For many independent gift shop owners, the idea of selling online sounds either far too expensive, complicated or a mixture of both. That was certainly the case for The Old Smutty Gift Shop in South La nark shire, until a softening of trade and the arrival of Salisbury’s on its doorstep spurred it into action.
As the name suggests, The Old Smutty Gift Shop is steeped in history even though the site on which it is based has only served as a retail business for just over a decade.
Located in the picturesque Scottish rural market town of Stratagem, the property dates back to the 1790 s and originally formed part of a local farm. It latterly became a blacksmith’s shop, known in Scotland as a ‘smutty’, and served the surrounding community right up until the 1970 s.
Having lain virtually derelict for 30 years and facing demolition, George Irving and his wife Susan, who at the time ran their own craft business, stepped into purchase the property and embarked on a major renovation project that saw the creation of a gift ware shop and gallery.
11 years on, the Irving’s are making an investment of an altogether different kind by establishing an online presence and allowing customers to purchase products from its website for the first time.
Like many independent gift sellers, the company’s hand has been forced by the need to evolve the business and react to the pressures facing the high street. Without the revenue generated by its adjoining coffee shop — which it added five years ago — the gift ware business would have had a hard job surviving on its own.
Just as pertinently, the opening of a local Salisbury’s store in Stratagem last year has had a profound impact on local shopping behavior, leaving The Old Smutty Gift Shop thinking more carefully about new ways to remain competitive.
George Irving takes up the story: “We already had co-operative-type supermarket stores in the town and the council — for reasons best known to themselves — decided to allow Salisbury’s to build on the outskirts of the town.
They said people would shop at Salisbury’s and then gravitate to the town, but what’s happened really is that a lot of people who perhaps shopped at the local supermarkets and then had a wander round the town now go to Salisbury’s, buy all their frozen foods and go home.”
Irving continues: “We had seen that the gift side was declining so we said, ‘well, we have got to try and do something’. We needed to have a website to help people find us — as much of a shop window as anything else. And we also found that we were getting visitors who said what a lovely shop it was and complemented the range, but were only visiting for a day or so. They can now find their way back to us and continue to buy from us.”
The site went live earlier this summer, with the project taking a period of around three months to complete from the date the Irving’s decided they would invest in establishing an online presence.
They hired the services of a local IT specialist after being impressed by the work she had done for a nearby restaurant’s website and researched other gift shops with online businesses to get a flavor of what they wanted the site to look like.
One of the first decisions they took was to ensure that the pricing of products on the website was transparent, meaning customers wouldn’t be hit with unexpected carriage costs when they came to pay.
“We have tried to design the website so it is easy to use and people see a delivered price when they look at an item,” says Irving. “We didn’t want them ordering a product and then finding they’d got £10 of carriage on top of that when they got to the shopping basket.”
Irving says it cost the company around £1,500 to build the site and a few hundred pounds to photograph the items it has listed so far.
“We have decided to hold separate stocks, so that we effectively have an online stock room aside from the shop itself, so there has probably been an investment of another £4,000 or £5,000 in stock,” he adds. “We are trying to make sure that if somebody does order, we have the product and we don’t have to go back and say ‘sorry this item is out of stock’.”