In this month's Shopkeepers Spotlight we chat friendship, Bristol and concrete (!) with Anna Clements, owner of Bristol-based lifestyle store, Mon Pote
How would you describe the essence of Mon Pote?
Mon Pote is a lifestyle store, with a focus on inspiring interiors and gifts which will enrich your life!
Can you tell us some more about how Mon Pote came about?
I love creating a beautiful home and surrounding myself with amazing objects. I trained as a lawyer and spent 8 years working as an intellectual property lawyer but my heart was never in it. Looking at gorgeous websites like Rockett St George used to distract me from the boredom! I toyed with the idea of becoming an interior designer but there is obviously so much more to that job than picking out nice cushions and rugs, which is what I really wanted to do. I decided to go for a store because it meant I would be able to pull together my own little collection. Starting online, overheads were low so I gave it a go with little to lose.
How do you balance the demands of a running a web store and a bricks and mortar shop? Do you have a preference?
I don’t have a background in retail and I am very much feeling my way through this. However, when I set up the website I began to understand the challenges and expense involved in getting a website noticed and up the Google rankings. I started to look at other options and actually, paying rent is cheaper than having a big digital marketing budget. To some extent, the shop markets itself. Also, personally I would much prefer to create a beautiful space than to be a digital marketeer.
There are pros and cons to both online and bricks and mortar. I prefer the interaction with customers which I get from the shop but that said, I have good relationships with many of our online customers as we chat through Instagram so I feel like I know them too. I definitely preferred being able to create the space of the shop - I never felt that I could get the website to reflect what I was trying to say.
There's a beautifully simple, Scandi-inspired feel to Mon Pote - how did you go about designing the space?
I am so lucky - the shop was already well designed for what I wanted. It is naturally sectioned in to two parts so we can split children and 'grownup' products. We have white walls and cupboards and birch plywood shelving, which means the products don't have to fight for attention and can speak for themselves. The shop still has its original Victorian shop front which means the whole of the frontage is glass; this is a gift in terms of advertising and also makes the shop so light and airy. We have very little storage space so I had to include lots of cupboards within the shop itself but we manage well with what we've got. I love filling the space with fresh flowers and lots of plants, cacti and succulents - they all really help to complement the products.
It feels like Bristol is a city with gathering creative momentum - are you inspired by your location?
I love Bristol, it has a village like feel and the people are incredibly supportive of independents. Because of this, pockets of cool little high streets have sprung up. We are based on a little high street in BS3 (South Bristol) at the heart of a close knit community in a very creative part of the city. BS3 is host to the city’s largest arts’ trail – where local artists open their homes to display and sell their work, and also Upfest - an Urban Arts festival that this year attracted 40,000 visitors. There are also amazing independent bars and restaurants opening all the time. It’s difficult not to be inspired by so many creative and innovative people.
You’ve worked alongside your friend Natalie to create Mon Pote and on other creative ventures [Anna and Natalie collaborated on The Pot, a cafe in Cardiff for 7 years] how do you find combine business and friendship? Do you share a similar vision for Mon Pote?
In 2007 I silent partnered Natalie to help her realise her dream of having a café while I was still working as a lawyer. We sold the café in 2014 and then Natalie silent partnered me in my dream of setting up Mon Pote.
For each venture one of us has led while the other has genuinely been a silent partner. This means that we don’t have to make decisions together and the silent partner is there to provide advice and support as and when requested. The café was all about Natalie’s vision and I never challenged her on that - especially as she was doing all of the work and I trusted her completely. The same goes with Mon Pote – it’s completely my vision and Natalie has faith in me. We do talk shop a lot because we have plans and strategies that we like to bounce off each other but we are happy to do this and are pretty obsessed with our ventures! Luckily we are part of a bigger friendship group of seven girls who were all at school together. When we all get together, the last thing we do is talk about anyone’s work!
You stock a range of products from homewear and stationery to jewellery and children’s books. Can you talk us through your buying process and decisions?
We describe our offering as inspiring interiors and gifts for grown-ups and kids. I love this because it means the 'gift' category can include anything – like jewellery and books. Although ancillary to our core offering, both have been really well received. I struggle to keep up with demand at times!
In terms of the buying process, everything I pick is either current and on trend or a little unusual. I try and ensure there is a balance between each product category, so we don’t have lots of kitchenware but nothing else. Also, the products must work within a collection. The aim is to make our customer’s say “I could buy everything” because it’s well put together. I work really hard to try to achieve this.
What are your current bestsellers, and do you have any personal favourites?
Customers have been in love with concrete since Autumn 2015 and enthusiasm is not waning! I order hundreds of concrete plant pots and they fly out. Everyone hates packing them for online orders though – a huge amount of filler is required! We sell a range of concrete plant pots and also concrete storage jars and a concrete clock. I have lots of conversations with customers about the brutalist look, I never expected to learn so much about concrete!
My favourite products right now are the concrete pot with saucer – I have my eye on one for my new shower room. I also love the Melin Tregwynt throws and cushions. These are woven in a mill in Wales and are timeless, heritage items that you will keep forever. The cushions are great value and the patterns and colours are amazing.
What are the challenges of running an independent store?
The challenge is that I have to do everything myself – PR, marketing, recruitment, buying, social media, accounts, customer service and running the shop. I am a full time mum to a 3 year old and a seven year old so I have to do all this in two and a half days a week. I have two part time staff who manage the shop the rest of the time but all the operational stuff is down to me. I am pretty laid back about this – as long as I feel like I am doing everything I can in the time I have, I don’t beat myself up about the rest!
And the best bits?
I absolutely love the shop and jump at the chance to get any extra time to spend there. I have such lovely customers and we have great chats.
What do you feel are the key elements to running successful independent store?
In my opinion the key elements to running a successful independent store is do your own thing – people love independents because they are unique. If you just replicate what someone else is doing you undermine that. Use your team to help you as much as possible and make sure that everyone can do everything - it’s worth investing time in training. It’s also really important that your staff are passionate about your products, as this is what differentiates the shopping experience at the independents from in a corporate store.
What’s next on the horizon for Mon Pote?
In 2017 we are planning on bringing Natalie out of her silent partner role and opening a second shop. I don’t want to say too much yet as it’s early days, but we are currently looking for a location...
Finally, any advice for aspiring indie shop owners?
My advice to aspiring indie shop owners would be know your market. If you are drawing from the local area, then what’s the demographic? Is your price point correct?. Also, what are you adding that is different and unique – will your market want to buy these things from you? Thinking it through is pretty important!