We are justly proud of our independent shops in Shrewsbury - but what’s it really like to run a small business in our town through Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis? We spoke to Jennifer Wadhams of White Orchard about her beautiful gift shop in Butcher Row.
When you’re looking for a special gift or card, you don’t want to have to trail all over town to find it. Independent gift shop White Orchard on Butcher Row prides itself on helping customers find the best possible present for loved ones.
You’ll find all the things women love - handbags, scarves, jewellery and beautiful things for the home in a lovely, relaxing space where you can be sure of a friendly welcome and sound advice from owner Jennifer Wadhams and her husband George.
Jennifer says: “Our customers want a reliable gift shop they know will deliver as many times as possible. Every day we strive to be a haven for women, a place where they feel safe to come shop and have a chat if they need or want to.
“Some of our customers are quite lonely in their everyday lives, and they love being able to come in for a chat with me or George while they are in town. I'm happy they feel comfortable enough to do that. I hope all of our customers feel that comfortable when they visit us. ”
Jennifer loves arranging displays to showcase new products for customers at White Orchard
White Orchard opened its doors in September 2011 and Jennifer fell in love with it on a visit to Shrewsbury for Christmas in 2014. Jennifer moved to Ellesmere the following year and as the shop’s number one fan, she was a natural fit to take over, when it came up for sale. She opened in 2019, after some refurbishments, and the business has been going strong ever since!
Her own gift is listening to what customers really want. She uses that information to make good choices at buying fairs throughout the year, choosing suppliers that match demand. She’s particularly excited about the collections she has ordered this year, including stunning, hand-painted decor pieces in indigo and white: “The artwork is so beautiful; it's designed by artists in Derbyshire. I think it will be a hard one for people to resist,” she says.
You’ll find handbags, scarves, jewellery and beautiful things for the home at White Orchard
Jennifer loves arranging displays to showcase beautiful new things for her customers, photographing them and sharing them on Facebook and Instagram. But her primary focus is customer service: “As an American, I grew up giving and receiving some of the best customer service imaginable. My husband and I strive to deliver that level of service to our customers every day. I will always prefer to put my efforts towards nurturing my existing customers with exceptional service over the alternative."
Like many small business owners, Jennifer also takes care of all the admin; she does the books, the ordering, pays the invoices, schedules the deliveries, manages her advertising and social media channels, runs their website and so much more!
But it is clear that customers are her priority: “We often have generations of women shopping together while spending time with one another. Their partners, and other gentlemen, come in throughout the year shopping for gifts for the women in their lives as well. Helping them can be so much fun! They often don’t know what they are looking for, but once you get them chatting and answering some questions we are usually able to find a brilliant gift for their loved one. I really love it when they know they've chosen a great gift. They get the biggest smiles on their faces and often come back to tell us how well it went when they are next in town."
“Ahead of Mother's Day we have lots of dads and grandparents bringing little ones in to choose gifts for their mums. They are often shy when they come to the till with their little gifts, but I dote on them and give them lots of praise for their choice, and they usually leave feeling very grown up for having made their purchase.”
Jennifer’s first experience in retail was working in a department store after leaving school, where she did such a good job with merchandising, her manager left her to it! She studied Business Administration and also worked as an Executive Assistant for local business owners. In her 30s, she achieved a BA in Psychology at night school and went on to complete a master’s degree in mental health counselling, going on to work with families struggling with addiction.
When she moved to Shropshire in 2015, she struggled to find a suitable job in the counselling field and decided to look for a business of her own. That was when she found out White Orchard was for sale.
“I was in the store shopping on my birthday in 2018. I was picking out some Christmas presents to send to my dad. I still help him shop for my mom every year! I went from spending about £100 as a customer to buying the entire business. My husband says it was the most expensive birthday present he's ever heard of!
“I had always thought I would run a little shop like it after I retired from counselling, but instead I get to live that dream every day now and I truly enjoy every minute of it,” Jennifer says. “Ok, maybe not doing the books, but I honestly do love my little shop.”
In the first year, the shop took record sales, but then came Covid-19 with all of its struggles for local businesses. She used the lockdowns wisely, launching a website and rebranding the business with a fresh logo and colour scheme.
She made some changes in her ordering, so that White Orchard could develop a unique identity: “That hard work is paying off, too. Our customers love the things we have been stocking since 2020 and I have found some amazing new suppliers in the process,” she says.
White Orchard's 10th anniversary spread in store in 2021, when customers were invited to celebrate too!
A highlight was celebrating White Orchard’s 10th anniversary with a party for customers in September 2021, offering them macaroons, cupcakes and prosecco with a special birthday discount in the store.
The cost of living crisis - and impending recession - bring new challenges: “I am more reserved in purchasing large ticket items to offer, as I know most people are struggling at the moment.
“It’s more important to me that our customers are able to find things they need at a price they can afford right now than to have more expensive items that are out of budget for many. It's one way I am trying to help our customers through this mess. Just because we are on tight budgets, doesn't mean we should have limited options of good quality gifts and accessories."
“We are doing everything we can to keep our offerings fresh and affordable, but the pressures are mounting. We do think things will improve and we intend on being here when they do. The challenge is to make sure that we can deliver good value for money. Our customers are counting on that and we intend to meet the challenge.
“I want White Orchard to be Shrewsbuy's favourite gift shop; the place everyone comes to first.”
Jennifer's greatest pleasure is hearing how much her customers love shopping at White Orchard: “I love that so many come in to see what my latest collection of earrings are like, because they think we have the best in town. Or when they come in with their daughters to pick out handbags or jewellery and their daughters fall in love with the shop and start bringing their friends. Or when the locals come by with their dogs for their daily walks because the dogs want to start their walk with a biscuit from White Orchard! All of these things tell me that White Orchard is an integral part of the Shrewsbury community and that gives me the greatest pleasure of all.”
White Orchard, 14 Butcher Row, Shrewsbury SY1 1UW