worth the risk!”
And, two decades after signing up for the short-term tenancy in the trendy north-east London enclave of Stoke Newington, the business is still going strong – with a few changes along the way including a wedding, two children, beating the 2008 recession, moving premises to the other end of the street, launching their own publishing arm, getting through Brexit and now weathering the current cost-of-living crisis.
“There’s never a dull moment in retail, we’re constantly learning, pivoting and finding new ways to engage with our customers, I feel very proud about that” Heidi added.
The couple are now firm fixtures in the Stoke Newington community – they even announced the birth of son Oliver on the shop door years before Instagram, and the Dom-delivered home birth was a talking point for weeks!
Oliver and his sister Amelia have helped out in the shop over the years and are now are a vital part of the card design process, as Heidi laughed: “They can be pretty critical so, when they really like a design, you know it’s going to be a winner.”
As if they didn’t have enough on their plates, Heidi also chairs the Stoke Newington Business Association: “I think High Streets are vital to the future of our communities and we have to work together to convince customers that we’re worth getting off their sofa for – we have to give them reasons to step through our doors every day.
“Apart from what we’re selling, it’s the experience we give them. One of our association’s main aims is to create well curated community-driven events that join businesses and customers together and makes long-term solid personal connections.
“It’s a baseline we all need to strive for, everyone feels connected with brands on social media, they need to feel that same personal connection with their local shops. It’s hard work but it’s also exciting and incredibly rewarding and, if we don’t do it, we won’t survive.”
The couple always employ local people as they reckon “what better way to know your customer than to employ them”, and most of their employees remember visiting the shop when they were in their buggies which definitely keeps money within the community.
To celebrate the big birthday employee and long-term customer Hannah Sharman designed a promotional postcard and created a social media card giveaway and lucky dip for shop customers, plus she created a bespoke print of the shop for Heidi and Dom: “We were so incredibly touched, it was so personal and heartfelt.”
And there have been many highlights over the past 20 years, including being shortlisted on the publishing side for The Henries Awards, and winning two Retas greeting retailer awards, one for being the best independent in London and one for its Thinking Of You Week retailer initiative.
The Hope programme of creating and delivering rainbow cards to their neighbours came off the back of the pandemic and Heidi added: “It really meant so much to be recognised, that was a very emotional awards ceremony!”
On the lows side, Heidi mused: “The pandemic was really tough, it was so scary not knowing whether we’d survive as a business but it ended up making us tougher, we learned a lot so we’re now more resilient and have better processes in place.
“I actually loved the part where we all opened up our shops again, the love from our customers was really humbling, everyone really did support us.”
So, what will the next 20 years look like? “We’re very much an organically growing business, it’s manageable, sustainable and keeps our lives balanced, and I think that adds to why we love it so much – we avoid unnecessary stress.
“Saying that, we’d like to grow our team, continue to invest in our own card designs and ensure we develop our shop to reflect the changing face of retail. It’s exciting to think about what retail will look like in 20 years’ time!”