Yard sells high quality gifts and homeware from its website and stylish high street store in the charming Wiltshire market town of Bradford-on-Avon, eight miles from Bath. Its owner, Alex Benjamin, retraces her start-up journey and provides advice for would-be small-business owners
Name: Alex Benjamin
Business: Bradford-on-Avon-based independent retailer Yard, set up by Alex Benjamin and husband John in mid-2015. It sells high quality, design-led gifts and accessories for the home and garden, as well as stationery and gifts for children.
Background: Alex’s previous job included working for two gift and stationery companies, starting off as an account manager supplying independent retailers before becoming a national account manager working with product developers and designers to create bespoke gifting collections for retailers. “I’d always dreamt of owning my own business,” she recalls, “but didn’t think it would happen this soon - especially as we’d not long had our daughter, Rosie.”
Why launch your own business rather than the less risky option of working for someone else?
Alex Benjamin (AB): “I enjoyed my career, but the company I was working for changed direction, and my role was regressing to where I’d started, which wasn’t challenging. So, after much consideration, I built a website and hoped online sales would provide enough for me to leave my job, but soon I realised I needed a bricks and mortar shop to boost revenue and encourage online sales.”
Are you happy you decided to start your own business?
AB: “Yes I am. It offers greater flexibility and satisfaction. I don’t work excessive hours, but, in any case, it’s different when it’s your business. I get up every morning feeling excited. Briefly, I considered opening a café, but thought it wiser to stick to what I know.”
How did you come up with your business name?
AB: “We were driving back from a weekend away, chatting about setting up the business and Yard just came to me. I wanted something that wouldn’t restrict me should the business change direction or expand. I had to register Yard Store Limited trading as Yard, but I was determined to keep the name, because I really like it.”
Your branding is excellent, how did it come about?
AB: “My brother in law was a designer and gave some initial advice, but I took it from there and did it myself. I think it’s clean, simple yet stylish. Branding is so important, but it needn’t cost a fortune. I created several mood boards and slowly whittled them down. Everything I buy sits within the theme and style of the boards, so it suits the brand.”
What about your website?
AB: “A friend is a computer whizz and provided the basic platform. I then looked at various websites and You Tube for tips on how to make the site look better. The only money I’ve spent is on a marketing consultant to optimise the site for search engines. Your website must look professional and be customer focussed. We’ve incorporated nice images to showcase the stock and customers can buy within a few clicks. When people visit your site, it shouldn’t put them off in any way. I also write a blog to add personality and publicise new products.”
How do you drive traffic to your website?
AB: “Competing against retailers with huge marketing budgets is tough. I want my website to become successful, but it’ll take time and money. My bricks and mortar shop helps to attract website visitors, while my social media postings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been a real help.”
How did you find your premises and get them ready for launch?
AB: “Obviously we know Bradford-on-Avon very well because it’s where we’re from and live. We knew the location had to be right to get the necessary footfall, so we’re right in the centre of town. The property was empty, so we enquired. Because we had so little budget, friends and family helped us get the shop ready. The décor and fittings are minimalist, so we were able to buy oak furniture, to give an air of class. We’ve signed a five-year lease on our premises with a three-year break clause.”
How did you source stock for your new business?
AB: “Having worked in the industry and attended recent trade shows, I knew which suppliers to approach. After launch, I set about finding small, unknown designers so I could offer something different. I love my stock and would have it all in my own home. Going to trade shows helps you to find suppliers and stay on trend.”
What’s been the biggest surprise since you started your business?
AB: “Just how well things are working out - our sales are very encouraging. Feedback from customers has been amazing. Every day someone comes in and says how nice the shop and its products are. I wasn’t expecting that.”
What key advice do you offer about setting up a business?
AB: “Seek feedback on your brand, prices, stock, website, etc, listen carefully and make changes where necessary. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Yes, your premises need to be clean, tidy, professional and welcoming, but you don’t need fancy till systems, furnishing, bags, stationery, etc. And avoid having too much of your money tied up in stock. Try to establish a contingency fund, because there will be unexpected costs. When buying, realise that everything is up for negotiation. I’ve also learned to trust my gut instinct, so, if deep down I have doubts about whether something will work, I don’t risk it.”