In our new Ask the Retailer series, we talk to Sarah Laker of Stationery Supplies in Marple, Cheshire.
What inspired you to work in the stationery industry/retail?
Simply, my love of stationery!
Your CV in a nutshell
Since my first job, aged 14, when I worked on a street market stall selling handbags and gloves, I’d always wanted to have my own shop. However, when I left school, under my parents’ guidance, I followed the more traditional path of nursing. After 17 years in this role I was tired of the constant pressure of shift work at the NHS. So I took the brave decision to leave, to combine my love of stationery with my longing to run my own business. With my husband’s support I took over Stationery Supplies on our 13th wedding anniversary, on 12 September 2005, and I’ve never looked back!
Tell us about your company
Stationery Supplies is an eclectic mix of stationery, greetings cards and gifts in the leafy canal town of Marple in Cheshire. We have also just launched our new website www.giraffegifts.co.uk selling beautiful stationery and gifts.
Describe your role
That’s easy – I do everything! I’m virtually a ‘one-woman band’ as I only have two very part-time assistants. So I wear all the hats – buyer, merchandiser, sales, accounting, social media, marketing, cleaner and online. Phew, I think that’s all of them. I do sleep well at night!
What are your desk essentials?
Oooh lovely… desk essentials…there are so many, but I think my favourites have to be my red Lamy pico pen. This goes everywhere with me, not just on my desk. I also have a red A5 Leuchtturm notebook for my endless lists and notes, Stabilo Boss Pastel Highlighters (all 6 shades because how can you choose between them?) and a pencil pot in the shape of a pencil sharpener stuffed full of various colours of pens and pencils from Pentel Energels to Zebra disposable fountain pens!
I feel I need to mention my desk here, too. It belonged to the headmaster of the small school in the rural Lincolnshire village where we lived in the 70s, and my dad bought it for £5 when the school closed. It was in his study up until he retired, when it became my shop desk. My dad is no longer with us, and it’s a constant reminder to me of him. My customers all love it, too!
How do you use notebooks?
So after a quick count up I have six notebooks on the go! Well a girl can never have too many notebooks, can she?! I have two Leuchtturm, a red A5 for lists/notes and a purple A6 for important notes I need to keep, a Santoro A5 with a very grumpy owl on the cover for notes of stock, outside fairs and stalls, an A6 Rhodia which I take to trade fairs, a Premier Stationery UK project book which I use for orders and an ordinary shorthand notebook that is used for notes concerning the general daily running of the shop.
Do you have a favourite stationery item?
So many! If I had to choose I’d go for the Maped Helix Bunny pencil sharpener. I have a soft spot for this since visiting Maped Head Office in Annecy, where I was shown the whole process from the initial idea of a sharpener, which helps children to learn how to sharpen pencils, right through to the finished product. I’ve sold over 250 of them and I never tire of the delight on children’s faces as they watch the Bunny’s teeth chatter as the pencil sharpens.
Who is your typical customer?
I don’t really have a typical customer. We have a mixture of local businesses, families, retired folks and commuters. Catering to all the different needs keeps me on my toes. I get involved with local primary schools to try and spread my love of all things stationery, and to catch the stationery addicts young! We’ve been here so long now that some of the children who came in to proudly tell us that they’ve got their pen license, are now coming in to tell us that they are going to university!
What are you proudest of in your career so far?
I have two achievements that I’m most proud of, if that’s not too greedy? Firstly, that I managed a complete career change, and that 13 years later I’m still running, and loving doing so, a thriving business. No mean feat in the current retail climate.
Secondly, that in 2015 I was chosen as one of three businesses from all the Maped Helix UK accounts to pilot its Premier Partner Scheme, which has since been rolled out across the UK to an exclusive group of 18 like-minded retailers. Maped Helix is a forward-thinking, innovative supplier which recognises the importance of the independent retailer and actively seeks to support them.