Eco-entrepreneur Lucy Barfoot is doubling the size of Shaftesbury’s zero waste shop, Coconut and Cotton, today. Lucy tells Alfred that her locally popular store has also become a hit with tourists and Instagram fans. And she reveals the product Shaftesbury can’t get enough of.
Shaftesbury is a small town of just over 7,000 people. Some retail experts might question the viability of a specialist store in a place with so few residents. But since opening her first shop in Swan’s Yard last December, 23-year-old Lucy Barfoot says she’s not looked back.
“To be honest, having a shop in Shaftesbury is the best decision I’ve made for this business. We have so much tourism and people go away and then buy online in the future. I wouldn’t have chosen any other town. I absolutely love it here. And I’m so grateful for everything that all the organisations do to help the town thrive,” said Lucy.
We chatted for a few moments on the picnic bench outside the business. Lucy was in her paint-splattered overalls, taking a break from arranging and decorating her extended shop’s new interior. Many locals have noticed how Lucy’s success has stemmed from her own hard work and long hours. She is grateful for the town’s support.
“It’s all thanks to the local residents really, because we’ve had so many regulars coming back, it means we can invest in a bigger property now. With Christmas coming up, we’re just really excited by all the new stuff we can bring in,” she said.
Lucy has been surprised that one particular product lines has proved extremely popular. “Nail brushes have just taken us by surprise. Everyone always buys two or more. They seem to sell as soon as we get them in.”
When Lucy started her Shaftesbury business, she was already trading online. Lucy says that the virtual shop is still doing well. “I’d say the online side is still growing. It’s not actually as big as the shop at the moment. Part of the problem we’ve been having is keeping things in stock because we’ve had no space to store things,” said Lucy. “Sometimes someone will buy all of our toilet brushes, for example. And then online things are out of stock. Hopefully with more space, we will be able to keep our website well-stocked as well as the shop. I am hoping for both to grow more now.”
Shoppers can see that this is a small, independent business and Lucy says they are accommodating. “I think people are quite understanding about us selling out of things, especially after the Fringe weekend. We were wiped out of the soaps.”
By extending into the next-door unit, Lucy will double her space and that will improve her stock control. “We’re reserving a bit of space for a stockroom. When we get a big delivery, we will be able to put it somewhere. People often see me trying to scramble around boxes that have just been delivered,” she said.
Lucy will also use the increased retail space to introduce some new lines. “There will be a lot more refills. That’s one thing that people really love. People want different scents of things. We’re going to just really expand that range. We’re also bringing in ‘bare’ products, like bicarbonate of soda and distilled white vinegar, for people to make their own cleaning products. That’s quite a ‘zero waste’ thing that people do.”
You would expect Gold Hill and the Abbey to be on the town’s tourist trail, but I was surprised to hear that Lucy’s shop is a hit with overseas visitors. “A lot of tourists say that Shaftesbury in particular, and England, is ahead on the sustainability stuff. We’ve had a lot of Canadians and Americans come over and say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’. They buy things because they can’t get them at home. You can tell if there’s been an American tour bus drop off, because we’ll have so many Americans come through. We get quite a lot of Japanese people as well. There’s a lot of tourists visiting Swan’s Yard.”
Lucy has found that the shop has a wide area of influence across the Westcountry, too. “It kind of makes you feel a bit famous because people come from Bath and they say, ‘I’ve been following you on Instagram and I have been wanting to visit’. I think a few other shops in the town have the same thing, because you have quite a presence online, and then they get excited about actually seeing the real shop. It has happened a few times. It’s quite heart-warming. It makes you feel like you’re actually making a difference. People are invested in your story,” she said.
Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce has previously highlighted how our town’s independent traders can offer a more friendly, personal and knowledgeable service than the chains or online retailers. As someone operating both a virtual and an actual ‘bricks and mortar’ store, Lucy’s best advice to any new shopkeepers is to converse with customers. “We have a lot of regulars who come and see us as part of their weekly shopping trip. My staff are really friendly. I think that just being approachable, willing to sit down and talk to people about going plastic-free has built us a really lovely network of people.”
Lucy says she’s not just selling – she is advising, talking and engaging with people. “People like to come and see stuff. We’re really happy to talk through how things work. People enjoy that person-to-person interaction, rather than just shopping online,” said Lucy.
There are some questions which Lucy is frequently asked. “We get people who have no idea where to start and we give them a few changes they can make. And then you have people who ask how beeswax wraps work, for example. That’s quite a common one. It’s quite nice educating people and making this town more eco-friendly in general,” she said.
Lucy will extend opening times with the new business. “Part of the issue was because I’ve been running the shop a lot on my own. Doing errands when you run a shop is very hard. I had an hour in the morning to do that,” said Lucy. “I think we’re going to be bringing in regular staff. If you’re talking to someone, and there’s a queue at the till, you need that extra person. We are definitely going to be opening longer hours, maybe more Sundays as well.”
Coconut and Cotton’s newly extended shop opens for business at 6pm on Friday, the 26th of July.