Situated in the picturesque West Sussex village of Cuckfield, Nicky Willis opened her charming lifestyle and homeware shop, Willis & Co, at the end of 2016. Since that date, Nicky has used her design talents to curate a covetable collection of new and vintage pieces to suit all budgets. Housed in a beautiful sandstone and deep inky-blue painted building, the space was designed by Nicky and her husband David. “Even though I’m the one with the creative design background, David has a very good eye.” Opening her own shop seemed a natural progression for Nicky after selling her wares at various antique fairs and through other retail outlets. “The thought of owning and curating a unique space was always something that I felt excited about doing.”
Her loyal customers head to Willis & Co for Nicky’s quirky collection of objets d’art and unique finds, from her time spent sourcing at collectors fairs, brocantes, flea markets, selected wholesalers, and local makers. “My customers like coming here to source individual items such as old paintings, found treasures, Danish zinc houses for Christmas, giant etched glass decorations, linen aprons and bags. I also like to promote British made products such as the beautiful Welsh blankets we stock. Nicky is fortunate that her commute to work could not be any quicker as her house is next door. “The shop is essentially our home, so hopefully the space feels unique, creative and inviting.”
With her customers ranging from ages eight to 80, and the fact that she lives in the village, many of Nicky’s customers have also become loyal friends. “My relationship with my customers is very important and I consider trust and advice is key. Quite often people like to borrow pieces of furniture such as a French tub chair, so they can take it home and try it first!”
Nicky Willis, Shopkeeper at Willis & Co.
What inspires you? Inspiration can come from so many different sources. My background in textile design still feeds my imagination and I like to visit galleries and art museums. Even on days when I’m not in the shop, you’ll probably find me wandering around a flea market or visiting an auction house. I also admit to my guilty pleasure of visually grazing on Instagam and Pinterest – people are very clever and there is so much inspiration online as well.
Who inspires you? Sibella Court and Elizabeth Blackadder.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I was…a printed textile designer.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? Believing in your own decision making and trusting your instinct.
What tasks do you like to delegate? Running a business requires wearing so many different hats and you have to know your own strengths and weaknesses. I know my strengths are sourcing, styling and hopefully dealing with my customers. I’m not the most organized person…creative I like to call it! Therefore I delegate jobs such as account keeping, billing and ordering stock.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? That I could do it, and people would like it!
What would be your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Do your homework. Think carefully about location, rates, footfall and cash-flow, and consider the actual amount of time you spend actually sitting in your shop, sometimes this can be frustrating!
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? Oh tricky question. How about Hans Blomquist, he’s famous to me, and a great stylist!
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be…an artist.
What is your perfect day off? Being with my husband David and our gorgeous son Fin, walking our dog Archie at Mother Ivey Bay in North Cornwall.
What is you favourite local coffee shop/restaurant? Tom’s Food is in our village and serves the best coffee around. Tom also does a pretty mean homemade orange and polenta cake!
I wish I could…sleep more!
On The Future of Retail
“Positive – I think unique, specialised, independent shops will open, with more and more people wanting to experience a personal approach to shopping.”
17A High Street, Cuckfield, West Sussex
Words & Images by Stephanie Bateman Sweet The Lifestyle Editor