Images courtesy of Penny Black.
Penny Black has two stores selling greeting cards and stationery but also offering an in-house Post Office service in Scotland.
They’ve been trading for the past 10 years and Jo Marwaha was kind enough to share some of her time to help us learn a little more about Penny Black and their journey.
- Can you introduce us to Penny Black?
Back in 2014, our family-founded business started with a first Penny Black in Glasgow’s West End. Since then, we’ve grown into a national online retailer with two bricks and mortar stores now but our ethics, standards and penchant for a cheeky card have always remained the same.
We are a wee family team of three who keep the Penny Black cogs turning – me (Jo), Ryan and Natalie – alongside our dedicated teams at each store coal face. We’re fortunate to have made it through a lot this past (almost) 10 years and are thrilled to have had that hard work acknowledged by not only our loyal customers but both retail and Post Office industry awards. Woo.
- You provide all the regular Post Office services in your physical stores. How did you make the decision to tackle a shop AND a post office?
The easy answer is we already had a Post Office before Penny Black was conjured. So this, coupled with what we saw as a massive opportunity to rejuvenate the notion of Post Office retail, Penny Black bloomed. We’ve always kept close to the heart of Post Office, as one of the central hubs of UK communities and wanted Penny Black as a happy bedfellow to those ideas, such as supporting local businesses, providing excellent customer service and being flexible and convenient. Having a finger on the pulse of greetings cards, stationery, party and then some, may not be something immediately associated with a Post Office location but we feel we’ve set a high standard for the model!
- You sell both in store and online. It can be a tricky business operating the two side-by-side. Is there any advice you would give other shops looking to join the ecommerce space?
Having a Post Office in each store makes things incredibly straightforward for selling online! Excellent stock management is crucial if you have as many product lines as we do and so counting and counting again is second nature to all of us at Penny Black. I would also say balancing accurately and realistically the many costs associated with selling online (i.e. from the product itself to packaging to system costs) and your return is critical; it’s not enough to just make a sale.
- You’re very socially-conscious, support local as well as independents, and work hard to source ethical and sustainable products. Can you tell us more about your approach and how it can be difficult to stick to those principles, but ultimately why you have found it serves you so well?
It’s been exciting to be part of the evolution of these ideas in our industry and understanding the impact we can have as retailers. As a buyer I’m continually learning as things evolve. Instead of just seeing ethics and sustainability as a nice-to-have, it’s what I lead with, in an effort to better align our business and offering with our customers’. It’s been interesting to see how the importance customers place on sustainability, has waxed and waned with changes in the world as well as politics and that’s why for example, being sensitive to price point is probably my biggest consideration when trying to buy ethically. We know that in times like this, people want better value for money and so making an Earth-conscious choice for example, can slip down the priority list. We’ve been trying to make our products meet price point expectations whilst still having those credentials.
I find buying from local artists, creatives and makers can be easier to determine if products are made ethically and sustainably as they’re working on a smaller scale, so I’ve been doing more of that this past few years. Ultimately, I think being forced to be more creative in sourcing product has resulted in a more unique offering overall.
- You’ve been a customer of Ohh Deer for a number of years now. Why do you continue to trust us?
Since we began with Ohh Deer, our Venn Diagrams have continued to cross over in just the right spots particularly on design, sustainability, price and quality – oh, and niceness. As time has gone on, it’s only been easier to buy from Ohh Deer as ranges have diversified and coverage of captions/occasions/seasons/humour have extended.
- Do you have a personal favourite Ohh Deer product? And what Ohh Deer product/artist sell best for Penny Black?
For me, the drier and sillier the better so Smitten Kitten I can’t get enough of! For the rest of the population, everyone seemed to be obsessed by Ken The Cat and Steven Rhodes but we sell reasonably consistently across the board.
- And finally. You’re incredibly busy, how do you like to unwind?
Sorry, I don’t know what you mean? 😉
If you would like to keep up to date with Penny Black, you can follow them in various ways here.