Case study: Willow & Stone – building an SME retailer in Falmouth

Sarah Willshaw started retailer Willow & Stone in 2005 after five years of London commuting to work for an architectural antiques dealer.

“I had been to college in Falmouth in the mid-90s and loved it,” she says.

“I moved away for work and quickly wanted to come back. After years of commuting I felt a little trapped so I began dreaming of ways I could sustain a living in Cornwall while doing something satisfying.

“I was already selling ironmongery products in London so had knowledge and passion for that area and I had experience in running a website so it wasn’t long before I came up with the idea of an old fashioned ironmongery store run from a shop in Cornwall but selling via the website to a worldwide market as well.

“I found a shop premises in Truro and, after months of solicitor’s dealings and surveys, I was able to hand in my notice and move full-time back to Falmouth to open my shop and gradually build a website.

“I handed my notice and during my leaving party in London my solicitor called to say the tenants had pulled out of the lease transfer. I was devastated! That was the Thursday and I was due to get the keys on the Monday and planned to start restoring the shop for a few weeks before opening.

“As soon as I got back to Cornwall I began the search for new premises and the fast turnaround of building a website. I needed an income as I had extended my mortgage by £47,000 to fund the business. It took three months of 24/7 work, finding suppliers, photographing products and populating the site before it was ready.

“I was fortunate that I had little competition 12 years ago and the business online took off quickly and has sustained growth ever since. The website growth is around 20-25% year on year whereas the shop is around 5%.

“During that first year, whilst running the online business from my flat, I hunted for premises, ending up a year later with my beautiful little corner plot on Arwenack Street. A few years later we took on an additional premises two doors down and then, in 2012, moved to our existing larger shop and our offices over the road from where we run the website.

“I have increased my staff over the years for the business as a whole though the shop never really has more than one or two people working in it as that is what is financially realistic. But it means I can now work on the website and oversee shop improvements and ideas generated by our creative team of people.

“Every year I like to have one big project. That could be moving premises, having a shop refit or a website rebuild. This year we are working with a local branding company looking at and ultimately improving the message we give out to our customers and making us a brand that is as strong as possible and is known for excellent customer service and high quality unusual products.”

Sarah Willshaw
01326 311388        
[email protected]