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Great business is a lifestyle choice at Armstrong Ward

Published on: Friday 22nd May 2015
Categorised under: Live, Play , Business, Kendal

OVER the last 10 years Armstrong Ward has grown from a start-up business with 35 suppliers to one with a two-storey shop and cafe, a busy online platform and 200 suppliers.

However, despite a decade of development, Jacqueline Ward says it owes its success to sticking to the same essential principals.

"The bedrock is finding great products, displaying them well and looking after your customers," says Jacqueline Ward (pictured), who began the business with husband Andrew in 2005.

The pair spotted a gap in the market in the Lakes for a shop selling their unique mix of high quality home ware, toys, gifts, furniture and party supplies.

"I used to work in product development in food manufacturing over in Yorkshire," said Jacqueline.

"I was interested in food, but I found it was really about consumers and trends and what consumers wanted. I have always had an entrepreneurial side as well. Andrew's background was in hotel management, but he had some artistic flare and so he moved into retailing.

"We always thought we would set up our own business and we felt there was an opportunity for a lifestyle business here. We had family here and we did some market research when we were visiting and had a look around. We knew with the styles of houses around, but also the lifestyle people had, that there was a definite demand. We spoke to some suppliers to see if we were right or not."

From the start the pair were determined to create a shop which had a friendly family atmosphere and was a place that was enjoyable to visit for mums, dads and their children.

As the business grew the business expanded its premises in Wainwright's Yard, Kendal, to take in a lower floor which includes a cafe serving "the best cakes in town".

"We felt it was important to have a building that was distinctive and different, rather than a square furniture shed," said Jacqueline.

"We thought it was more inspiring and people would be able to see how the pieces could work in their own home.

"Customers always said to us that we would be the perfect shop if we did coffee and there was 'somewhere for my husband to sit while I am shopping'. The cafe gives a really good buzz to the rest of the shop and gives it a nice social atmosphere.

"We wanted to be welcoming to all and so it was very deliberate to have children's toys and a children's area. We wanted to have that family friendly environment because I think that makes a nicer atmosphere for everybody."

The couple invest a lot of time in researching suppliers to work with and looking at consumer trends to decide what to stock. There is a strong focus on high quality, handmade and local items, which have true individuality and are distinct from mass-produced goods available elsewhere.

This is true of their successful online shopping platform, which makes up about 10% of the business, as well as the traditional high street shop.

"We have recognised there are some products that aren't available online and we have focused on them rather than selling massive volume through Ebay or Amazon," said Jacqueline.

"You can pile it high and sell it cheap or focus on getting customers something that isn't that widely available and we felt that replicated our bricks and mortar shop."

Jacqueline believes having a discerning eye for the products on sale fits well with consumers who have become more focussed on value and quality following the recession.

"I think if people have £15 to spend on a gift for a friend then they want to spend that on something special they have selected. I think people have become more conscious about the value of what they are getting. People have become more switched on and savvy about how long something is going to last, how it is made, where it is made, how the fabric will wear... For us that is a great thing."

Although it is important to remain true to its core values, Armstrong Ward is still looking to diversify and adapt to the changing landscape of retail.

"Now we are moving into doing workshops," said Jacqueline.

"We do painting workshops where people have lunch in the cafe. It is becoming more complex and interactive and about engaging with the customer."

Although it is far from a reality at the moment, she said they had not entirely dismissed the idea of opening another shop.

"For now we feel like our focus is making this business the best it can be in this location," said Jacqueline.

"At this stage we don't have any plans to open another branch but in a few years maybe."

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