Through Community We Teach Each Other: Retail with Soul at Prior Shop

Through Community We Teach Each Other: Retail with Soul at Prior Shop

What it means to be a ‘good’ business is rapidly changing. It’s not enough to purely be financially viable: if it’s taking up space on the high street, it needs to provide value to its community, too. 

Faced with rapidly changing pressures from covid, the cost of living crisis and huge hikes in business energy bills, small businesses are having to adapt and evolve to find novel solutions. Solutions which we’ve found to be surrounding us all along. 

The old adage proves true once more: through community we teach each other. 

The mission statement of Prior Shop is based entirely around providing real, practical support for the creative community of Bristol - not just in terms of selling the beautiful work of over 150 local artists and makers, but in myriad ways that go beyond just being ‘another stockist’. Alongside being a non-profit, we are a fully independent, female-founded and staffed shop with a gallery space and community workshop hub which delivers outstanding results for both our makers, and our wider community as a whole. 

Our objectives when running Prior have always been to have an impact that goes beyond the four walls of our shop. We believe that the creative community in Bristol deserves real, practical support. We believe that building connections between studios and customers is a way to spread prosperity and create real change in the corporate landscape of Cabot Circus. We believe that by bringing the work of 150 independent creatives into a retail space normally reserved for big brand names (we’re next to Oliver Bonas, and opposite Ted Baker) is a project that not only the community of Bristol deserves, but also one that feeds back into the local economy, supporting local creatives and providing outlets for their work to be celebrated. 

But we have always wanted more than just to bring the work of our fantastic makers into the retail space - we support makers in real ways such as running small business mentoring workshops free of charge, in running monthly pop-up ‘meet the maker’ markets to solidify connections between makers and customers, and pitch to national, and regional press on behalf of our artists. 

Our project is one that blends many different approaches. Underlining all of it however is a true investment into fantastic ‘behind-the-scenes’ work (normally quite an overlooked area, but so vital in a busy shop) such as brilliant, precise record keeping, stock management, and above all, communication with our makers. Good retail starts at the roots - and whilst on the shop floor we represent to the very best of our ability our makers’ stock, behind the scenes we do our very best to have excellent communication with our artists too - whether that’s in terms of fantastic monthly email round-ups, live stock reports for each maker, google docs with information about how to resize and format images for our website (and theirs) - it all adds up, and keeping our makers happy is our highest priority. 

But, some headlines that are less behind-the-scenes: we write bi-monthly newsletters singing about our makers’ work with ‘top picks’ which we rotate through. We have 3,500 subscribers and counting. We write weekly blog posts with excellent clickable links to draw customers to our website. We have worked really really hard to boost our SEO - we don’t have a marketing budget or hire anyone outside of our really close-knit team - so it’s a huge deal for us that now when you type in ‘Bristol Gift Shop’ into google, we’re the number one!

Being an independent shop with no marketing budget in a really competitive retail space like Bristol means we have to innovate and work doubly hard to keep up with the giants. We pitch to press on behalf of our makers and have boosted their sales through fantastic features in (to name a few) The Guardian, The Times and The Independent. We run free exhibitions in our gallery space at the back to draw customers in. We run yoga classes with hugely discounted prices for students or people on low incomes. We run sustainable, creative workshops, hosted often by our makers in the shop, which again - supports the local community in terms of outreach, but also allows our makers time in the spotlight! Recent ones have been a natural dyeing workshop, a candle making workshop, and a sewing class. It’s so lovely to be able to provide a space in which the public and our creative community can blend. 

Ok, but what about some concrete facts and figures? Let’s whip out some stats: 

Last year we injected 150k into the creative community in Bristol in sales of makers’ work.

Our artists’ work has been featured in many national newspapers. Here's a link to a blog post about our product features and press coverage. (Including features in The Guardian Christmas Gift Guide 2022!). 

We employ 9 staff members, providing high-quality, living wage work for local people. 

We have brought the work of 150 independent artists into a very corporate landscape - lifting the work of these creatives into spaces that traditionally would be reserved for mass-produced products. 

For every £1 spent in an independent business, 52p stays within the local economy - so by local people supporting the shop, the income is recycled directly back into our city’s wellbeing. 

Our creative workshops are an opportunity for our makers to connect with the public - art projects are fantastic for wellbeing and creativity - but we also realise that some people are not in the financial position to enjoy them, so we offer free workshops for low-income people, vulnerable people, and people recovering from trauma. This is just one of the many projects we are able to support due to our non-profit status - the money gets re-injected into our whole community. 

Through community we teach each other. It's not just a saying. It's an adage we've found to be true. 

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