On the 9th of September, the founders of The Goodhood Store and Darkroom came to YCN to share insights from their thriving creative retail businesses.
For many, the notion of setting up their own shop is an appealing one. In London in particular, the strength and quality of independent retail is at a high, with many smaller shops building a loyal following and giving the more established chains a run for their money in the process. Whether in fashion or food, interiors or books, there are plenty of examples of highly successful independent shops that have built businesses that are here to stay. Last night, we invited the founders of two such retailers into YCN to talk about the secrets of setting up shop: Kyle Stewart and Joanna Sindle of The Goodhood Store, and Rhonda Drakeford from Darkroom. Photographs courtesy of Owen Richards.
Kyle and Joanna took to the floor first, detailing their previous experiences as designers at retail giants Levi’s and Nike, with their resulting frustrations laying the groundwork to open up Goodhood in 2007. “I learnt that the corporate environment wasn’t for me, which was a huge catalyst for starting up our own thing,” Joanna remarked, who left Nike after just three months of being there. “Being at Nike and Levi’s was fundamental to setting up Goodhood,” Kyle continued, citing how the shopping trips that they had taken to places like Japan and Amsterdam as part of their jobs had taught him the art of shopping, and shown just how well independent retail could be done. It also opened his eyes to the less traditional side of retailing. “We realised that you didn’t have to be on the high street. You could be on a back street somewhere and encourage people to find you.”
After managing to secure a small bank loan, which went on a shop fit out and the first purchase of stock, the shop was funded in the early years by a combination of consultancy work for larger brands (many of whom Joanna and Kyle had worked with before) and a design studio which was situated in the basement below the shop. They later rented out desk space in the studio which brought in extra revenue. “Having that sideline in the beginning enabled us to have the shop,” said Joanna, pointing out that for the first two and a half years, they weren’t able to employ any staff. “We used to work downstairs in the studio and if the shop bell went, whoever was the least busy would run upstairs and deal with the customers.”
In what has started to become a theme in our ‘Two of a Kind’ talks, naivety and an optimistic/idealistic attitude played a huge role in the creation of their business. “We don’t have a history in retail at all. When we first opened, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” explained Joanna. They eventually got their heads around how to make it run smoothly through trial and a lot of error. “We learnt the hard way. We messed up a lot.” Despite now employing a combination of 20 full-time and part-time staff, this value of attitude over experience has remained; “Not one of the people that we’ve employed has been qualified to do what they do.” Clearly that outlook is paying off, with their recent expansion into a far larger and more prominent space on Curtain Road after outgrowing their premises of seven years just around the corner on Coronet Street.
In a similar vein, Rhonda Drakeford of Darkroom didn’t have any retail experience either before she and her business partner, Lulu Roper-Caldbeck, opened up to much acclaim on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury in December 2009. After studying Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins and subsequently forming a design consultancy called Multistorey, Rhonda became increasingly interested in textiles and interiors. In 2005, she launched a range of cushions made from vintage African fabrics which were a hit. “I sent them to the magazines and they went nuts for them.” Her savvy grasp of design and a solid understanding of how the press machine worked meant that the cushions went on to sell in retailers such as Liberty and Urban Outfitters. After teaming up with Lulu on a brand called ‘By Themselves’, the idea for Darkroom followed shortly afterwards and they began looking for a retail space. “We initially looked at Columbia Road but ended up finding the space on Lamb’s Conduit Street. It was a lot bigger than what we were looking for but we just thought, fuck it, let’s do it.”
The shop fit out cost £10,000 – a very small budget by usual retail standards – and they roped in a number of their friends to help make it happen. The floor alone took two weeks to paint, although visitors to Darkroom will be able to see why. “We made a decision quite early on that we weren’t going to paint the shop white,” explained Rhonda, taking the audience on a tour through the taste and belief systems that the shop is founded upon, and some of the ways that they like to do things differently to their competitors. Introducing the idea of seasons was one masterstroke, enabling the shop to constantly update and reinvent itself around a specific theme. African, Aztec, Pagan and the De Stijl movement are just some of the seasons that have graced Darkroom in the past. Rhonda also unveiled some of her plans for the next iteration of Darkroom’s online presence: an editorially-led offering that brings a touch of physical retailing into the online space. Keep your eyes on the Darkroom website to see it in the flesh when it goes live.
Despite employing staff in the shop, Rhonda spoke about the importance of being on the shop floor, and how herself and Lulu aim to man it at least once a week. “It’s the best way to gauge people’s reactions to the shop and the products. Some people come in and cry because they’re so excited. Other people come in and look slightly offended!”
The talk was punctuated with questions from the audience throughout, covering a whole multitude of aspects of running a shop; from press and marketing to the managing of staff to the benefits and drawbacks of online retailing vs physical retailing. “It’s probably twice as expensive to run the website than it is to run the shop,” Rhonda declared. Husband and wife duo Kyle and Joanna were also questioned as to the challenges of running a shop together whilst also maintaining a relationship and looking after a child. “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone,” Joanna advised, much to the amusement of the crowd.
A huge thank you to Rhonda Drakeford from Darkroom and Kyle Stewart and Joanna Sindle of The Goodhood Store for taking the time to come into YCN, and to all of our Members who were in attendance. Find out more about both shops by heading to their respective websites, and keep your eyes on our events page for future Two of a Kind talks.
YCN Members get priority places for all YCN events, both those hosted at 72 Rivington Street and externally. Not yet a Member? Find out the plentiful benefits of joining here.
Location:72 Rivington Street,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:9th September, 2014 at 6:30pm
End:9th September, 2014 at 8:00pm