Victoria Suffield, shopkeeper at The Hambledon, shares how she built the business into an award winning shop.
When did you open your shop? We opened in 1999.
What genre is it? I’m not thrilled by the word, but we’re a lifestyle store, or maybe a small department store, but just selling stuff we like!
Why did you want to open it? I was almost literally born into retail. My mum had a shop, and she went back to work with me in a basket when I was 6 weeks old! But, The Hambledon in Winchester came about because I was running a mail order business, and we had a weird concentration of customers in the city and so I opened the shop. For any aspiring retailers I might recommend more rigorous market research! It was a pretty hairy first couple of years!
Who designed the shop? I worked on it with a friend of mine, David Rose who is a very un-retail style designer. The building is beautiful…it was really about revealing as much of the architecture and space as possible.
What are you known for (any best selling items/categories)? I hope we’re known for it all! I think our womenswear and menswear departments have pretty solid reputations. We have a Project Space where we collaborate with different people (suppliers, makers, authors etc), which isn’t something many shops do. And we try to buy interesting stuff in every category. I hope our customers come to us with some confidence that they’ll find something brilliant and unexpected.
Where/how is your product sourced/made? Honestly, anywhere and anyhow! We source from all over the world from all kinds of different suppliers. They might be individual British makers, they might be quite big international companies. We have a kind of Hambledon filter when we make our choices and that’s what gives the shop its identity.
What makes your shop unique? Lots of things I hope. Lovely product, lovely building, lovely staff. And the fact that we’re constantly evolving.
Who are your customers? Because we sell so many different things, our customer could be a student from the art school in town, a young ex-London mum looking for fashion, a cool kid on the hunt for menswear, anyone looking for presents. We have lots of local, regular customers, but also tourists and weekend visitors.
Who inspires you? I hope this doesn’t sound too hackneyed, but it would have to be my parents. My Mum always worked (and she was pretty unusual in the late 60s and 70s), and my parents shared all the childcare and household jobs. I think their example (and of course my husband’s wholehearted belief in this example!) has allowed me to have my life, and to enjoy the balance of work and family.
What inspires you? I have a pretty superficial interest in lots of things so find inspiration wherever I can get it. Part of building your own thing is to keep your sources eclectic, otherwise you’re just copying.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I was….? I was in a shop at 6 weeks old. But I worked as an art dealer after university (I studied History of Art), worked for a film company, did post-graduate Film and TV Design (at which I was disappointingly hopeless!), and had a mail order business.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? It’s always more expensive than you think, always!
What tasks do you like to delegate? I’m a good starter and a terrible finisher. I like to delegate any job I’ve initiated, because I’m always on to the next plan. Also, absolutely anything technical, digital or requiring analysis. I never delegate buying, or customers.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? Good people are invaluable, and banks, and accountants don’t necessarily know best! I think The Hambledon really found its feet when I found a new accountant/mentor, who told me to spend more money. He gave me the confidence to be a bit brave.
What would be your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Do it because you love things, and people, and hard work. Don’t do it for a quick fortune, or a glamorous life! It’s pretty unrelenting, and pay attention to the numbers.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? This is a ridiculous question for me, as anyone who works at the shop can testify. I’m incredibly easily starstruck and have to hide in the attic if we have any famous visitors. If they could come in on my day off, please could Ilse Crawford, Jeff Tweedy and Nadiya Hussain pay us a visit!
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be…? Probably sitting on the sofa watching daytime TV, eating digestives. It’s perpetual motion or indolence with me! Could I be a film director? Or hotelier? Or professional cyclist?
What is your perfect day off? A family bike ride with a coffee stop, lunch with friends, chutney or jam making in the afternoon, and a movie or track cycling in the evening.
Your five favourite shops? Richard Scott Antiques in Holt – He’s the loveliest man and sells Georgian and Victorian china. Hay House in Copenhagen – I’m a bit snotty about Hay because their products are so widely available and have become a bit of a good taste shorthand, but their shop in a huge building in central Copenhagen is quite beautiful. Rough Trade East – I try never to pay retail so if a good shop is a measure of my willingness to part with actual money, Rough Trade wins. A Vida Portuguesa – Can I have somewhere I’ve never been? I’m longing to go to Portugal, and this shop in Lisbon looks amazing. The Hambledon Gallery in Blandford – This is where it all started: my mum’s shop in Dorset which is now run by my little sister.
What is you favorite neighborhood coffee shop/restaurant? We always have Friday coffee at work from Coffee Lab. And I love a pizza at Pi.
I wish I could…take a bit more holiday.
On the Future of Retail
“Blimey, it’s a tricky old time. The ‘High Street’ is definitely changing irreversibly. I think retail will become increasingly polarised, and there will be the huge multiples, and the niche specialists who are able to offer knowledge, passion, and personal service. It’s going to be hardest for stores with no clear identity. Think we’ve all got to build a pretty solid online presence. It’s exciting, but it’s not going to be easy.’
Words & Photographs by Stephanie Bateman Sweet The Lifestyle Editor
10 The Square, Winchester, Hampshire