Store Location; 5 George Street, Richmond

I was lucky enough to interview Rebecca Saunders about how she is getting on in her first couple of weeks of opening her amazing new beauty and wellbeing concept store in Richmond, Surrey.

Tell us about Seekology?

Seekology is a new Richmond-based retail concept connecting remarkable independent brands in beauty + wellbeing with customers. We are the first retail store for many of our brands and we offer them the opportunity to tell their stories in an inspirational environment.

We sell everything from cleansers to supplements to cashmere socks. Many of our products are vegan, organic or promote sustainable living. We also support local brands where we can to promote other local entrepreneurs.

Rebecca Saunders, Founder & CEO

What’s your story?

I started my career in investment banking but very quickly realised that wasn’t for me, so moved into the retail sector via an MBA in New York. I’ve worked for some fantastic retailers such as John Lewis (where I was the beauty buyer), Tiffany, J.Crew and notonthehighstreet where I worked with lots of small businesses.

I’m extremely passionate about helping entrepreneurs develop their businesses and as a customer I love seeking out things I’ve never seen before. Running Seekology helps me marry these things perfectly!

What are your brand values?

It’s really important to me to give customers an amazing experience, whatever their needs. Many beauty halls and stores can be intimidating, so I’ve put a lot of thought into the in-store customer experience. As I mentioned, I’m a real champion for small businesses and one of my values is so support them with everything we do.

How’s it going so far?

It’s been extremely exciting launching Seekology and we’ve had a phenomenal response from both our existing brands and others who would like to be involved. We opened the store on the night that the Christmas lights were switched on in Richmond – so that was a very busy start!

A wide range of products have been popular so far – everything from organic skincare to plastic free solid shampoo. On the wellbeing side customers are loving pyjamas and candles in this cold weather – they are obviously thinking about cosying up inside!

What’s the best part about being a shop owner?

Talking to customers and hearing their feedback. We’ve had a fantastic positive response with people saying “this is exactly what Richmond needs” and being extremely excited by the curated selection of brands we have on offer. And of course, the saying that “when you buy from a small business, an actual person does a little happy dance” is absolutely true – and when someone buys from Seekology they support two small businesses at once. 

What’s the worst part?

All the logistics and admin – as a small business owner I’m also chief in charge of bins and price lists!

How do you decide on which brands to collaborate with?

I’m looking for brands that have interesting stores that we can relay to customers. They have to have high quality, premium products, and must be in limited distribution so that customers have that real sense of discovery in the store. And as a former buyer, there’s always a bit of “gut feel” to the choice of brands too.

What can we expect from you in the first 3 months?

  1. Some amazing brands with fantastic opportunities to support small businesses over Christmas and buy unusual products for friends & family.
  2. A great experience in store where you can learn all about the provenance and ingredients of the products you are buying.
  3. An opportunity to meet and mingle with brands and customers alike at our curated events (see www.seekology.co for details).

What challenges do you foresee for the business or for yourself?

One challenge is prioritisation – there is so much that I want to do but it’s also important not to run before we can walk.

What surprised you most about setting up a bricks and mortar store?

Having worked in the industry for a long time, there weren’t too many surprises. Finding the space itself was one challenge; I wanted to be on the main shopping street and needed to be in a space that needed limited work due to both budget and time constraints. Whilst there are plenty of vacant units across high streets, not all landlords are as flexible as they could be towards smaller tenants. I held out for a space I really loved because I believe the environment is really critical to customer experience – and managed to get up and trading within six days of getting the keys!

What has been difficult about the journey so far?

There are always fires to put out as a small business owner, and problem solving becomes second nature. However for everything that’s been difficult there has also been something that’s been a good surprise – especially with the people that are helping me along the way.

What made you set up a brick and mortar business?

I’m a big believer in bricks and mortar. To remain relevant, shops need to provide something unique – across product, service and experience. And in beauty the vast majority of sales still take place in a physical store, and I wanted to create an environment to support this.

Your views on the current climate?

It’s undeniably tough. Retailers need help from central government and local government across everything from parking to business rates, and the general economic uncertainty does not help. However, there are always pockets of opportunity, and I hope that I’ve found one of them!

What advise would you give to anyone wanting to start up a brick and mortar store?

Plan and test. You have to plan the financials since taking on a lease eats up capital very quickly. However there’s no real substitute for opening the doors and hearing what your customers are saying. So testing the concept, even if it’s not completely finessed, is really important in retail, as it is in any startup idea.  

Will you sell online? If not why not. If yes, what are your plans?

Yes, we will be selling online as well as in store. Customers these days bounce around different channels as part of their purchase journey, and I want to make it as easy as possible for them to transact across whichever channel suits them best.

What do you see for the future of Seekology?

Hopefully many more stores, many more brands and a very loyal customer base! 

For fun….

Beauty routine?

I’m lucky enough to get to try a LOT of samples in my job, but I’m quite a minimalist on-the-go person. I usually have a lip balm and hand cream in my bag – my latest favourites are from By Sarah and Lavender & Lillie respectively.

Beauty product you can’t live without?

I am a recent convert to facial oils and I’ve been using Rock & Rose by Rosalena along with their rose quartz facial tool which enables anyone to create a mini skin ritual every day, at home.

Is this your dream job?

100%, yes!

What keeps you up at night?

Nothing – I’m usually too exhausted from a day of being in the Seekology store and answering hundreds of emails.

What makes you happy?

Discovering new shops, eating sushi and spending time with my family.

Perfect holiday?

Somewhere with sunshine and lots of food. I honeymooned on the Amalfi Coast which was wonderful.

What do you do for fun?

I spend a lot of my spare time playing the violin and am actually the leader of Orchestra of the City; I’ve played with them for about 15 years and it’s a great way to relax by doing something completely different to my day job.

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