A long established Shaftesbury shop has a new owner from today. And High Street gift and card retailer, Cranbornes, has been sold to someone who arguably knows the business better than nearly anyone else.
ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones went to meet proud new shop owner, Karen Hardwick.
When I walked into Cranbornes, the shelves were being emptied. Karen quickly explained that she was in the middle of a stocktake, her last as an employee. But now she has added responsibility. It’s all hers!
Karen has purchased the business from Jonathan and Lizzie Patterson. “I’ve worked for Jonathan and Lizzie for 22 years,” said Karen. “We’d spoken about it before. It’s now come to the stage where they’ve decided to retire so I just want to take it on and put my little stamp on it now.”
Karen intuitively knew that she had to buy the business. She’s spent most her working life in the shop. “22 years ago, I started here. I used to work in the John Peel restaurant, after school. Then I came here. And I’ve been here ever since. I’m a local girl,” said Karen.
We chatted about Karen’s range. She’s not going to change much. She knows what sells. We walked down the stairs to the card section, where Karen showed me the animal cards that prove popular. Soon, images of Shaftesbury’s iconic cobbled hill will be on sale. Karen has commissioned Cranbornes’ own custom cards.
“I’ve a got a lady that’s just about to do some Gold Hill ones,” said Karen. “She’s just drawing them up at the moment. She’s from where I live, in Bere Regis. They’ll hopefully be here in the next couple of weeks.”
Karen’s not worried about the so-called ‘death of the High Street’, currently a popular headline amongst newspaper editors. She has ideas to beat the big multiples at their own game. Cranbornes is going online, with new services that put customer convenience first.
“I’m starting mail order and ‘click and collect’. It won’t be every single thing in the shop because, obviously, there are huge amounts,” said Karen. “It gives us another little thing to add to the shop. Over Christmas, we had all those rainy days when people were sat at home thinking ‘I don’t really want to go out.’ So they go onto websites and do their shopping online. This way they can do that with us and then they can come and collect it in store when the weather’s nicer and they don’t mind wandering out.”
Karen says that eventually she might have more things available online than she has room to display in the store. “Possibly. The website will be up and running hopefully in February. It’s a little bit of a learning curve for us at the moment. We’re just going to have a go and see what happens.”
If you’re worried that massive online retailers like Amazon can undercut independents like Karen, you may like this news. Karen says that many stockists now promise that their goods won’t be available on the web-based commerce sites. They’re keen to help small, local businesses maintain their unique offer, whether in store or on their own websites.
“Obviously we want to be unique. A lot of our companies now make sure that they only supply to shops that have just got their own websites,” explained Karen. It means that if her shoppers click on one of the big online retailers they won’t necessarily find her products. “When we go to the trade shows, that’s what they’re offering now. It cheapens their product at the end of the day. It’s really positive for the high street that they to do that.”
Another change at Cranbornes will delight environmentally aware locals and initiatives like Planet Shaftesbury, which is encouraging people not to accept single-use plastics. “Things like carrier bags will be no longer. We’re going over to paper bags and getting rid of as much plastic as we can,” said Karen. “It’s very difficult with companies because it all comes packaged in plastic but it’s paper bags for customers from now on. Most people are really good and will come shopping with their own. Or they just refuse them. I think we’re all getting a bit more clued up about that.”
Karen showed me another new product line. A local manufacturer is producing personalised signs. She showed me a number plate-type sign displaying the name ‘Cranbornes’, which was inspired by the adjacent Cranborne Chase.
Karen already told me that she doesn’t wish to change much and the shop’s name will remain as it is. “We’ll keep it as Cranbornes. No need to change that. We’re well established. We’ve been here since 1992,” Karen said.