by Rowena Howie August 14, 2019
Looking back, I consider myself very fortunate. It seems like the opportunities I found came at a time and place that allowed me to open a bricks and mortar shop in central London. While this is true to a certain extent, it of course ignores the central entrepreneurial thread to this story. Opportunities always exist, but it falls to the entrepreneur to pick the right one at the right time and find a way forward.
In 2011 it seemed like the obvious place to locate The Revival Retro Boutique would be Brick Lane. The vintage scene in London was huge and had been for some years; if anything, I thought it might soon wain. This wouldn’t be a problem for me as I wasn’t selling vintage fashion.
However, it did make sense to be riding the coattails of this trend given the crossovers, and thus I pursued the idea of a pop up in East London. I eschewed local neighbourhoods and ‘nowheresville’ destinations that were easy to reach by tube. And then I got the call from Savills.
Yes, Savills, that extremely upmarket, high-end estate agency that I considered to operate in a different realm to the London air that I breathed.
Over six months I’d gone through my career ending, a nightmare job hunt and huge hits to my self-confidence. Then, having found a vision for the future, I’d had to convince endless others of it, including landlords, agencies and bank managers. So when Savills called with ‘an opportunity in central London’ asking if I’d like to go for a coffee to discuss it, I held back my laughter, focussed on the free coffee and said yes.
That’s how I was introduced to Kingly Court which back then was a thriving community of independent shops not the food mall it is now. I was in the last stages of negotiation in East London, almost ready to sign on the dotted line, but I knew that the West End was a location more befitting of my brand and my vision for the future. I had just never dreamed I would be able to afford it!
The long story short was that at that time, prior to the restaurant destination it is today, the landlord (one owning large swathes of London) was offering low rents and flexible lease terms to create a hub for new fashion talent and retail concepts. A place for designers and entrepreneurs to launch their brands. It seemed ideal.
I remember the moment I got the call, sitting on the Southbank with my friend Fiona – another person who has been invaluable in helping me to develop my ideas over the years. She was there the moment I heard ‘you got the shop’ and she bought a slid a glass of bubbles in front of me whilst i was on the call.
In all honesty, five minutes later this was my reaction.
I’ve mentioned the incredible importance of friends and having a supportive community and Kingly Court provided a new and invaluable aspect to this. It offered a new community of likeminded small business owners running independent shops.
I’ll never forget when neighbour Laura told me she spent her first few months in her shop watching BBC iPlayer to distract herself from the immense challenges and loneliness of running a shop. I looked at her with incredulity then three months later followed in her footsteps, as we all need coping mechanisms!
When the London riots happened a couple of weeks after I opened, we were told to close up and go home for our own safety, and deal with any damage and looting after. It seemed that all my hard work might have been for nothing, and it might be over before it had really begun. Having others around me that shared the same fears seemed to lessen the burden and we rejoiced together when we emerged unscathed.
The community was essential to me. Shopkeepers would recommend each other’s stores to their clients. Tucked away in that courtyard we were all building our brands and developing our stores into destinations in their own right. I was surrounded by great people, determined business owners and visionary entrepreneurs who were actually living and breathing it every day, often sharing their challenges and their wins with one another. It was truly inspiring and through this I developed an in-built optimism. My customers loved it and I embraced opportunities to grow my business. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Had I chosen a location that relied on high footfall alone, I would have been shutting up shop within six months. It was the interest and the buy-in of my existing customers that led me to build my destination store. It was only years later that I understood just how important those neighbours and that support network of small business owners was. Back then I considered us all to be pursuing our own plans and merely sharing similar circumstances but upon reflection, whilst it’s true that I wouldn’t have lasted six months without a readymade customer base, it’s also true that we collectively worked hard to increase footfall and dwell time in the courtyard.
It wasn’t until I relocated that I learnt just how important and effective that community effort had been. I miss it and it’s hard to recreate.
Lover of beautiful things and amazing people. Explorer and Entrepreneur. This is my independent shop, whether you visit our London boutique or browse our online offering it is my vision that our wonderful team is working hard to bring to life.
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