‘It is punchy taking a prime retail slot in a pandemic’

IT was Holly Tucker, the founder of online marketplace notonthehighstreet.com, who said that customers ‘vote with their money’, giving their hard-earned cash to the businesses they wanted to support.

Harriet Rouse
Harriet Rouse

And it is a view which resonates with the founder of Harriet & Rose, which opened its doors in King Street in the middle of August.

‘As a business owner, I will give the same service to the people who come in and spend £2.50 on a card as I will to those who spend £250,’ said Harriet Rouse. ‘You have to remember that people have chosen to spend that money with you. They don’t have to support your business.’

Having launched her gifting business in 2019 not long after moving to the Island, Harriet took a somewhat circuitous route into the world of retail.

‘I went to quite an academic school in Kent but, although I always loved books and reading, I was always much more creative than academic,’ she reflected. ‘While the teachers were encouraging us to consider careers in medicine or law, I knew those options weren’t for me. However, I had no idea what I did want to do.’

With her career aspirations uncertain, Harriet went to Reading University where she studied philosophy and started working in a bar.

‘I only had lectures for four hours a week so I was working almost full-time in the bar,’ she said. ‘I loved the customer interaction and problem-solving elements of the job.’

It was while working in the bar that Harriet met trainee accountant Paul Rouse, the man who she would go on to marry and whose career would eventually bring the couple to Jersey.

‘Before moving to Jersey, I ran my own bridal-jewellery business, designing and making pieces which we then sold online,’ she said. ‘It was a brilliant business and, thanks to the Internet, I was able to work from home and run the company while looking after my two children.

‘Sometimes I was making orders long into the night but I loved it and that experience made me realise that I would struggle to work for someone else again. I love the independence of running your own business – although you never switch off. And the buck stops with you. If something doesn’t work, or a product line doesn’t sell, you have only yourself to blame.’

When the family moved to Jersey, though, Harriet sold the jewellery business, as Customs and VAT regulations made it difficult to fulfil orders from UK customers.

However, while the tax situation and postal services might have created challenges in one area, they presented an opportunity for a new business.

‘I have always been a last-minute shopper when it comes to buying gifts,’ said Harriet. ‘My presents are always thoughtful but, in the UK, you can order things for same-day or next-day delivery. I quickly discovered that, in Jersey, you had to be a little more organised and that showed me that there was a gap in the market for an online-based gifting business.’

And so Harriet & Rose was born, with a range of locally made and ethically sourced gift ideas from candles and vases to books and ceramics.

‘Everything I buy, I like and would either buy for myself or to give as a gift. That is my bottom line on everything. Do I like it? But, while the products have to appeal, I also like the stories behind them,’ Harriet explained. ‘Who made them? Where do they come from? Nearly everything in the shop comes from small independent businesses, of which at least ten are local.’

Having launched initially as an online shop, Harriet’s first foray into physical retailing came last winter when she organised the small business pop-up events at Liberty Wharf.

‘The Genuine Jersey Christmas markets couldn’t take place last year because of the pandemic and Islanders had just received their £100 Spend Local vouchers, which they were unable to redeem online,’ she said. ‘I wanted to find a solution that brought people together in a safe environment. The pop-up events were a huge success, as they enabled people to see and touch the products. They also enabled me to sell the items in person and talk passionately about the pieces and the people behind them.

‘The result was fantastic and the physical shop and website complemented each other perfectly, with online sales also going up as people bought more after seeing the items at Liberty Wharf.’

Inspired by this success, Harriet started looking for premises in November.

‘Frankly, as sales grew during the pandemic, with people sending more gifts to family and friends, I outgrew my space. I had a stockroom at home but the stock was taking over and filling every corner of the house,’ she said. ‘I knew I needed to rent some storage space and, as I started looking at rents, I realised it made sense to add a retail element.’

But while determined to launch a bricks-and-mortar store, Harriet was not intending to take a site in King Street.

‘I was looking at another space, which was absolutely beautiful but had very little storage space,’ she said. ‘My husband came to see it and he said – and I do listen to him occasionally – that it wasn’t future-proof. Then the agent at Sarre suggested looking at 71 King Street, which had been a hairdresser. It is a four-storey building – much bigger than anything I had considered – but the space is amazing and I am really excited about the future of both the business and St Helier.

‘It is punchy taking a prime retail slot in the middle of a pandemic but customers want to support local businesses, and I think there will always be space for those small independent businesses who are really passionate about what they do, put their customer first and offer good service.’

Indeed, Harriet feels that such stores could play a large part in shaping the future appearance of St Helier.

‘I think the town is changing and I think that in five years, it will be much more of a market town, with specialised businesses, offering that personal service,’ she said. ‘The high street is more specialised and more experience-based and, while I think you have to be careful about how many shops are turned into cafés, having a mix of retail and hospitality – as you see in many European towns – creates a much nicer experience for people.’

And experience is something very much at the heart of Harriet & Rose.

‘The business was always founded for Jersey, and I hope that it will become something of a community hub,’ she said. ‘My aim is to use the first-floor space for creative workshops and I also want to a launch a small-business social club, bringing owners of small businesses together once a month.

‘The ground floor is the key retail space, and I have also created a gift-wrapping station and a workspace where children can make cards for family members. I feel strongly that, while retail and hospitality can often get a bit of a bad rap, good retail and hospitality have the power to create really positive memorable experiences. And that is why I think that, while chains are starting to diminish – because they are all clones of one another – independent businesses, run by people who are passionate about them, are beginning to win through.

‘Ultimately, people like shopping but shopping has changed and there are many things now that people, myself included, will buy online. Therefore, you need to give that experience, and provide something that isn’t available online. You have to be better than the internet.’

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