Shopkeeper Spotlight: Long Barn

Located in picturesque Alresford close to the historic town of Winchester in Hampshire, Long Barn is far more than just a carefully curated store filled with the wares of craftspeople and the farm’s renowned lavender - it’s a destination waiting to be explored, with a cafe and garden too.

We chatted to owners Richard Norris and Jane Marsden to talk about their love of lavender, growing from a market stall to having a lifestyle store and providing experiences…

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Hi Richard and Jane, first thing’s first: when and why did you decide to open Long Barn?

Long Barn started with Richard’s love of lavender and desire to create a range of products that do justice to this wonderful plant. I (Jane), was a former marketing director, and joined Richard in the early days and together we created Long Barn as it is today. Our home, garden store and cafe has been a favoured destination in Alresford since 2009. We wanted to create a shop which put the joy back into shopping and we like to think of our Barn as a beautiful place to come and enjoy a couple of hours relaxing with friends and family - somewhere we’d like to go ourselves in our free time!

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What had you both done before? Did any of these skills help?

Richard’s background is in accountancy and teaching but from the age of ten his heart has always been devoted to plants. The knowledge of accountancy is of obvious help; the teaching was part-time and helped greatly in setting up the business and gradually moving to full-time as Long Barn could sustain a salary. My background is in marketing, originally with a drinks brands – both alcoholic and tea, later with olives and baby food. Large corporate employers taught the need for rigour in reporting and margin; smaller employers required a really grounded approach. Both have been useful in the growth stages of Long Barn.

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Long Barn is a destination - with a shop, cafe and gardens - did you always want it to be somewhere people could enjoy spending a couple of hours?

Long Barn has grown so much, from a much loved stall at London farmers markets to our first beautiful little store on the high street to now, a 3000+ square foot standalone oak barn surrounded by over 5000 lavender plants. When we first moved to the barn, we wanted to create a convivial atmosphere where people could spend quality time – in a way, the kind of place you take visiting friends after Sunday lunch.

Our vision has always been to grow with our audience and last summer has seen the original barn extended. We gathered a raft of craftspeople – designers, artists, furniture makers, sign writers, builders and carvers, to create a convivial space to tell the Long Barn story. You will find gardening, homewares, gifts, vintage and food all now under one, slightly longer roof!

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How would you describe Long Barn’s style?

Our style reflects seasonal trends to some degree, but we tend to take our cues from the splendour of the English countryside in the main. We believe in a simple, honest approach to design, where quality and beauty are intrinsic. For us home is a place to express your tastes and really enjoy your time - be it through dressing a table for an impromptu lunch with family to creating a garden that looks stunning in every season - our barn is the place to discover a carefully curated collection of beautiful home and garden goods. We like to think of Long Barn as a one stop shop for the considered home.

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You're passionate about involving local craftspeople - can you tell us a little about the wares of a few you stock?

We love to champion craftsmanship both at home and away and have always been passionate about products with purpose. By sharing handpicked handmade goods with our customers we are linking to our values, which are rooted in provenance and heritage. We are proud to have a assembled a collective of makers to delight our customers with. Highlights this season include Rosie Brewer, who trained at Camberwell and makes exceptional hand turned, sustainable kitchenware.

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How do you source your gorgeous stock?

Instagram is a fantastic tool for finding interesting and up and coming brands as well as sustainable makers and talented craftspeople. In addition we go to all the shows and have a few trusted suppliers we always turn to for our core range. We also get approached quite a bit! A lot of our customers are the creative sort and love to share with us their latest finds.

This August, we invited designers, makers and food producers to showcase their wares at our Barn for a chance to be stocked for the Christmas season which proved a wonderful way to find new creative talent.

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As well as stocking artisan makers, you also create your own lavender products too. Why do you love lavender so much?

At the root of Long Barn is a true love of lavender. All of this came from Richard’s love of gardening and history. An article in a magazine about the history of English commercial lavender-growing in the 18th and 19th centuries sparked the classic ‘light bulb’ moment in Richard. From that moment he knew that he wanted to farm lavender. Selling lavender products at London farmers’ markets had a curious link to the past which really interested him.

At Long Barn we sell the range of lavender products that Richard created with the help of aromatherapists, soap-makers and perfumers. On the plant sales terrace, alongside old fashioned rose varieties and other classically English garden plants we sell one of the most extensive ranges of lavender plants in the country. Richard loves introducing customers to lesser known varieties such as Folgate, Grosso and Sussex.

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What do you enjoy most about running the Barn?

Greeting our lovely customers everyday! It sounds trite but really, they create the warm ambiance at the heart of the barn as much as we do. Even when we’re busy there’s always an opportunity to take a moment to have a nice chat and pass the time with a friendly face.

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What has been your Long Barn career highlights (so far!)?

Too many to mention! However, this year we were finalists for Best Store Design at the Drapers Independent Retailers awards. Always a highlight in the industry calendar, this award recognises inspiring and thriving independent retailers from across the country and we’re thrilled to be included in such good company.

How have you balanced running Long Barn - given that it's a cafe, store and gardens? Usually people can only manage just one!

As anyone who has run their own business will say, you wear all sorts of hats during any given day! We have each worked in almost every part of the business at various times, and can both make great coffee, whip up a spreadsheet and tend to the plants with aplomb.

However, at this scale it would be impossible to cover everything just ourselves and we are joined by a fantastic team of shop and café staff; cooks, baristas, merchandisers, designers, gardeners, site and maintenance staff, bookkeepers and stock controllers. We are a sum of our parts, and it’s down to a lot of very dedicated and talented individuals to make Long Barn what it is: a really fantastic place to be.

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Do you have any top tips / advice for those thinking of starting their own lifestyle store?

You have to love retail! And the principles of good shopkeeping. We feel that despite an increasingly clicks driven market, physical shops continue to thrive as hubs of enterprise, experience and community, but only if they are really good. What makes a really good shop? It’s a place that people feel something for. It’s a place that serves as a beacon, the go-to destination for a unique and interesting experience.

Shopping is an experience first and foremost, and for most people, a leisure pursuit. So consider what makes somewhere a place people choose to spend precious time, as well as money and come back again. It tends to be shops that offer a distinct point of difference - a sense of discovery through creative display, beautifully edited buying, exceptional service, a convivial atmosphere - make a destination standout from the rest. Oh, and you have to love people, that’s a given!

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Autumn's now here and we bet it's especially beautiful at Long Barn - what’s happening over the coming months?

Autumn is a short but sweet season here at Long Barn - we invite our customers to join us in welcoming the most mellow months of the year. Traditionally a celebration of abundance, harvest is the time to share in the spoils of the summer with loved ones. Stop by our relaxing cafe for a good catch up with friends over coffee and homemade cake or stay longer and enjoy a hearty lunch with family - it’s always a joy to be able to come together and delight in the tastes of the season.

Long Barn, The Old Sheep Fair, Bishops Sutton Rd, Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9EJ

www.longbarn.co.uk

Photography: Laura Brown