Having built up their business over the last 20 years by supplying independent card and gift retailers, The Little Dog Laughed’s co-owners, sister and brothers trio Anna Danielle, Gavin and Nathan Smith, thought they knew a thing or two about their customers’ needs. However, a recent spell running a pop-up shop in their locality of Allestree in Derbyshire opened up their eyes to the everyday trials and tribulations of indies and a quest to direct their design skills to helping their independent retail stockists to promote the #shoplocal message.
Fanfared on The Little Dog Laughed stand at last week’s Spring Fair was a suite of social media visuals that could also be printed out and displayed instore which Anna, Gavin and Nathan hope will be useful for indies – and moreover are encouraging retailers to contact them with any other special design requests on this front.
As Anna told PG Buzz: “We have always had the utmost respect for our retail customers, but running the pop-up store gave us such an insight into everything they have to deal with. Nothing would please me more than if my design skills could help them to encourage their customers to shop local.”
Anna’s brother and co-director, Gavin Smith explains the rationale behind the pop-up, the insights it has brought and how it has unleashed the poet in him.
To Walk A Mile In A Retailer’s Shoes
“After 20 years of trading from the safety of the supplier’s bunker we took our place on the frontline with a small pop-up shop in our local 1970’s wind tunnel of a shopping precinct.
This toe-dipping experiment was only for eight weeks in the run-up to Christmas.
We hoped the experience would do a number of things:
- Make us millionaires.
- Inspire new artwork with a little solo art exhibition.
- See how we can help our own retail customers.
Some of the wisdom we discovered confirmed what we already knew.
That location really IS everything. Our little unit was tucked down the side of an alleyway off the main thoroughfare and next to a Chinese takeaway. Passing trade was light, unlike the scales’ reading after two months of deep fried spring roll consumption!
Advertising is very important and we used all avenues known to man throughout the eight weeks. With our company name being ‘the little dog laughed’ and the heavy bias to all things doggy we found the most effective advertising was placing our A4 laminated posters in close proximity to poo bins. Old school still works and pride is overrated!
However, it’s the unknown we discovered that really got the old grey matter bursting into action.
Shop life is ripe for comedy fodder, it’s not just doctors and hairdressers who are party to the most intimate details of customers lives. Shop owners also have to grow a big listening ear, hold a straight face and gamble on the pros and cons of giving free untrained therapy advice.
The constant news on the changing face of retail and the death of the high street was very much in focus, especially on the days when only two people came through the door. (And one of those wanted to know if we fixed computers.) Trading times are indeed tough.
Of course, it is for us to adapt and think beyond the norm but it’s the social cost of the “I can get it cheaper online” mindset which struck us most.
Many small independent retailers are experiencing shoppers using them as ‘a product touch and feel test centre’, checking the details and then ordering it online. Clothing and homewares are particularly vulnerable to this practice. Now don’t get us wrong, we have no issues with canny shoppers and people making their hard-earned pennies stretch further, but this bargain hunting does come at a human price.
As well as being very rude and rather soul destroying for all the hard work and man hours retailers put into sourcing their products, it’s a fact that money spent in local businesses stays in the local area. Life really is better when you love the place you live. Local businesses support community projects, schools and youth sports. Local shops and cafes help ease the loneliness and isolation that affects all age groups, not just the elderly. Saturday jobs give youngsters experience and people skills. In a nutshell, gift shops provide far more than a funny card or a printed scarf.
Which got us to thinking about our third aim, how can we help our retail customers?
Creating imagery and graphics is easy for us and many of our customers have neither time, Apple Macs or subscriptions to computer design programs. So we rustled up some ideas to be used freely by anyone wishing to raise awareness in their shops and on their social media platforms on the value and importance of shopping local. The message needs to be clear but without the sound of desperation or pity. Our efforts are just a starter for ten and we’d welcome anyone’s views and suggestions. We are happy to create them if the demand is there and you are all most welcome to download and print or post your favourites.
If any of this is of interest then do feel free to contact us at email@example.com using the subject title #shoplocal.”
Top: Anna Danielle, creative supremo who co-owns The Little Dog Laughed with her two brothers on the company’s stand at Spring Fair.