The Creative Shopkeeper is Lucy Johnston’s guide to ‘setting up shop’ for aspiring independent retailers – but also serves as a compendium of the most compelling shopping experiences from cities the world over. Naturally we wanted to know more about her own interest in the subject, and whether she is secretly an aspiring shopkeeper herself.
In the age of digital ordering, what is the role of the shop?
This gets right to the heart of why I wanted to write the book. Of course, e-commerce is great for ease in straight-forward purchases. But what is so exciting is that e-commerce makes physical shops work harder to create really interesting, worthwhile experiences. Just like museums and galleries, we crave these experiences which digital platforms can’t offer us.
Do you have a favourite place for shops?
Well, obviously, I am going to say London first! The sheer volume of incredible indie retail talent is truly amazing at the moment. Thankfully, the property industry in London is increasingly realising that they need to make retail units more available, because these small independent businesses are the life-blood of cities.
I love Scandinavian cities like Copenhagen and Stockholm, and Sydney and Melbourne have some really exciting projects springing up, as do the regenerated industrial quarters of a number of US cities. But, really, wherever you look worldwide, there is always a wealth of independent stories and ideas nestled in amongst the noise.
There’s a great deal of repurposed old furniture these days, and even the word ‘shopkeeper’ is a little retro; is the retro trend a dominating thing?
That’s an interesting observation. With the title of the book, I wanted to stress the personal nature of independent retail. The best contemporary retail learns from and appreciates the craft, service and attention to detail of days gone by. In my view, that original concept of ‘meeting the shopkeeper’ is still ultimately what defines excellence in physical retail – that and getting actual physical products into people’s hands.
That’s why I deliberately didn’t feature much about high-tech shop experiences. This was about tactile, creative experience and appreciation of the art of presenting product in a real environment, not about screens. So I guess that focus comes through in the choice of shop examples across the chapters. The aesthetic is not usually deliberately ‘retro’, I don’t think, as much as simply emphasising authenticity and personality.