John Manning is owner of ‘The House In Town’ and opened his destination shop in 2011, as an addition to his mother’s shop Maud’s Attic and his brother’s venue Merchant House Interiors. All three shops can be found in the charming St. Peter’s Street, occupying numbers 23 to 29. John has a background in property development & interior design, which has led to retailing home interiors and accessories.
When Waterfront Life created The Saints sub-brand, the stories behind independent & entrepreneurial business owners such as John Manning, were exactly the ones that needed to be told. Marketing a business digitally is a must in the 21st century, but will it ever replace good, old-fashioned face-to-face service?
My first experience of using social media for the shop was with Facebook, and it still proves to be a good marketing tool as posts can reach thousands of people each time. During the last few years Twitter has been a popular platform for me, and more recently Instagram seems to be a more visual way of interacting with customers. During a busy day, it is useful to be able to take a photograph of a new product and share it with a wide audience in just a few seconds.
After a couple of years of trading, I was asked the question “Is all of this stuff online?” so many times that I decided to have a website built for me. It is a double-edged sword; as whilst it gives customers the opportunity to view some of my products from home, the nature of what I sell is that there are many new products coming out every day and it is very difficult to keep the site moving as quickly as my stock does! Very recently I have had my website overhauled by Ipswich based Swallow Marketing, and optimised for use on mobile phones and tablets - had thousands of new products added, and old stock removed.
This had been a major investment in time and money, but necessary in this digital age. Swallow also created my new branding, with the logo shown at the bottom of this page. This will appear on carrier bags and business cards in the near future.
My customers are the most valuable part of my business, and I have a great relationship with them. This allows me to take a more informal approach to my social media as I feel I’m sharing information with friends rather than strangers. Because of mobile applications, I am able to deal with enquiries from customers both day and night. I don’t see too many negative aspects of this as I would always rather deal with enquiries as soon as possible.
My shop is complemented by 2 others owned by my family - Maud’s Attic & Merchant House Interiors. All 3 shops have their own social media but each business has a very different style to the other. The difficulty that I face is that many customers expect to have a look around the 3 shops and then go home and look at it all again online.
Whilst I have the website, it is not intended to replace the experience of shopping in our interesting and quirky stores. I for one don’t understand how someone is able to make the decision to commit a sum of money to a product without seeing it in the flesh. My shop alone offers over 40,000 different products from beds to sofas, to mirrors to lighting, and much more. I cannot keep all of this in the shop, but I am able to hold a piece of furniture from many of the ranges I offer, so you can at least feel the finish and appreciate the texture and colour of the wood for example.
All 3 shops offer such a wide array of products; many of which are one offs, so keeping a website updated to that degree as an independent business is impossible without a vast ongoing investment which ultimately would have to be passed on. My ethos is to keep my costs as low as possible, thus allowing me to keep my prices as low as possible. Hopefully this is beneficial to all.
On Facebook @HouseInTown
On Twitter @TheHouseInTown
On Instagram @thehouseintownipswich