Ten Year Anniversary Retrospective Part III: How I Opened an Independent Shop in London

The shop wasn’t my idea. I thought it was ludicrous: it was 2011 and in the aftermath of the banking crisis and a global recession, online shopping was the new trend. The idea of opening a bricks and mortar shop seemed a stretch to say the least!


Shopkeeper London Rowena Howie


I blame my friend Jemma: her career had led her to help many small businesses so far, and it was she who suggested I consider it and offered to help me run the numbers and look at premises. I was sceptical, and I may have even done it to appease her! It was true however that I had nothing else to do: I was unemployed, having been made redundant with no pay-out. The travel industry I had worked in was still reeling after 9/11 and finding it hard to forge a way forward with the advent of the internet and social media.

Needless to say, I was finding it hard to find a new job. In my previous job I had articulated my opinion that we were relying too much on traditional marketing, and we should consider investing in the website and using tools like Facebook to build our brand. The response I received was that these new internet tools were not worth spending my time on, and I should continue to knock on people’s doors to sell our wares. It was not long after that we parted company!

This experience had sent my self-confidence through the floor and I lost confidence in my own ideas. I began to think I should reconsider my position and perhaps shouldn’t be pursuing jobs in marketing and business development. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!



Amidst the desolate job hunt, my hobby business I had been running alongside my day job was a glimmer of hope. I was selling things and had a good database of customers. My product range was growing and I was successfully marketing it through word of mouth and digital channels. Maybe Jemma’s suggestion wasn’t so ludicrous. 

Let’s put this in perspective though, I had a Facebook Group named ‘Swing Dance Shoes for Londoners; Rowena’s Try Before You Buy Service’ and although it did what it said on the tin I had fortunately realised this was not the name for a serious business! Meanwhile ‘Revival Retro’ had been established, and we had a Wordpress site showing pretty pictures of products that you couldn’t yet buy online. After all, my USP was try before you buy – avoid the nightmare problems of buying online and come to me instead!


hobbypreneur london shop


The business seemed to be going from strength to strength with events and appointments, vintage fashion was at the peak of its popularity. I thought why not look at a shop and London’s Brick Lane was clearly where it was at – Camden Market was thriving, but I could spot a gap in the market.

I had to think about my future, and I began to look at my business in a different way. When you form a vision of the future for a business, it ceases to be a hobby. It becomes time to decide whether to commit.  

For me, it was very much about blending a personal vision with a commercial vision. Business has never just been about making money for me. Of course, that’s a fundamental need, but it’s not everything. I had started this business with the support of friends. Many of my friends were also customers, who had then told their friends and word had spread. I knew that Revival Retro was going to be about putting people first: the connections we make, the relationships we build and the community we serve were fundamental to any perception of success I could envision.

I think the bricks and mortar part of my business was inevitable. What I had initially considered ludicrous due to external factors I now realised was integral to what my business meant to me and its supporters.



With Jemma’s help, we did what seemed like endless research, financial planning and business modelling. It didn’t just have to hold up to the scrutiny of us, or my friends, but also to that of potential landlords. I’m naturally a very risk adverse person but the odds were in my favour: I was established, I had stock, I had customers, I had potential and I had a way out. Pop-ups were rife in London in 2010 and this seemed the most sensible way to test out this next step.

Part IV of this blog looks more in depth at the opening of our independent shop right in the heart of Carnaby, London. Read here. 

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