Homeware retailers may be every where these days, but Zoë Anderson still felt there was a gap in the market that she could take advantage of with a new business of her own.
She admitted she’d never been one for the widely popular minimalist Scandinavian homeware aesthetic, and instead craved something different. This is where W.A Green – her independent shop in Shoreditch, east London – comes in.
“I’ve always believed in having things in my home that make me feel alive and nourish me,” Zoë told Retail Gazette.
After road tripping around California, Zoë fell in love with how local retailers and craftsmen were celebrated and how all the work was accessible.
“I thought, god, it’s really difficult to get hold of independent local designers,” she reflected.
Zoë explained that while there was now various craft markets open to the public, back in 2016 the scene was much smaller – especially in the UK. This is the gap in the market that she identified, and inspired her to give up her day job in marketing to open W.A Green in April 2017.
Like many other independent retailers, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant affect on how W.A Green trades.
Zoë explained how grateful she and her team were to already have an established ecommerce site which had been operating since June 2017.
“We already had a group of people that had never ever been into our store in Shoreditch, and we had this database of customers that we could already speak to, and work with, and communicate with,” she explained.
“It really, really kept us going.”
Unfortunately, like many other retailers, W.A Green’s landlord was unwilling to reduce his rent at the height of the pandemic. As a result, Zoë made the tough decision to permanently close the Shoreditch store.
“Without the site, my business would not have been viable, we would have gone bankrupt if we had reopened,” she said.
She has since used a bounce back loan from the government to buy her way out of the lease and to keep W.A Green alive by trading solely online.
“I refuse to let us after three years of growth to sort of throw it all away,” she said.
“Buying our way out of the lease was the only way to keep the business alive.
“So now going forward, it’s about rebuilding.”
Despite the obvious challenges Zoë and her team faced last year, there were still some highlights in the form of building connections with shoppers.
“I’ve really, really, really missed my customers,” she conceded.
“But we still pick up the phone, we still chat, we still go through products and we’re still very much there for our customers.”
While her team may be smaller, a priority was maintaining personal interactions with those shopping on W.A Green’s site.
Perk-up packs were launched allowing customers to write personal messages to friends and family who they might have missed.
“We felt really privileged that we were able to help our customers connect with loved ones that they weren’t seeing,” Zoë explained.
“Our ultimate goal is to delight and surprise our customers.
“We always want to make sure that our customers are at the centre of every decision that we make.
“And we make sure that every single customer has a personal connection with us.
“Whether that’s from personal notes, or follow up email, but at least there’s always one personal connection with every single customer.”
For Zoë, personal interactions and genuine connections were key to a successful retail business.
“I wouldn’t be interested in running a business that wasn’t around, cantered around the customer,” she said.
“And if you don’t know your customers, and what delights them, then I don’t know how you’re going to buy for them.
“We set out to surprise and delight, and nourish our customers and show them something different.
“And that’s why I get out of bed in the morning.”
W.A Green now boasts an 80 per cent returning customer rate, and Zoë said this was down to customers trusting product the selections coupled with active engagement.
“We try and understand and try to get to know our customers,” she added.
“We interact with them on Instagram, we comment on their photographs, we encourage them to show how our products look in their home, because we really want to know.”
While some of the brands stocked on W.A Green’s online store are bigger than others, Zoë said she always tried to set a balance of well-known and independent homeware designers “to give them equal footing and equal billing”.
“We curate and edit the best bits and pieces,” she said.
Zoë added that as a retailer, she has to worry about demand. She said that she’d be unable to carry the variety of names that W.A Green currently does without the support from bigger brands.
“You know that you can order 20 of something and that they’ll come on time,” she said.
As W.A Green continues to find its footing as an online-only retailer, Zoë admitted that finding a physical space again was not currently on the top of her to-do list.
“The more it goes on, the less I think about that,” she said.
“At the moment, I’m just thinking about growing this business as an online entity.”
She did reveal that when W.A Green does re-enter the bricks-and-mortar market, it would be in the form of pop-up stores.
“Right now I’m just going to try and get through this year,” she said.
“2020 was as horrible for us as it was for everybody.”