Chalk Talks S2 Ep6 - Starting A Business During The Pandemic - With All Things Analogue
Season 2 of Chalk Talks focuses on conversations with business owners and public officials about different aspects of business. Episode 6 of this series features Abel Dos Santos of All Things Analogue.
In this episode, we speak to Abel about his experience in opening a stationery shop in the middle of the pandemic and he gives us his insights on local retail in the town.
Abel Dos Santos, founder of All Things Analogue, has a retail background; he has been working mainly in book retail for the past 20 years, at Borders and at Foyles. Abel had also worked at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, where he learned more about merchandising and telling a story through a product.
It was at Foyles that he found his passion for stationery. He really loved what he was doing and, after mulling over the idea about opening his own store for some time, an opportunity arose to start his own stationery business during the pandemic - so he took it.
Abel really loves giving creatives the tools they need to be creative. He likes to write, draw and use good quality pens and stationery. It makes it easier to sell the products when he loves them himself.
How does All Things Analogue differ?
Abel’s store, All Things Analogue, is more of a boutique than a standard stationery shop. It carries fewer items, but the selections are curated. Abel chooses to sell the stationery he is most passionate about, explains that to customers, and merchandises the products so that they are displayed beautifully. That’s what gets people to come in to shop.
Abel is new to Eastbourne. He’s been here since the end of August 2020, as his partner is from the town; they wanted to come down to Eastbourne so their children could be closer to their grandparents. When he came to Eastbourne, Abel didn’t see the kind of shop he wanted to open here, so Abel decided to take the leap and open the kind of stationery store that he himself would love to shop in.
Prior to Eastbourne, Abel was in London for 20 years, but had moved all over the place. He doesn’t really miss London, apart from his friends. Eastbourne has everything he likes: the seaside, the Downs, and he finds the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Why open a shop now, in a pandemic?
If Abel didn’t go for it now, it wouldn’t ever happen. COVID-19 was the motivation he needed to start his business.
Of course, Abel was petrified about opening the store but was more concerned about whether people would like what he was offering and whether there were enough customers in Eastbourne wanting his products, rather than any global pandemic.
The first few days were rather quiet, then people started to come, and then they recommended it to family and friends. Some of Abel’s favourite comments were: “It’s beautiful what you’ve created” and “Eastbourne needs this!”.
Who are All Things Analogue’s target customers?
Abel’s audience is primarily creatives; people who will use the products that he retails to create works of art. But he also sells products to help with anxiety.
There’s the art side of the business, which includes ranges for calligraphy and watercolour paints, but there’s also a writing and journal part of the store. This is aimed at people who wish to write down their thoughts and get their ideas out of their heads, which can help with anxiety and stress. His time in the book industry means he has come across lots of books with good advice in this regard.
All Things Analogue is as much about creativity as it is about bettering yourself and slowing down.
Abel also hopes to work with local organisations and groups, as lockdowns are eased.
Why is it important to have a physical store?
Abel’s favourite part about having a physical store is the ability to listen to people’s stories. He loves interacting with customers, hearing their stories and their passion for stationery.
Abel believes you can’t beat a shop for testing products, trying them out, and making sure it’s the right thing for you. All Things Analogue does have a digital presence, but - especially given the name - Abel also wanted a physical store. He probably sells 80% of his products via the store, with 20% of sales being online.
Prior to moving to Eastbourne, he was the Gifts and Stationery Buyer for Foyles Bookshop in London. He had missed interactions with customers, so being able to be in his store now, listening to people’s stories and hearing about all the places they love to go to in Eastbourne is ideal.
What’s the draw to the high street?
Small retailers creating a shopping experience is a huge draw to the high street: customers need a reason to visit a store that isn’t just about price.
Abel’s model has come from his time working at the museum store at the Old Royal Naval College: a museum store isn’t just a shop, it’s part of the experience of the museum with shopping, curated products, and events for customers.
Abel finds that being small and independent means you can be genuine and honest with your customers, which is something that chains can’t do. He believes the high street needs more independents so that they can give customers those kinds of experiences and help them with their needs.
What events will All Things Analogue hold in the future?
Abel has some events in mind for 2021 around the fountain pens and the typewriters he has in store, so people have a good reason to come in and visit.
When the store is closed, Abel will invite people in to use the typewriters to write letters to people. There’ll be around 10-12 typewriters and Abel hopes conversations and friendships will start from there.
What’s been the biggest learning experience?
Abel’s biggest takeaway from opening All Things Analogue is to “have faith in what you’ve built”. If you question yourself, you start to doubt yourself, and then you won’t get anywhere.
Abel did learn a lot throughout lockdown too: online sales were new to him and that side of the business was a steep learning curve. He made a lot of changes to enable people to buy off the website, offered click and collect and free delivery within the local area, and brought in free postage.
Any advice for starting a business in 2021?
“Just do it!”
Abel advises not to overthink it or try to make it perfect before starting out, but to learn while doing: it’s part of the process. He believes that if you have the passion, you should go for it and the skills will come.