127 RETAILER INTERVIEW PRIOR www.priorshop.uk Do you undertake any charitable initiatives? If so, what? We are a registered not-for-profit. We are flexible with how we use the profits, but every cause must create social positive community change. Last year we worked with local charities and paid local artists (a fair wage) to run free workshops for vulnerable adult groups; we donated to charities and also paid anti-racism educators to run an event, accompanying exhibition and book launch. Are you looking to open more stores across the UK? I would love to. Not for business success but because I believe that each city, town, village should have a shop that only stocks handmade, responsibly-made goods that are high quality and long lasting. What has been your standout moment since opening the store, and why? There are a couple of things that really stand out for me, both on different ends of the spectrum. The first is winning the Holly Tucker Best High Street Shop (2021) award. Apparently there were hundreds of entries and not only did we make it into the finals (which is an achievement in itself), we won! Holly Tucker had asked Mark Constantine (founder of Lush Cosmetics) to send a mystery shopper. He said “Prior Shop was a delight to visit and what you do it utterly and truly brilliantly.” This wasn’t just a boost for my confidence in the ethos of the shop, but testament of the amazing staff we have, too. My other moment was when a young man with quite angry and inpatient body language entered the shop. After half an hour in the shop, he said on the way out ‘this shop has made me feel really calm – thank you’. It was a small moment but it was interesting to see the effect of handmade products and our staff had on him. In what ways are you positive about the future of independent retail? We are able to pivot. We can literally change overnight how we do things so that we can avoid the (constant) obstacles. Larger retail chains have to go through so much hierarchy and there is a huge disconnect between those on the shop floor to head office. The wonderful superpower of independent retail is we are much more connected to the needs and wants of our customers and our community. What advice would you give other retailers? Now this is the hardest question of them all. My main piece of advice is work with the local shops around you; a bit of friendly competition and unique offering is good, but rivalry isn’t. Working together strengthens the community and makes the shopping area that you are in more sustainable and exciting. I would work together to make sure each shop has a different offering (because people who love shopping locally want to have a variety of different independent shops and products to browse) - and entice customers with collaborative events and cross-promotion. Another thing I mentioned recently on the Resilient Retail Podcast is to try and not to sit at the front of the rollercoaster and scream! At times this year, as other retailers will totally agree, it’s been really tough. Especially over the last few months with the cost of living crisis; many sleepless nights, 18-hour days, decisions to be made every second and worrying how on earth you are going to pay your wonderful staff. All the while trying to appear calm and in control. But then this passes and so many joyful elements of the shop reappear. There are peaks and troughs and I’m trying to learn to step back and watch it rather than scream all the way round. My third bit of advice is you need a really strong staff team who are all onboard for the ride too. Growing an independent business means that everyone, including the Manager, is learning their job role at the same time. The Prior team is my second family who I appreciate and love dearly. Ironically as my surname is Prior. I would also say it’s a good idea to decide your boundaries. Everyone that opens a shop will be incredibly emotionally attached to it so it’s hard to separate good business decisions from emotional ones. I would say keep going, keep reflecting, keep improving and stop when you’ve reached your line in the sand. What are your plans for the future? I am very ambitious and incredibly determined. I enjoy new projects and the problem solving that comes with them. Whilst this has been a brilliant skill to have during these rocky few years for retail, it is also exhausting. My dream for the future of the shop is for it to stabilise so we don’t have to keep fighting for survival, so that the workplace is calm again and we can return our focus back on to the community. I hope it comes soon. It will come soon!