Here’s commercial variation on that nursery rhyme theme – ‘How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggly tail’?’
The simple idea of making a clock to look like the silhouette of a labrador, with a tail that wags on the movement of the second hand, turned into a rural enterprise for Vicky Elliot. The Labrador Company have been producing their hand-made clocks since 2009, and following their labrador, spaniel and dachshund ranges, now produce thirty-six styles of clock. So in addition to other breeds of dog, their designs include farm animals and endangered species, and the themed product range has been extended to cushions, tea-towels, and dog blankets.
Having spent years as a publican, Elliot tells the story of how an old clock, hung on her pub wall, served as the inspiration to create her first labrador design. “It was in the shape of the dog and had the moving tail, which I loved,” she explains. “After selling the pub I needed something to do, and I made a version of the clock at home on the kitchen table. And then I decided making these clocks was going to be my new business.” Starting with a small shop, as the company started to receive more orders, Elliot needed to relocate to premises with more workshop space.
A restored barn surrounded by rolling hills has met that need. As you step into the workshop and showroom you’re greeted with a wood burning stove, hundreds of tails wagging silently on the wall, and the company’s spirited ‘receptionist’, Lady Lettice of Dorset (Elliot’s affectionate dachshund).
Being situated in a rural environment doesn’t mean The Labrador Company utilise anything less than a contemporary approach to retailing. “We mostly sell online,” Elliot explains, “We sell a lot through ‘Not on the High Street’ and on various social media market places. The customer interaction we get from being online and active on social media has been really encouraging; we have over 2600 followers on Instagram and the company page has reached almost 7000 likes on Facebook. We’ve received some lovely messages from our customers from all around the world on social media.”
But the inability to control listings on online outlets can be a challenge. “Last Christmas, for example, our handmade chocolate collections, which go under the ‘Little Gifts’ section of our website, were on the first page of ‘Not On The High Street’, so we sold loads of chocolate this year. I didn’t see the clocks, our best-selling item, until page eight of the website! It’s a bit of a lucky dip,” she reveals. However having any product featured on the first page of a popular retail website gives the company exposure as well as sales, and serves to stimulate curiosity about the products, Elliot says.
She also believes in the value her company provides with drop shipping, the supply chain management method where the retailer doesn’t keep goods in stock but instead transfers its customers’ orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or supplier, who then ships the goods directly to each customer. “Some of our competitors which supply luxury cat and dog themed products simply buy from third-parties and sell it on,” says Elliot. “We prefer to manufacture ourselves and cut out the middle man.”
Interestingly, the company no longer attends county fairs. “People don’t generally want to spend money on our kind of items at these types of family events,” Elliot explains. Similarly The Labrador Company no longer exhibit at trade shows. “I used to go to one in Milan, but it was costing over £4000 taking into account the travelling,” Elliot explains. “Now I think the internet and social media have taken over, so we found this money could be put to better use.”
Data from The Office for National Statistics (pre-Covid-19) revealed that internet purchases account for around 20% of all retail sales, and the UK has the third largest e-commerce market on the world. Elliot recognises this shift in buying preferences shows no sign of slowing down, even though she likes the idea of having a bricks and mortar presence.
“A presence on the high street though would just be too costly,” she says. “It’s also so much easier to buy online; even I do most of my shopping on the internet these days. If I need a gift for my grandchildren, for example, I’ll be able to see what’s popular among their age group, buy them a present and get it delivered at the click of a button. Internet shopping does have many advantages in more remote areas.”
Elliot wouldn’t describe herself as “overly ambitious.” She explains: “Small is beautiful, I’m having fun, and I wouldn’t want to change that.” So how much is that doggie in the window? The ones with the waggly tail retail at £45, and a handwritten card can be included if the clock is purchased as a present.
Researched and written for Ward Goodman by DECISION magazine