A Cup of Tea with Trouva
By Isabelle Wilkinson
Trouva are curators of beautiful, distinctive products. They work with independent boutiques across the UK to bring those products to new audiences online. Earlier this month Emilie sat down with Brand Director, Lucy Ward, at their new Clerkenwell HQ to talk about how they go about finding those boutiques and the important role their tech could play in the future of bricks and mortar retail.
Tell us a little bit about Trouva and how it works
Trouva is a marketplace for independent bricks and mortar boutiques. We work with 300 of the best boutiques around the UK, including lots in London and anywhere else between Glasgow and Penzance, Cornwall and Cardiff. It’s very exciting. For the customer it’s a destination to find beautiful homewares, lifestyle and fashion accessory goods. The brand’s name stems back to the meaning ‘a lucky find’ - an idea that you can come online and find products that you couldn’t find anywhere else, especially on the high street. We only work with bricks and mortar boutiques, because we pride ourselves on the shop keepers we work with, curating their collections and finding the best products in the world.
At Good & Proper Tea, we see ourselves as curators - we try to find the best teas from producers around the world and then share them with our customers. At Trouva, while you are curating products from each boutique in a similar way, you must also rely heavily on the boutique owners continuing to be great curators themselves?
Absolutely, and ultimately that’s what we want, to free up the boutique owners to do what they love most - searching the world, supplying these wonderful products and finding amazing brands to work with. We’re here to make online a bit more hassle free for them and instead of making them work harder, it gives them that time to do that.
So how do you go about finding the boutiques?
We’ve spent a lot of time doing research into the boutiques out there and now it really is a case of our 'Boutique Hunters', who are better known as our Business Development team going out there and walking the high streets of towns, cities and villages to find the shops that perhaps don’t have an online presence.
We look for places with a strong brand identity, somewhere that you walk into and quite quickly you can understand who they are. That for me is always going to be the first tick box. Then after that we pretty much look straight at the products - what they’re selling and how it differentiates them from what we already have on Trouva. Lastly we ask, what does the shop feel like? And what kind of customer service are they offering their customers? More and more we want all of the boutiques to really feel like all of their Trouva customers are just the same as a customer who walks through their door. We’re the facilitator and we’re bringing customers, but ultimately they’re their customers, not just ours, so we ask - how do they treat their customers in-store and do they do it well? That’s what we want to replicate online.
How do you bring the magic of the independent boutiques and the passion of the person running them to the experience the customers have online with Trouva?
It is a big focus for us this year. We’ll be celebrating our second birthday in September so we’ve been spending a considerable portion of our time so far establishing ourselves and growing the community, testing the proof of concept, and getting the logistics sorted. Once we knew that it was working, we started concentrating on how we could bring the independent message through more and more on Trouva. I don’t think you will ever be able to fully replicate the bricks and mortar experience online but what I think we can do is start to get smarter with social media and video. I get really excited when I think about the day that a customer is umming and aahing about which to purchase out of a couple of products and we can facilitate a live chat between them and someone from Good & Proper Tea, for example. The shop owners will have the chance to offer advice and guidance around their products without the customer having to be in-store.
Even just sharing the stories of the boutiques online and in your emails makes you feel closer to the individuals behind the brands on Trouva. As a customer you want to feel a real satisfaction that you’ve bought a beautiful product from someone who has taken great care in finding or producing it...
That’s it. The point is that we need to make sure that our customer understands who they’re buying from and why they’ve chosen to sell that product to earn their living.
I’m endlessly inspired by the boutique owners. Every time I meet one of them - every single one of them has an incredible story because running a business is like riding a roller coaster. What’s quite nice is that some of them are family-run businesses that have been going for years and years, but a lot of them are actually start-ups, like Good & Proper Tea, so I feel like we [Trouva] all have a lot in common. We share that journey and hearing the stories of 300 of the most creative, most entrepreneurial, most dedicated people I’ve ever met is actually what keeps us coming into work.
Who makes up the Trouva team currently?
So there’s Alex, and Mandeep who founded the brand, and then Glen who works as COO to complete the founding team, and then me working as Brand Director. We’ve then got an incredible group of people working with us to move Trouva forward through customer service, development, content and business development. One of our core company values at Trouva is challenge, we want people who come in and challenge the status quo. People who make us ask why we do the things that we do because when you’re starting something from the ground up, you just create processes that then seem to stick and they are most often not the most efficient or appropriate for growth.
Trouva or ‘Trouvaille’ means a ‘lucky find’ - what’s your favourite brand or product that has felt like a real lucky find?
There’s quite a few - I’ll give you two. One of my absolute favourites is candle makers Earl of East. I found them and was just overwhelmed by the scent and the products that they make. They have this one candle called Smoke and Musk and I must have bought about ten of them before it got to the point where I was like, right, we need to get them on Trouva. So I spoke with Paul and Niko and when they opened Bonds we got them on Trouva. And the other one is this brand called Hasami. Check it out. They have the most beautiful Japanese crockery. How do I explain it? Stripped back, three colourways, very simple. White, a kind of stoney colour and black. And the mugs are double your regular size. Every Saturday I take some time to drink my tea out of my Hasami mug. I get them from Workshop in Brighton which is the most beautiful place...
Finally, perhaps one of the most exciting things about Trouva is the role you could play in the future of retail. You’re in a unique position to be promoting the existence of bricks and mortar shops, yet without turning your back on digital. How important is that element of the business for you?
So the most important thing here is that without bricks and mortar boutiques and shops, we don’t have a brand. So they’re of the most upmost importance. Our company value is ‘An independent future’ and what we really believe in is a beautiful combination of both offline (instore) and online. It’s definitely not one overtaking the other but the two working together seamlessly and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to make the online part of it work for these boutiques. I feel very positive about the future of retail for the shops we’re working with and that they will continue to thrive and not just survive on the high street.
I’m excited about how we can enhance their businesses with our tech knowledge and expertise, which might not be affordable or accessible to the boutiques on their own. We will remain a curated marketplace who can add value to everyone we work with. The future of retail, I think, is survival of the fittest. Business rates and the likes obviously dictate a lot and as a company we want to take more responsibility for and offer support to our community of boutiques. With 300 shops now, that’s 300 shop owners and their amazing teams, combined with our team the network is getting stronger and stronger which is starting to resonate within the media. Let’s all rally together, make a stand and have the independent voice heard. I can’t imagine a future without independents on our high streets, things will certainly change and we need to be flexible but I think that there will always be a place for the independent and Trouva will fight for and support that.