Solva’s emporium of wonders!
Also in St Davids too…
My absolutely most favourite shop in the whole world has to be Window on Wales, so to have the chance to interview manager, Bella, was a great treat on a visit to Pembrokeshire. I have always begged my Mum to make time for a good hour’s rummage around the shop whenever I am in Solva, which usually happens about three times a year, ever since I was 5, so that is 26 years of browsing and always going home with something special. When I climbed Kilimanjaro for Macmillan Cancer in 2013 I was wearing a bright pink down jacket from Window on Wales and as soon as I arrived to talk to Bella, she noticed just how many items about my person were from the shop! Having a retail background myself I was keen to find out what goes on behind the scenes….we chatted in the tiny stockroom.
How was the business established?
Started by Kay 41 years ago, the shop was originally just in the red building with the lovely stained glass in the window , which is why she and her husband Peter called it Window on Wales. Kay made jewellery rolls from Liberty fabric and started to source other locally made items for a shop in the late 1970s. I began working as a Saturday girl for Kay in the late 1970s and continued as I came home from university holidays and after a brief spell in a “real” job came to be Kay’s partner in the business and then take over when she retired a couple of years ago.
As time went on more product lines have been added and the shop grew to take over the pink house, the blue house and then the cottage in the middle to become the place it is today. No-one could have predicted that a little fishing village like Solva could sustain such a large store!
Do you have plans for further expansion?
No, the shop in St Davids is our other outlet and we did have a rented shop in Fishguard for a while, but it seemed too much to keep in touch with three places unless another manager was brought in , so there are no plans to expand any further.
Many people ask about an online shop, but that is not planned either – it would be so much work and I love to meet the customers – I would agree – it is a treat to look forward to when you visit Pembrokeshire!
Due to lack of storage space, the goods are all out as quickly as possible.
Where do you source all your products?
Originally the shops only sold Welsh goods, but that soon became impossible. Most local producers have their own shops and there are no clothes made exclusively in Wales any more. I personally source all the items and buy all the stock , mainly from trade shows . If it does not sell then it is my fault and the mistakes are mine. I have to try and think about the customer and not necessarily what I like, but the staff do tease me when things have too much green – my favourite colour! Blue is actually the most popular colour for goods and yellow the last to sell.
How do you choose?
If things sell well, I re-order if still available. With most of our trade being from Holidaymakers, we can repeat items. Easter is early this year so we will know what is popular and re-order ready for Whitsun – not easy if Easter is later.
The St Davids shop is always a bit different and sells more of certain things – everything is delivered to Solva and I take stock over to St Davids in the van and do the banking etc. Some customers comment that they thought it was a different shop!
Tell me about stocktaking?
It is a nightmare, but we do it in January and it means the all-year-round staff can be kept on , which is really important to me as the staff are wonderful. We take about 10 days to stocktake and can do this while the shop is in its quietest spell.
How many staff do you have?
We have 16 staff, some part-time and then have our seasonal students in the summer, so it works really well. Often we have girls that start with a Saturday job at 13 or 14 and carry on right through university and may be here for 9 or 10 years.
What are the most popular products likely to be this year?
Last year lots of products featured flamingoes, folksy lamas and alpacas. However, Solva is always somewhere that people like to find something would suit their holiday accommodation or to take home and remember , so puffins will always be featured.
How involved are you in the local community?
Solva is a small place with about 900 inhabitants, so it is important to get involved and I am Chair of the Solva Business group – we have a fabulous Christmas evening with craft stalls and support local events by selling tickets and featuring on our facebook page.
You are very active on social media?
That is mainly due to Ella, who is a keen photographer and good with social media – she gets us all to try on the clothes and she is very artistic too, so her displays often get featured too. The Valentines Day window is a good example.
I think you have an amazing job!
I completely love it and always want to come to work – most of the customers are lovely and the team here is such good fun to work with. I especially love it when the children come in during the holidays with their pocket money.
I remember that – I could not ever go home without buying something!
People are in holiday mode and are just browsing – not shopping at all really! We always have items in the sale as our customers change every week and it makes room for new stock too. They come back again and again., year after year.
With thanks to Bella and her team – I am sure that Window on Wales will remain a regular stop-off for visitors to Pembrokeshire for many years to come.
Interview by Kirstie Jane Dobson.