How do you create a successful lifestyle boutique which is both inspirational and financially viable? Do you begin with an online business first and then, when you know it is going well open a shop, or do you open the shop first and let the online business follow?
The White Company went online first and The Cross started as a small shop in London’s Holland Park. Both are thriving. Sometimes, no amount of marketing advice or research can predict how successful you are going to be; you just have to go for it with gut instinct and a strong belief in your idea.
Claire Dibbles and Nina Peddie became friends at the school gates twenty or so years ago. They live in Bucklebury, Berkshire (now famous as the childhood home of Kate Middleton, The Duchess of Cambridge). Both had successful careers in PR. Nina specialised in event fundraising and Claire later ran an interiors business doing up properties for Foxton’s estate agents in London’s Docklands.
When Nina and Claire’s children were small, they had what was probably – although they didn’t know it at the time – a first experiment at running a retail enterprise together. Inspired by Nina’s German mother who always celebrated Easter with lots of decorations, they began by importing Easter decorating product from Germany to sell at friends’ houses. This was well before high street stores cottoned on to the fact that this was an untapped market.
The Corner Shop is 4 miles from Bucklebury in Woolhampton, a small Berkshire village which straddles the A4 between Reading and Newbury. One day, several years after the Easter decorating sales, Nina saw a For Sale board up outside the shop and rang Claire pretty much out of the blue to ask her if she wanted to open a shop! Before they knew it, they were putting phone lines in and ordering shop fittings.
Even though online companies such as Notonthehighstreet.com have widened the scope of what is available, customers to The Corner Shop love the fact that the choice has been made for them. It’s clear that Claire and Nina have been rigorous with their buying, constantly questioning whether the quality or design of a product is good enough.
The shop sells a mixture of small interiors items from books to china, trays to glass, candlesticks and BBQ sets to fashion items they know their friends would love to wear. They also have a large toy section, from pocket-money items to more expensive vintage-style sports pedal cars.
Perfect for thank you notes, The Corner Shop sells high-quality stationery imported from the States which closely rivals the design and quality of Smythson but for a lot less money (from £6 for 8 cards and envelopes). Although there are some more expensive items such as Cashmere ponchos at £175, there are other items such as glass and silver painted tealight holders at £3.75 – a price that supermarkets with all their buying power would find hard to match.
The windows at The Corner Shop are dressed for Valentine’s Day. The item that caught my eye from the display is a ‘Kelly’ style handbag in dusky pink. At first sight it looked like one of those handbags which can only be purchased after you have parted with hefty sums of cash and added your name to a waiting list. A list which makes becoming a member of the MCC look like a speedy operation.
However, on closer inspection, the great surprise is that the bag is actually made from Neoprene, costs £60 and is washable. The fact that it is also waterproof makes it the perfect accessory for that ‘Super Yacht invite’ you have just received for Summer 2016 or more mundanely, for simply keeping dry in moments of extreme precipitation.
The Corner Shop, Bath Road, Woolhampton, Berkshire RG7 5RE, Tel: 0118 971 0489
Most of the photography of the shop for this post was taken by Caroline Palmer – www.cp-photography.co.uk
For great food and inspiring interiors, why not extend your visit to Woolhampton and its surrounding area by visiting The Corner Shop’s top three cafe and pub recommendations:
- The Pot Kiln, Frilsham – homegrown vegetables, outdoor pizza oven, specialise in game
- The Pantry, Yattendon – cafe which serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea
- The Wellington Arms, Baughurst – gastro pub with rooms – some furnished with Benchmark furniture