We had the pleasure of speaking to Elizabeth Jones, owner of Natural For Baby in Balham, London about her experiences and any advice she could offer to other retailers. Her journey, one of passion, determination and innovation is remarkable and we had to learn more…
What inspired you to change from being a franchisee into becoming an independent business owner?
Unfortunately it wasn’t an inspiration to change, but a determination to remain trading. I was a Franchisee of Natures Purest UK. They sadly closed in 2017, first I couldn’t get through to anyone in the office or the shops they owned, and then I did get through to one of the shops the following week, got a small stock order via the shop, but was not told what was going on. I eventually heard from the CEO that the brand was going into a gradual administration, was told all would be well and that it would be a gradual close down. I was expecting to have therefore time to work out what to do. That was the last I ever heard from the CEO, the next thing I knew, it wasn’t administration, it was liquidation! I tried to get as much stock as possible while deciding what the future would be.
Having decided that I was part way through my shop lease (lease under my company name) and that this could be an opportunity to establish my business further, I did a lot of research. I have ensured that the items sold in the shop are ethically made, are made to great environmental standards and make perfect gifts and useful items to have for a baby or toddler.
How did you find this transition? Any advice for others who are thinking of making the switch?
As the transition was not expected and I was sad to see the brand close down to which I had heavily invested, I was very stressed at the beginning. As time has gone on, it has been great to see regular customers I already had continue to support the shop and for new customers to discover the shop too. I believe I have managed to get the items in stock that were the top requested items to which I was unable to stock in the past when I had been a Franchisee as those items didn’t exist in the brand I used to sell here.
The advice I would give is that even if you love what you are selling and items come to an end, your regular customers don’t just love what you sell, they love your shop and appreciate the customer service so it is possible to change your shop even when in a hard situation. For me friends and family support has been really appreciated, without them I couldn’t have transitioned.
If you could receive more support in any area of your business, what would it be?
I believe that there needs to be a big awakening of the UK to support small shops. The shop rents are big, the business rates are high, the costs to cover a shop before considering salaries are great and with my shop, selling ethically made products, the margins are small. I know this is what SaveTheHighStreet.org is about and am of course supportive of this campaign. If people in the UK don’t start to support the small shops and even larger shops too, more and more shops will have to close and this will have a huge impact on our economy as well as having many shops boarded up making the High Roads that are currently full of shops looking abandoned.
What is the biggest issue facing independent business owners today that you feel is not being spoken about, or addressed properly?
I feel that SaveTheHighStreet.org and others are trying to address some of the main issues of high business rates and trying to reduce the costs, but the most important thing is to try to change he mind-set of the communities to back their own local shops and High Roads. There are problems such as TFL banning A boards on High Roads where there is a red route. I am aware of other High Roads that are far busier, with narrow pavements, but don’t have the red route so are able to have A boards allowing businesses to be found easier. There is a problem with landlords asking for big premiums on the shops located in the perfect areas of High Roads, this means that locals also have to realise that not all shops will be in one spot, Independent shops will frequently be at the beginning or end of a High Road or possibly on a side road.
How would you improve your local high street in Balham?
I would love to have the 30 minutes free parking scheme here as happens in Richmond Borough, most customers just want to pop in and buy something on route home or on route to visit friends and family, this would give the freedom for them to do this if they are in a car. Allowing businesses to put A boards out would be really useful. Balham High Road is on a slight curve, so shops may not be seen straight away, A boards help with being more visible. I would love it if not only Balham, but in every town centre, there was a map in the middle and at both ends or edges of a Town Centre or High Road with a list of businesses so anyone moving into an area or anyone who hadn’t been to their High Road for a while has a quick reference guide to knowing what shops are here for them.
When has a customer surprised you in a positive way and how did they do it?
I have a regular local customer who loves this shop so much, she has brought her friends in to show them this shop to make sure they know I’m here for them as well as for her! I am also always really happy when a customer gives the shop a great review or gives the shop a great comment in a local Facebook group.
Where can we find out more about Natural For Baby and the products you sell?
As a Franchisee, I wasn’t allowed to build a website, now I have the freedom as an Independent proprietor, I first started to put my items on Down Your High Street to effectively create a free website while I was selling through one brand and getting in the new stock! This shop is on Near St, it’s an App for shops in London for delivery in London and you get your items delivered immediately by bike (not all items are on this site, Nursery Furniture is a bit big for the back of a bike!). In addition to finding this shop on all sorts of social media sites, I have also built my very first website, I have tweaked it as suggested when customers have given ideas as to how to improve it.
You will find it here https://www.naturalforbaby.london