This month, 91’s Shopkeeper Spotlight falls on Hero, in Stockbridge, Hampshire. We talk to owner Laura Turner about the ethos behind her fashion and lifestyle business, nurturing a creative community and the importance of enjoying the little things in life...
Hi Laura! How would you describe Hero to someone discovering it for the first time?
Hero is a bricks and mortar, fashion and lifestyle shop with a passion for creativity. The name derives from our mission to stock wardrobe ‘heroes’ - from jeans and cashmere, to velvet jumpsuits and statement jewellery. We work with brands that we feel have meaning and heart behind their story, and strive to ensure everything you see in the shop is something really special.
As well as the retail element of Hero as a store and online, we also have a strong creative community around us, with regular creative workshops and meet-ups to encourage this. Later this year and into 2019 we are also launching a co-working space, so creatives can get together and enjoy the space to connect with each other, or simply get away from their own desk for a change of scene!
What inspired you to set up Hero?
I always knew I wanted to have my own business, and having grown up in an entrepreneurial family, it felt really natural to me to take risks and be in control of my own destiny. Having a shop or being in retail was never something that I’d set my sights on, but after a corporate career in the city, I knew that such a life was not for me. My curiosity about whether I could run my own business had never left me, so after writing a blog and growing in confidence I took the leap to open Hero. Even then, I knew that it would be more than just a shop on a local high street - I wanted to reach more people, create an impact, and build a brand.
Since initially setting up Hero, the business has evolved many times and that’s something I have always been comfortable with. It keeps me on my toes, and also means I can adapt to the economic climate and keep things interesting for my audience. Hero is about the whole experience and how walking into the shop, visiting the website, or attending a creative workshop should always be inspiring.
What did you do before setting up Hero?
Hero was set up in 2014 and prior to that, I had been a busy stay-at-home mum with my two daughters. Earlier in my career, I’d worked in marketing within financial services. I’d started writing a blog as my own creative outlet when my daughters were quite tiny – I made many valuable connections through this and it really boosted my confidence to open a shop.
What is the ethos behind your business?
My main focus for Hero is that when purchasing something, it should always be worth it – it should make you feel incredible. This applies whether that’s a pair of jeans that you will wear every day, a candle that you light each night once the children have gone to bed, or a statement necklace that transforms any outfit you wear. I believe in having fewer things, but things that you will love today and treasure forever.
So the idea behind Hero was to curate a collection of everyday items that we all need, and to elevate them into something special to be relished – a way of enjoying the little things. I had been a stay-at-home mum for six years before launching Hero and although I had a fairly standard ‘casual uniform’, I always wanted to make this as nice as possible. And if I had a notebook or box of matches, I wanted them to be really lovely. Enjoying my personal style and image always meant a lot as an expression of myself, so it seemed natural to extend this to my business.
There are so many areas of our lives that are oversaturated - there is so much noise just through everyday living, that to visit somewhere calm and welcoming is a refreshing change, and that’s what I aim to achieve in Hero.
What inspires you?
So many things around me - I find inspiration in the local deli, magazines, a lovely pub or hotel, and in discovering new towns and new experiences. I’m also inspired by the services that other people provide which raise them above and beyond the norm, as I’m always striving to do things better and give people an experience that surpasses expectations.
How would you describe your style?
Classic, cool + understated.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
Blogging and social media offer a place where I can connect with a wider community than our local customer-base. I’ve found that being generous with your time and knowledge builds trust and loyalty, which means people come back time-after-time and enthusiastically move with you as the business evolves.
How did you go about designing and styling the store?
I love creating interior spaces, and the Hero shop gives me the perfect backdrop. After experimenting with different colours and schemes, I found that, for me, white is the best for retail - it means that the spotlight is on your stock and it’s not detracted from by crazy interiors!
The interior space affects how people feel, so the way that the shop is laid out is no accident. I’ve chosen strong, yet subtle colours for the front of the shop (the beautiful Calamine Pink by Farrow & Ball) offset with a charcoal wall inside. I like to be brave with style but not overwhelming, so there is no distraction from the retail area.
We’re very lucky as our building is really old and full of character, so I’ve been sympathetic to this with the furniture, but have also created contrast by introducing contemporary pieces, with different textures to add warmth and comfort. It’s designed as a journey of discovery around the shop, leading from one point of interest to the next.
How do you source your products?
I’m always working on discovering new brands and pieces to sell at Hero, and have a strict criteria. I love working with brands that have an authentic story behind them. I’ve travelled to Paris and Copenhagen in the past, and now use social media to find brands. There’s a balance between finding items that you love personally, and pieces that you know are going to be loved by everyone else. I am also conscious of quantities, and don’t buy too many of one piece so that people are buying something more individual. I love the exclusivity of finding a brand that isn’t over-distributed - it means I can keep offering collections that are original.
Do you have a creative background?
I’m completely self-taught. I had no experience of retail, fashion or design, but I have a strong eye for detail that is instinctive, so can visualise how things will look and work together. Over the past four years, I have honed this to become more confident in my ability to curate Hero’s collections.
How do you find juggling an online business with a physical shop?
My main focus is always primarily on the physical shop - it’s really important to concentrate on what makes the business successful and then bolt-on the other parts which can then act to elevate it.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
Less is more! My approach is not about gaining more and more followers or lots of coverage. It’s about communicating clearly to the ones I have, on a regular basis. My email marketing list is the most important and powerful resource I have. I connect with customers and build relationships and loyalty, without selling. There are times of course, that I talk about products or workshops, but it’s more about inviting people to read about these and hopefully build excitement or intrigue.
What are Hero’s favourite products or bestsellers?
Our best-sellers are always the classic wardrobe staples – such as denim and cashmere, plus the Connock London Kukui oil beauty collection.
Any advice for aspiring independent store owners?
Get the foundations of your business secure. Make sure you have systems and clear processes set up, so that the fundamentals of your business can be run with, or without you. This means you can then focus on being creative with your marketing and buying. When you’re buying, go with your gut instinct and don’t be led by fads or quick sellers. And be crystal-clear on your brand values and stick to them - it means that as you evolve, your audience will follow without confusion.
Tell us about the Creative Gatherings held at Hero, they sound great!
The Creative Gatherings are a really informal meet-up once a month for anyone who is in business, or perhaps working on a project that they hope may turn into a business one day. There’s no agenda, it’s simply a supportive get-together, to have a chat and a coffee! I’d like to develop this in the future to extend it to membership, and also invite contacts to use our co-working space that’s launching in 2019.
Creative workshops at Hero have always been right at the heart of the brand, and the foundation of the community around it. Workshops provide the perfect platform for inviting people in and nurturing a relationship. When you bring like-minded people together, they want to share experiences and this is how a community naturally grows. I invite experts in social media, blogging and business to share their knowledge. Groups are kept really small and informal so that it’s easy to ask questions and chat. I think the digital world is brilliant, but I honestly don’t think you can beat sitting round a table with people and learning from them!
Any future developments in the pipeline?
I’m really excited about 2019! It sees the launch of the Hero co-working space. This is a welcoming space at the shop for creatives to enjoy and work for the day, or to hire for their own creative workshops.
Find Hero at Nomads House, High Street, Stockbridge, Hampshire.