Ella Clarke, co-director of independent tableware retailer Louis Potts of Lewes in East Sussex, is looking forward to serving customers in-store again. She shares her lockdown story with Dawn Hopkins.
Louis Potts & Company was established by Andrew and Patricia Clarke on London’s Portobello Road market in 1969 and moved to the East Sussex town of Lewes in 1976. More than 40 years on, whilst Louis Potts has become one of the south of England’s best-known independent specialist tableware retailers, it remains a family business.
According to co-director Ella Clarke, who is the younger daughter of the founders, Louis Potts became the first traditional specialist china shop to sell online in 1996.
“But with our Lewes shop [on Cliffe High Street], we retain firm roots in one of England’s most historic towns. Callers or visitors to our shop can always be sure of speaking to a member of the family.”
And from today (June 15), the doors are open again after a temporary closure as part of the Government’s three-stage plan to ease coronavirus lockdown measures. “We’re so excited,” she says. “It’ll be such a pleasure to talk to customers (at a social distance).”
Louis Potts has implemented a raft of measures to ensure the premises is COVID-secure. These include reconfiguring the shop layout and reducing the number of fixtures to enable safe distancing in every part of the store. There are also hand sanitizers both at the door and the till.
Ella is not fazed by the suggestion that customers should be encouraged not to handle products while browsing. “We rely on the common sense of our customers not to handle items unnecessarily,” she says. “We are very fortunate that china and glass, with their non-porous surfaces, are relatively easy to sanitise.”
She is equally comfortable with the idea that returned items should be stored for 72 hours before being put back on the shop floor. “Our rate of returns is very low,” she explains.
Ella describes Louis Potts’ product mix as predominantly tableware and glass. “Our great strengths are our variety of coffee mugs – and we have a self-confessed weakness for teapots and butter dishes!” she smiles.
“We pride ourselves on being a china shop rather than a gift shop. However, the majority of our products are perfect for giving.”
Examples include items from Portmeirion Group brands such as Sara Miller, Sophie Conran and Wrendale Designs, along with KitchenCraft for La Cafetière.
During lockdown, Louis Potts used the unexpected break to extensively refit the shop. It stayed in touch with shoppers via Instagram posts and local radio interviews and sent regular newsletters to online customers.
The company continued to trade online throughout the three-month period. “Our ever-popular website really came into its own during lockdown – both locally, nationally and internationally,” Ella says. “We were very busy, especially with orders from our European customers. It was also heart-warming to have so many local customers using our website.”
So, what are her predictions for trading in the second half of the year? “We are all venturing into the unknown,” she says. “We are very fortunate that Lewes, as a market town, has a solid core of loyal customers. With the absence of overseas visitors, we will need our locals more than ever.
“But we feel that traditional high streets like Lewes will prove much more resilient and quicker to bounce back than the shopping malls and city centre department stores. Christmas is coming!”