“Community is very important to me.” Loveone’s Cathy Frost on running a boutique with a difference

Cathy Frost

First opened 14 years ago in the heart of Ipswich, lifestyle indie Loveone sells quirky gifts and homewares. Owner Cathy Frost was recently named in Small Business Britain’s f:entrepreneur 100 list, which celebrates female business owners making a difference in their communities. Here she reveals how she’s weathered several economic storms including the credit crunch and pandemic… 

What is your career background? I started out working in local government as an environmental health officer in London. However, I decided to retrain as an interior designer in 2000 and started my own business. This led me to opening a retail business in 2007 and becoming a full-time high street retailer.

How did the idea for Loveone come about? From my time as in interior designer I spent a lot of hours working with a kitchen design company and part of that role involved dressing and styling the showroom. During this time, I really got into product sourcing and buying. I assembled a small collection of interiors products and started selling at craft markets and gift fairs. I already loved shopping and always sought out the small indies whenever I visited somewhere new. This is where the retail journey started and the name Loveone was partly inspired by my love of tennis and words I so often say.

Loveone

When did you open the boutique and how would you describe your offer? I opened my store in November 2007 and it was very much an interiors shop. However, once the recession began to bite in 2009, I had to change direction. It was at this point that I started to work with local artists and designers and became more of a gift shop. Today we sell a wide range of gifts and homeware, cards and stationery and still support many local artists.

Congratulations on being named in the f:entrepreneur 100 list! How did you feel to be included and why did you want to be involved? It’s a great honour to be included! I was pleasantly surprised when I received the email – it’s lovely to be recognised for the day job that I love. It’s important to celebrate the work of female entrepreneurs in its widest form and I hope to be able to impart advice and support more entrepreneurs or potential ones through this platform. With our changing work environments, support for small business has never been so important.

What are your core brands at Loveone? We stock Black Colour Clothing, Lisa Angel jewellery, True Grace Candles, Jellycat toys, Art Angels Publishers and Grand Illusions homeware to name but a few.

Which fashion brands do you carry and how do they complement the rest of your offer?  We offer a diverse range of gifts and homeware and we like anything quirky and interesting, so our fashion brands reflect this. Our fashion brands include Black Colour DK, Lisa Angel, My Doris and Pure by Nat while we also have handmade silver jewellery by local designer Zoe Curwen.

Who shops at your store? Our customer base is very broad and we have young and old customers alike. I think it’s more about an aspiration to find something different and unique rather than a specific group. I tend to buy little and often and this keeps the stock fresh. We find customers are buying for themselves and then also looking for gifts for others.

Where do you do you buying? We buy from many sources including trade shows and direct from the producer or designer. Many brands come to me via social media – I am an avid magazine reader so very often find products that way or on Instagram. The most important thing is considering whether I would love to own one (or two) myself. Plus, I often look for colour and pattern and increasingly consider if it’s sustainable and has been ethically produced.

Loveone

When did you start selling online and how important is this part of the business? During the first lockdown, in order to survive, we launched an online shop and this is now here to stay. We also offered click-and-collect and a free local delivery service throughout the lockdowns. Online is an important part of the business to complement our social media but I would say our bricks-and-mortar store is doing better at the moment.

Have you introduced any new product categories? Last year I joined forces with a local florist and local flower grower and launched Planted@ loveone. We offer a small range of houseplants and related gifts and items- and also workshops around keeping plants. So far this has been very well received.

Do you think the way your customers shop has changed since pre-covid? I think the shop local message has gained traction finally – we have seen footfall back to pre-covid levels and had a very successful Christmas.

What challenges are you currently facing as an independent retailer? Like most high street retailers, the challenges we face are numerous. Online and particularly Amazon, out of town malls with free parking and the rise of supermarkets diversifying into gifts is all influencing footfall and sales. Also, the damage to our town centres from the pandemic and the changing nature of city centre usage such as losing the office sector has hit many businesses.

How do you work with other indies in your area to boost footfall and sales? I collaborate with other local businesses and I also sell some books from a local bookshop. I am also part of the Saints Community Interest Company and we run street markets twice a year on our little high street. This brings much needed footfall and marketing exposure to the area. I also run an artist of the month section in the shop where we give over a small area of wall for an artist to display and talk about their work. Finally, upstairs at Loveone, we host a record store pop-up and a small studio used by two artists. Community is very important to me!

What do you enjoy most about running your own boutique? The best bit is being part of a small indie community and making a difference to our town and showcasing the best in local products. I enjoy working with local artists and mentoring many on the start of their business journey.

What are your plans for the business for next 12 months and long-term future? Who knows what is around the corner? I will strive to survive and hopefully by the end of the year start to see some growth and a return to a more normal high street. Rest assured we have adapted many times and we will keep doing so.