Ever wondered what it's like building a business from the ground up?
Here you'll find a selection of excerpts from 'Beck's Letter' - a newsletter segment that's previously only been readable if you're a subscriber. Trials and tribulations, staff changes, energy costs, and general ins-and-outs of daily life running a big shop. Enjoy.
15th January 2023
Beck's (big) 2023 Letter
January feels really positive.
I'm writing this letter at Prior, on a Saturday afternoon as a lino printing workshop is being set up. I can hear Marya inducting a new member of staff on the till, I've just finished submitting our VAT for the last quarter and I'm reading the notes for a management course that I'm starting next week at UWE. For some reason (I hope I don't jinx it) I feel much calmer than January 2022. It's a mix of things but I think it's mainly because I now have a whole year under my belt of being in this huge retail space. I have a better understanding of how the year flows (financially and emotionally) and therefore I feel prepared for the highs and lows... she says :)
Prior is here for (at least) another year!
I have also had some great news though which has really elevated my mood. I had a meeting with the Manager of Cabot Circus (who is absolutely wonderful) and she said that we are allowed to stay here another year! In the last 12 months we have generated thousands of pounds for small independent brands, workshop hosts and provided living wages for local people. I am so incredibly excited to grow this even further. We (Cabot & Prior) are also making plans for an outdoor independent artisan market in Quakers Friars. Nothing is confirmed - and we're at the super early stages - but I'm determined to get it off the ground this year.
I am in a list of 100 Women Entrepreneurs!
I found out a few days ago I have made it into the f:Entrepreneur list of 100 women entrepreneurs! The #ialso100 list is full of incredible women from all over the UK who are living “a new approach to the “portfolio” career, taking on many roles, achieving in many different spheres of life and demonstrating that women are paving a new path for what entrepreneurship means”. Everyone who made the list is invited to lunch at the House of Lords! How bonkers!
AND we were also finalists in the UK's Favourite Local Business and had lots of press coverage. If you would like to read any of it, you can do so here, here and here :)
In-house design service
I applied for some funding in November to the West of England Combined Authority for a CNC machine (computer controlled router) and we were successful! I still can't believe it! So hopefully in Spring we will be able to offer in-house making for local crafts people - think signs, display, products and prototypes! I will also be able to make lots of elements of my own products that I currently have to outsource. I'm bringing my whole woodworking workshop to Cabot to so I can FINALLY teach my lamp making workshops again.
Teaching, lecturing and sharing
2023 brings about a partnership with Weston College as we will be offering an apprentice scheme and I will be a guest lecturer for a module of their BA Art and Design degree. I have also been invited to talk at a Craft Council's round table event discussing sustainable woodworking and I will be leading a presentation about Organisational Sustainability for Bristol City Council. I thoroughly enjoy sharing skills and knowledge with young people and professionals, but public speaking still gives me the heebie jeebies. I'm getting more confident though and feel pretty honoured I've been invited to speak at so many events.
Huge letter from me. So much more to say but I'll hold back for another newsletter!
Thank you so much for shopping with us, engaging with our social media posts, reading these newsletters, leaving us heartwarming reviews and telling your friends about us. It means a lot and definitely plays a huge part of why we keep getting so many great opportunities.
- Beck x
23rd December 2022
I'm sure over the next week your inbox will be bursting with many 'end of year' emails with founders 'final thoughts', 'year in review' and 'thanks'. Of course, this newsletter is no exception.... :)
I'm so immensely proud of the shop, my team and everything we have and continue to achieve for independent businesses this year. I hope we continue to inspire other independents to reclaim the high streets and challenge huge, high street brands.
That said, it's been really (really) tough this year. The Cost of Living Crisis dramatically impacted customer spending and we had a second blow with the Royal Mail strikes. We have been at a loss EVERY SINGLE month since April. It was really worrying and even my unwavering positivity, hope and sheer determination was tested. I drew a line in the sand and said if we didn't make X amount in sales by the 25th December then I just can't do this anymore. I can't keep putting my own money into it alongside an embarrassing amount of hours - and not paying myself.
I have fantastic news though - today on the 23rd of December- at 1.37pm - we reached that target which means we won't go into next year with an annual operating deficit.
We are small and darn mighty - thanks to you, our marvellous customers! 🤘🏼☀️🎉
Running a small business doesn't come without sacrifice. So, my devoted team and I would like to thank you all - from the bottom of our hearts - for shopping with us and keeping us going.
All my love,
Beck Prior xxx
ps. Sorry for the typos. My wonderful wordsmith, Flo is off on Christmas break so I've been let loose on the newsletter with no proof reading! Flo - if you're reading this - I hope I haven't done too badly :)
pps. Next year I am arranging a photoshoot of my whole team. I've tried to arrange it multiple times but we are never all available at the same time!
30th October 2022
Good morning everyone.
Thank you for joining us for another newsletter. I hope you find them interesting and beneficial. You'll laugh but I used to get really upset when people unsubscribed - but now I realise that it's totally normal, especially when you have thousands of subscribers. Although - if you're reading this and thinking about unsubscribing - please let me know why :) . I want to make sure we are sending you really great newsletters so any feedback is really appreciated.
As we enter the homestretch to Christmas, I'm reflecting a lot about 2022 and how much we've shape-shifted to overcome the hurdles of having such a huge store. I'm still pushing, still adapting, still being resilient - but I have to admit - I'm getting really tired. I have spent a while working on our finances and I have a target that we must reach with our Christmas Sales. I'm actually feeling really confident and focused though; you know when you have to look at a non-moving spot when trying to balance in a yoga class - that's me right now. Wobbling a bit, but focused and upright.
I was recently on the Resilient Retail podcast if you would like to listen to the 30min episodes, it's on Spotify here. Catherine also invited me onto her Instagram Live, too, which you can also watch here.
In other news: we've made a HUGE layout change to our store - keep your eyes on Instagram; the recent exhibition was a such a success we are keeping it up for another 2 weeks; we have another indoor 'Sustainable Design Fair - Meet the Maker' in a few weeks (12th & 13th Nov); and if you missed it - we have YOGA every Wednesday evening at a new time of 7.15pm. Oh also, we've partnered with CÔTE BRASSERIE and all workshop participants will receive a free glass of Prosecco if they choose to eat there on the day 🥂
So much more I want to tell you about but I'm sure you don't want to hang-out in your inbox! I would love to see you if you're passing Cabot Circus and as always - please keep shopping with us and please keep telling your friends. If you are visiting the store, please praise my team as they too are working so incredibly hard.
15th October 2022
Oh hello October - although you've kinda snuck up on us, we are very excited that you're here.
It’s my favourite time of year too because I love layered clothing, I love walking in the crisp autumnal weather, I love getting cosy in the evenings by turning on my lamps and getting wrapped up in a blanket. I love it when the weather is on the cusp of ‘no jacket’ in the day but needs big cosy scarf by night, and like Flo - my birthday in a few weeks probably has something to do with it!
For those that want a life-as-a-shop-owner update - At the point of writing this, Harriet and Sky are setting up their exhibition: Places of Joy . The private view is Saturday 15th at 5pm and the show will be on for 2 weeks. Take a peak at this video if you would like to see these incredible artists making their work. Yesterday morning - before the shop opened - I was giving our gallery a fresh lick of paint while we had the wonderful instagram influencer Caprice Fox in the shop creating content for her Christmas Gift Guide Reels!
Boxes of stock from indie makers are arriving everyday too! As there are many Royal Mail strikes that will affect online orders, and being conscious that a lot of people will be perhaps spending less- we want to start highlighting gift-able products that are handmade, sustainable, unique and under £30. We strongly advise you shop early and shop independently this Christmas.
Hopefully you’ll see something in our newsletters or on our socials- both of which we are focusing on highlighting these under £30 items. We have a huge range of products over £30 too so if your budget can go higher - we have some incredibly beautiful gifts for yourself and your loved ones. Me and the Prior team are working so hard at the moment to keep our big shop in Cabot Circus going. Really hard. We are all counting on a great Christmas so please keep letting your friends know about us.
See you all soon (and thanks - as always!)
- Beck x
Did you know we've been in the Cabot Circus shop (for those of you who aren't in Bristol - it's our mega store in the heart of a huge shopping district) for ONE WHOLE YEAR! I've been a bit anxious recently about the shop's survival and someone suggested I write down all of the things we've achieved over the last 12 months. It's been a whirlwind and I feel like I'm running on water most of the time, but when I sat down to write this list - well, let's just say it was a brilliant task to do.
Flo put my rambles into a carefully written blog - here's the link to: 'One Year Later: 13 things we're proud of on our first birthday'
And...recently we had a double page spread in the Bristol Life Magazine too - the headline of the article: The Triple Threat: Brexit. Covid. The cost of living: times are tough for small local retailers, but at her Bristol shop Beck Prior continues to innovate and adapt, setting the standard for a modern, agile entrepreneur. If you fancy reading more of Flo's gorgeous writing in the article - take a peek at the magazine's Oct addition here.
I really hope to see our Bristol customers at our first indoor market this weekend. Will you come? We are yet to find out what the Business Energy 'cap' means for our bills so we are still trying to build alternative projects that will keep us going. We'd love to see you!
18th September 2022
The 24th of September marks our 1st birthday. A WHOLE YEAR, an entire year! I'm sitting here trying to write something reflective but in all honestly I'm absolutely knackered and have been staring through my laptop for about an hour. Everything I manage to write sounds like a cheesy emotional speech for a Grammy award : ) - so I've given up. All I can manage is - It's been a bloody rollercoaster - thank you for being there x
This week I've stayed late at the shop every single night to work on the new display. Funnily enough on the 1st September last year I collected the keys for the first time and spent the first few weeks working from 6am until waaaayyy past midnight trying to get the shop ready for the public. I had lots of staff members, friends and family swing by to help and encourage me. Ironically - one year later - I decided to completely change the shop display. It was unintentional to be on the anniversary but obviously something inside was chiming telling me a refresh was needed.
The shop is now absolutely beautiful - honestly! Suddenly it doesn't look like a 'pop up' anymore and could easily be mistaken for TOAST or another big retailer. I get a buzz that I have an independent shop in such a huge shopping area and being mistaken for a big brand. Telling visiting customers that everything is handmade by independent sustainable designers is literally what I get out of bed for!
Also - more good news for your inbox - if you didn't know, we're open on bank hols - even on Monday! Our lovely indie neighbours Mila Plants are opening, and we are too - despite the fact the rest of Cabot Circus will be closed! So pop on down for a delightfully peaceful shopping experience, away from the usual hustle and bustle. PLUS, you get 10% off store-wide on Monday - name a better way to celebrate those living and passed.
- Beck xx
4th September 2022
Some of you may follow us on Instagram and have seen our recent news - we have closed our Old Market shop. As people say - you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. I suppose it’s also a sign of business growth and it's best not to be sentimental if it’s losing money - but - it’s still MY little shop. It’s the place where it all began and I’m absolutely gutted.
I’ve tried everything to keep that little shop going as I know the City Centre isn’t for everyone, but I’m now in checkmate and I have no manoeuvres left. Post Covid, the area hasn’t bounced back as expected and it has been losing money for the duration of the year. The big shop has been able to support the little shop but as customer spending has been getting lower and lower, and our bills getting higher and higher, it’s impossible to stay afloat. Something has to give, and so we are parting with the baby shop. The Cabot Circus shop supports four times as many makers and has a much higher reach to celebrate the work of sustainable designers; more space to run workshops and more avenues to support the Bristol economy.
Those of you that have supported Prior since we opened in Old Market - you supported the growth of where Prior is today and closing Old Market doesn’t mean the end. I hope you know that your support then and now is what took Prior to Cabot Circus. The plaque of everyone's names is coming with us and being installed on the wall. 🧡
The energy crisis means we are still on a knife edge so we are throwing everything into turning our Cabot Circus shop into a Creative Community Hub for the public and for businesses. If you would like to know more about our plans for the new shop please click on the button below. It’s all very exciting… !
21st August 2022
Do you follow our Instagram account? On Wednesday I couldn't go to work as I felt paralysed with the stress of trying to think of innovate ways to pay our *estimated* monthly energy bill of £3,000. I sat at home - in my PJ's - and asked our Instagram followers for their suggestions of how we can use our beautiful shop space to generate more income. The responses were amazing and to be honest - I had a little cry from the cheerleading that flooded my DM’s.
I’m forever an optimist and fiercely determined. I will exhaust every single possible opportunity until I’m literally forced into submission - and to be honest even then I’ll still be kicking. That said, we had an estimated energy bill of £3,000 per month and I need to think fast and be dramatic with my decisions. We are all facing crippling challenges with energy in our personal lives and I don’t want to increase our prices so that it increases the pressure on you, our customers.
So, after some of the fantastic ideas pooled from our friends over on Instagram - I spent yesterday working on the following:
A monthly indoor ‘Meet The Maker Market’ - this is an opportunity for local artisans to have an indoor weekend market where you can purchase from them directly and talk about their work.
Run clothes and plant ‘swap’ afternoons - bring a seedling or cutting, or clothing you don’t want - swap it for something you do!
Run Yoga/Pilates/Wellness sessions before and/or after the shop opens.
Life drawing sessions on a Thursday evening.
Hot desking - come and hang out with us and hire our desk space for £18 a day (more info here)
Our exhibitions are always free but now you can donate a little change or tap £1 at the till as a contribution. If 100 people donated £1 a day we could pay the energy bill :)
Hen/Stag parties, birthday parties and corporate team building workshops - I’m working on a brochure for the website and to send to big corps!
Soft, comfy seating for the corner of the gallery space for people to relax when out shopping for the day.
Sell £1 raffle tickets at the till for the chance to win a £100 voucher - our own sustainable lottery! Ha!
What do you think of the above plans? I would love to know your thoughts and any other suggestions you have! Please reply to this email and I will read it and reply straight back.
In the meantime please keep us in mind for any of your upcoming spending - gifts, cleaning products, clothes, tableware, haircare, soap, light bulbs - we are a proper lifestyle shop now. If you aren’t spending at the moment, please share our website on your Whatsapp groups, share our social media with your followers and mention our shop to anyone that will listen :)
As Flo said to me the other day - we can’t always control what happens to us. But we can control our reaction. We are resilient. We can adapt. We will overcome! Other things typed in our Prior Whatsapp staff team group: we've got this - we can pull off anything - big up Prior - if we put out good energy it will come back….. I love my team :)
6th August 2022
Hello hello hello August, I mean... AUGUST? It's absolutely unreal how quickly the months fly by.
The news from me this week is that we have a brand new amazing team member called Helen. Helen is a bit of a whiz at social media, she used to run a conscious shop and space in Australia AND is a fantastic professional photographer. What an addition to the Prior family!
In other news I have the draft lease for a long term stay at Cabot Circus in front of me (well, to the right of my laptop) ! Nothing is confirmed yet as there are so many factors to sustain our occupancy - rent is a tiny puzzle piece when you're working on the sky of a mega puzzle :) - but it's one step closer to staying here long term. I'm so passionate (borderline obsessed) to keep this place going. It totally relies on your purchases though so please keep those coming. If you're budget is tight at the moment - please leave us a free Google review via the button below and tell your friends about us. It helps more than you can imagine.
Thanks again for your continued support of the shop and these emails!
Love, Beck xxx
Sunday 12th June
Hellooooo from Beck,
I picked up a little kitten last weekend - I have to start this newsletter with this 'news' as he is all I've talked about this week to anyone that is in earshot. If anyone wants to see any cute kitten pictures... well, email me :) The team have been working hard in the shop while I play with cardboard boxes, flea treatment and attempt to teach a cat to play fetch.
As Flo has mentioned in the heading, we have some amazing workshops coming up that are sure to sell out. Also, we're in the FINALS of an amazing award and it would really help us out if you vote for us - the winner is the business with the most votes. We will only win with your help (link just below)!
Thank you for your orders recently - please keep 'em coming.
Have a great week everyone.
Sunday 29th May 2022
It's been a full-on, brilliant few weeks at Prior since our last newsletter. The shop is getting busy and we've had a record number of workshops being booked in - last week we had 8 workshops in one week! And of course, while the shop was at its busiest, I stole some of the team and took them to the Wye Valley. We have been working with local schools to create an amazing sculpture for the Wye Valley River Festival!
I'm actually on holiday in Hereford with my husband's family, so I'm keeping this short and sweet :)
Hope you guys have had a wonderful weekend. Thanks as always xxx
Love Beck xx
Sunday 15th May 2022
Hi from Beck,
Wow, another sunny weekend here in Brizzle (that's Bristol for those not in the South West). These last few weeks we've been working hard on our website. You might have noticed that we are trying to add more information to each product listing, adding features and dimensions to everything. We (well, Flo 💘) have managed to get to 'F' in our list of makers and I've been working on a fancy indepth menu bar (taking inspiration from our famous neighbours that rhyme with Polymer Jonas). Shhhhh......
Our online sales have been very low recently so I would LOVE your feedback on our website. Have you always found what you're looking for? Have there been any hurdles or glitches?
Please send your feedback by replying to this newsletter - it will come directly to me.
Thanks as always,
Sunday 1st May 2022
Happy 1st of May everyone 🌼. Honestly, where is the year going!?
Flo has written a fantastic blog about foraging for edible plants and she's even included a recipe for Wild Garlic Sauerkraut! I am definitely going to make that this weekend.
Thank you so much to all those that have purchased from the shop(s) and online this month. We had a slow start to 2022 in terms of sales and if I'm honest, the doubts began to creep in as to whether we could afford to keep the big shop going. But ignore my dramatic doomy intro - all is fine 🎉; you guys were our saving raft this month and have carried us through to see another day.
This month I've launched a BRAND NEW product with my friend Lima Lima and I also found out I'm a finalist in the Women Who Do Awards! The award celebrates growth, resilience and determination. Thank you to the anonymous person that nominated me.
- Beck xxx