Blue Eyed Sun
Envelopes LTD
Jo Clark Design
Denby Brands

Making wishes come true

Julia Keeling runs Wishes of Cudworth, a greeting card and gift shop on the busy high street of Cudworth, in Barnsley.

Do you have a background in retail?

I worked at Clintons for a number of years and then moved into retail at Meadowhall in Sheffield. It was here I developed my customer service skills. Communication is often key. Before opening the shop 18 months ago I did extensive planning, including creating a book of ideas, packed full of picture clippings and ideas that I'd gathered over the years.

Have you always wanted to run a gift shop?

Working in Clintons gave me the background knowledge of how to approach each season and what customers look for in gifts. I enjoyed my time there but began to yearn for a shop of my own to put my own personal stamp on. The gift market is really beginning to find its feet again. People are more willing now than ever to spend that little bit extra to get the perfect gift. I decide which selection of gifts to stock and each item is considered for the local area, price point and value. What I've found is that a good gift shop can become part of the community. It's not just selling a card or gift; it's the quality of service and the good advice or friendly conversation. Running a gift shop can show you the best of people; the wonder of a new baby or the joy of a wedding.

What do you stock?

As well as our extensive range of cards, you can also find candles including Village Candle, Best Kept Secrets, bath cosmetics, gift sets, foil helium balloons, toys, gift bags and wrap, party wear, banners, badges and much more. All the products and cards are hand-picked to find the best designs at the best prices. Our customers love our bath products, like the quirky cupcake fizzers and fun lolly soaps. Our new bath bombs are made here in Yorkshire showing our support for another local business. We've recently begun to stock a few food gift ideas from Mrs Bridges and Cartwright and Butler. Our new selections of traditional sweets, preservatives and biscuits appeal to our older customers and we've already had comments like; "My Nan loves these!"

How do you source products for your shop?

I work six days in the shop and I'm always on hand to offer advice and receive feedback. This helps to ensure we are up to date with the latest trends. I attend the Spring and Autumn fairs at the NEC and Home & Gift Buyers Festival in Harrogate. We read as many trade magazines as we can, including the wonderful Gift Focus! We also search for products online via social media. Instagram is particularly good for sourcing new products.

What do you look for in products to stock?

Value is a good starting point. We ask the question; would I pay that for the product? It's not about being cheap; it's about finding a product that we ourselves would be happy to give as a gift. We avoid gimmicks and concentrate on quality. With candles it's all about the burn times, scents and throw. With bath cosmetics the initial impact is the appearance but the proof is in using the products - all our products are tested by us. This is a particular bonus when it comes to chocolate biscuits or double bubble bath blasters!

What makes Wishes of Cudworth stand out from the crowd?

We try to go the extra mile for our customers, with things like late night opening in the run up to Christmas, Christmas markets, an online shop and a very active Facebook page where we offer regular competitions with some fantastic prizes. We've also introduced our Valentine's Day competition where customers will have the chance to win a great prize as well as being able to give a special message to a special someone. We're also planning promotions and competitions for each season. We produce much of our own point of sales material including posters, leaflets, loyalty cards. We also design and produce our own packaging for our gift sets. Creating a brand for our shop, so our customers know and remember they brought their card or gift from Wishes, is crucial.

How important is social media in promoting your business?

We are active on social media via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Happy customers often leave very positive reviews on our Facebook page, which is so rewarding. We're a small shop but have big ambitions and we want to bring as many people onto our high street as possible. We post every day and try to engage with our customers by offering giveaways and news about our latest gifts.

What about your window displays, how often do you change them?

We change our window every three weeks to keep it fresh. We have windows for every season including newer occasions like Thank You Teacher and Thinking of You Week. We've just finished a Village Candle display featuring our handmade sweat shop style trolley.

What are your plans for the future?

We've started this year well by winning the prestigious Shop of the Month award from greetings card publishers, Cherry Orchard, which is given for having a great range of products, clearly presented and displayed. We've recently had a mini Star Wars themed event in the shop with a life size Ewok and Yoda plus a colouring competition for the kids. We are planning more events and competitions between the major seasons. Many of our new gift selections are made in the UK and this is an area we want to continue to support. We believe in promoting UK businesses and brands - shop local and shop UK.

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