An independent movement is bubbling in Bath and as we're sure many locals will agree, the centre of this retail revolution can be found in the very heart of the city in Abbey Green.
Busily buzzing away perfecting displays, welcoming regular customers and preparing beautifully decorated biscuits for the tea time rush, Silvana de Soissons has no time for anything but the authentic and artisanal. Since adopting Bath as her hometown, Silvana has made it her mission to celebrate local artists and artisan food producers, telling their stories through her blog, The Foodie Bugle and selling beautifully curated local homewares, food and drink from her shop and tea room of the same name.
The team at Pixie has a special place for Silvana in their hearts and we are proud to work closely with her on her most recent project, The Independent Bath Market. In our humble opinion, her success and influence on the city of Bath is to be celebrated. We caught up with her to give you a glimpse of how this good-humoured, hard working and meticulous businesswoman made it happen.
What motivated and inspired you to open The Foodie Bugle? What were your intentions when starting the business?
I started The Foodie Bugle as a blog, then an online shop, then it became a printed magazine and finally a bricks and mortar shop. We wanted it to be a hub for artisan food, drink and homewares. Our shop in Abbey Green is a welcoming, light bright shop and tearoom – our intention has always been to create a homely, cosy place, as so many chains are really bland and impersonal.
What steps did you take to get things going in the beginning?
I have always been very chatty and community minded, so social media, blogging and participating in my local community have always come naturally to me. I got my business going by engaging with like-minded people on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, reaching out to bloggers, journalists and editors and by showcasing other independent Bath businesses through guides, maps and media trails.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new (and returning) customers?
By far blogging and social media – in particular Instagram. I find that telling your story, honestly, openly and consistently, is the best way of attracting engaged customers and followers.
What challenges have you faced running an independent business and how have you overcome them?
Running an independent shop is challenging at this moment in time because retailing overall is not easy in any field – there are large, discounting chains all over our city and online and also Brexit, the recession and the general state of the economy have made people more cost conscious and cautious. All you can do is work very hard, try to keep your standards as high as possible and make sure that you give customers a reason to come back to you.
When did you decide to launch The Independent Bath Market?
We started planning it about six months before the launch in May 2017 – it takes a long time to get planning permission in Bath!
What has been the best and the worst thing about setting up a market in Bath?
There is a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy in everything you do in Bath and it is also always a challenge to find really good artisans, growers, producers and traders in the Bath-Somerset area. The residents also needed quite a lot of persuading in the beginning as hosting a market in the middle of the city raised concern amongst B and B owners who feared the noise and buzz the market would bring. The best thing is looking round Abbey Green on market day and seeing amazing stalls and traders and lots of people browsing and buying. It has brought a community together and that is an achievement.
Can you give us an insight into any habits you have/do which set you up for success every day?
I think having really high standards and strict procedures and methods is important – our business runs on them. Every day there is a set list of procedures for organising, displaying, serving, cleaning and preparing. These are written down and are part of the training we give to staff. We have very high standards in ordering homemade cakes and biscuits from great bakers, the very best teas and coffees, the best homewares etc, etc. Everything that is chosen for the shop and tearoom is hand picked, tasted, tested and checked.
What advice would you give to someone considering opening an indie business?
I would say make sure you research your market thoroughly so that you are sure there is lots of demand for what you are intending to do. Location is very important if you are looking for bricks and mortar premises. Be prepared to work 24/7 for years and years because nobody will care for your business like you do – if you want the job done you will need to do it yourself. Keep an eye on the small details. Look and learn all around you – visit the best places in your city or town and see what they get right. Always share within your local community – tell your customers where other great indie businesses are in your locality. Good karma goes round!
What's next for Silvana de Soissons?
I am writing a book and have started Bugle Social Media to help other businesses widen their reach and engage new customers. That should keep me busy!
Through her commitment and creativity, Silvana has gained a cult following on social media who enjoy her photography and open approach to storytelling. See for yourself on Instagram and twitter and get a feel for the The Independent Bath Market before the next event on 20th August in Abbey Green.
You'll find Pixie supporting the local makers, artists and producers as we join her movement for a more local community collective, reigniting the local economy.