Shopkeeper Spotlight: No.56

This month we meet Carole Elsworth owner of beautiful lifestyle store, No.56, in Penzance, Cornwall.

How would you describe the essence of No.56?

Simple, beautifully designed homeware and clothing to add joy to the everyday.

Can you tell us some more about how No.56 came about?

My training and background is in mens and womenswear design. I have always worked for myself and since moving to Cornwall twenty years ago, have done various things from growing vegetables and cut flowers to running a small artisan bakery. I opened No.56 to pull together everything I’d learnt and all the elements I loved, such as presentation and the sourcing of new products.

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You’ve recently started a series on Creative Customers – do you find yourself influenced by the people who shop with you?  

Not influenced as such, but I often find them inspiring. I love the people who are very quiet about their skills, who say they 'make something' themselves, but in fact are incredibly talented. We’re lucky that Cornwall has such an amazing creative community - who’ve been very supportive of No.56.

How do you balance running an online store and a brick and mortar shop? Do you have a preference?

Both run well together I think, I love the store, but also appreciate that the website has a far wider reach. It’s always a pleasant surprise to receive an order from a foreign country.

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What would be your top tips for a day out in Penzance?

A stroll along and around Chapel Street for the smaller independent shops (including No.56!), cafes, galleries  and beautiful buildings, before heading down to the newly refurbished Art Deco Jubilee Pool for a quick dip. Then a brisk walk along the promenade to Newlyn , stopping off at the Little Wonder Café for tea and cake. Walking further would bring you to Mousehole, or linger in Newlyn to visit the independent Newlyn Filmhouse – films and delicious food.

How did you go about designing the shop? Did you have a particular aesthetic in mind when pulling it all together?  

I designed the shop to be really simple, to reflect the products themselves. We were lucky to inherit a beautiful period window and fireplace, so could work around that. I wanted to keep a certain amount of flexibility with the fittings, to be able to adapt to new products and keep everything fresh.

You’ve been open since 2013 – what have been the highlights of the last 4 years?

The highlight I’d say was moving into the larger premises  (across the street from the original) in April 2016. It has enabled me to expand into both clothing and garden ware, just on a small scale but very exciting.

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Can you talk us through your buying process and decisions?

I knew what I wanted when I opened and am still trying to track some of these items down. So, yes I do have a list of missing products but am prepared to wait until I find what I’m looking for  - things I have in my mind's eye are simple stoneware bowls, particular baskets, the perfect notebook and knitwear pieces... 

Meanwhile, we now have some really interesting  makers contacting the shop or calling in, which is great - I don't attend trade fairs for fear of being overwhelmed, but do enjoy searching through the internet, particularly Instagram.  I bring in pieces from all over the world really, mixed in with some more locally made handcrafted items. There are plenty of shops and galleries in and around Penzance  supporting and specialising in local crafts, but I always wanted to offer a broader mix.

What are your current bestsellers, and do you have any personal favourites?

We are fortunate in that things seem to sell quite evenly across all areas, but the brushes always sell well as do the baskets. I don’t really have any personal favourites – everything is chosen carefully, so I love it all. If I had to select one favourite though, it would probably be the writing nib in the shape of an index finger … simple but such a delight.

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To what extent are you influenced by trends?

I am hopefully aware of what is going on but don’t see No.56 as a trend-led store. On the whole, I tend to buy pieces which I consider to be timeless.

What are the challenges, and best part of running an independent store?

For me the best thing is when a new customer walks into the store and feels completely at home. On a day to day level the challenges and highlights are those associated with running any small business – balancing the good and bad points of being in complete control!

What’s your approach to marketing? How easy is it to get the No 56 name out there?

Up until recently I have been mainly concentrating on the local market and working on making the store and website exactly as I want it. Now I feel we have a really solid base from which to promote No.56 further afield. We now have a beautiful Instagram feed which is really helping to spread the word.

What are key elements to running successful independent store?

I would say the most important thing is to keep focused on what you are selling and not to be side tracked. Stock what you love and that will set you apart from the larger corporate stores. Also try to identify things you're not so good at, and get help with these from people who really understand what you are about.

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Any advice for aspiring indie shop owners?

Just that it is possible to start small and gradually build up the business. Starting small is better than not starting at all…  

What’s next on the horizon for No. 56?

Since the move less than a year ago I feel we’ve only just started – there's always something to look forward to.

All photography by Natalie Coe, Carta Design

No.56, 14 Chapel Street, Penzance, Cornwall

www.no-56.com