Sunday, 19 September 2021
SANDIE HARROW is the co-owner of Stocks, a boutique in Bell Street, Henley, together with her daughter-in-law Lise. She owns two similar shops in Marlow and Stockbridge. She was born in London, the daughter of an RAF family, and was educated at St Helen and St Katherine’s School in Abingdon. She and her husband Christopher, who is a mechanical engineer, moved to Henley 10 years ago. She has two grown-up sons and five grandchildren. Sandie enjoys walking, travelling and listening to Radio 4.
Describe your business
We are a women’s clothing and gift store, selling skirts, dresses, tops, jumpers and lovely cashmere, together with a large range of gorgeous gifts. We love good design and style and much of our clothing range comes from Denmark, France and Italy, all perfectly suitable for ladies of any age. Our gifts are all ethically sourced and mainly handmade. We have jewellery, chocolate soap and perfumed candles from Charles Ferris and Rathbone and much more. Many unusual items come from as far as Nepal, New Zealand and Somalia. Many are charity-related and support local small enterprises and communities. Our chocolate wrappers and some soaps are designed by adults with learning difficulties.
How many people does it employ?
We have five wonderful ladies, plus two in Marlow and four in Stockbridge.
What did you do before you started this business?
I worked as a nurse at Middlesex Hospital briefly before getting married. In 1979 I opened my first shop in Huntingdon and eventually had six shops in small towns in Cambridgeshire which I ran for 30 years.
When did you start your business?
After selling the shops in Cambridgeshire, we opened the Henley and Stockbridge shops three years ago and the Marlow one a year later.
What was your objective?
To enjoy it. Having a love of design, I wanted to offer something different in the high street. Every high street needs independents, which are the lifeblood of a town.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
No. I just work hard and get on with it.
What would you do differently if you could begin again?
Not a lot, touch wood. However, a few IT lessons would have been a good idea.
What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?
Pretty dramatic, especially at first when we had to close the shops. Missing out on Mothering Sunday hit us hard. But the Chancellor has given us incredible support. We were able to furlough our staff and have kept every one of them. Lise worked hard on our website and we were able to keep the business running online. Now we are selling face masks at cost price which are made in London by hat makers who have little or no work due to the lack of weddings etc.
How is your business doing ?
Very well even though we are not getting the footfall we are accustomed to. Understandably, some of our customers are being cautious. People coming in are very compliant, wearing masks and using the sanitiser. We steam any clothes that have been tried on.
How do you market your business?
Our website and Instagram have become much more important since the onset of the pandemic. But word of mouth continues to be a great source of new custom. And our location between WH Smith and Boots in Bell Street is perfect.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
The people, our customers. I have come to know many of them so well.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Ordering the right levels of stock and choosing well.
Where is your business headed?
Hopefully onwards and upwards, continuing to embrace our customers and great staff.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
To offer something different. It’s very rewarding to help people find something they may not have considered and see how thrilled they become.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Be aware of the hard work and commitment required.
What three qualities are most important to success?
Liking people, liking quality and wanting to give something back. If we all did even small things they would all add up.
What’s the secret of your success?
Hard work and intuition, being able to sum up people and knowing what to buy.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I’d like to think that I don’t make many mistakes. If there’s something I’m not too sure of we initially only order small amounts to see how they go.
How organised are you?
Very. You have to be or you’d sink.
How do you dress for work each day?
Lise and I wear what we sell and so do our staff. It’s very important.
What can’t you do/be without every day?
My grandchildren and coffee.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
Neither. What’s lunch?
Do you continue to study?
Nothing formal but I’m always keen to keep up with current events and politics. I enjoy listening to arguments and debates.
What do you read?
Mainly newspaper and magazine articles. I really don’t have time to read anything else.
How are you planning for retirement?
I have no plans.
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