Tell us a little about your shop, yourself, and what you do here.

The shop’s two years old, it’s called O’Dells and I’m Tom O’Dell, the owner. I’ve worked in menswear for over 10 years and I’ve always had the idea of having my own shop. So it was really just finding the right space and right time in my career to do it after working in buying, retail, strategy, e-commerce, and trade shows. The shop came up and I had to make the decision quickly and it’s a decision I haven’t looked back on.

The shop sells everything from home wares to lifestyle to menswear, leather goods and other accessories as well. 80% of the products are unique to the shop within the UK, which is an interesting point of sale. Around 60% is made within London like the ceramics, wooden items, or the menswear. The shoes are made in Northampton. Other items like the jeans made in Sweden are exclusive to the shop, just as the sunglasses that are Danish and watches that are also made in Sweden. It’s a nice mix of stuff. Everything here I always say I would wear, use at my house, give as a gift or read. So nothing here is to make a quick buck. Nothing is really that seasonal either, other than maybe sunglasses or short sleeve shirts. The jeans and shoes, and obviously the home wares, are what I keep all year round. It’s not Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter and you’re in a massive sale. I’m always looking for new products, working with new people and trying to keep it fresh while giving people something to talk about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou mentioned you only carry brands that you would keep in your own house, how do you decide what specific brands will work for the shop?

It’s nice to have a story behind everything. So firstly, I look at something I think I like. Secondly, it’s nice to get in touch with the maker to see if they want to work with me. Then it’s important to work out if it’s going to sell. It’s not just whether things look pretty or are made well, you’ve still got to try and sell stuff. Lots of the items that are made in London or individually-made, the profits are quite small where lots of the big brands are always looking to make a large profit and sell as much as possible.

My aim is to try and work with people where I can buy a little bit and test the water. For example with the candles, I started with 12 candles on the day I opened and since then I’ve sold nearly 3,000 candles. And the same with the watches, I started with six watches on the day I opened and I’ve sold over 150. I’ve built up a nice relationship where I buy six, or 12 and then another six or another 12 so I’m never ordering 500 watches and sitting there thinking ‘Oh God’. It’s just doing stuff that’s different to what everyone else is doing, what other people would like that’s not too trend driven or contrived.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat do you think drives entrepreneurs to start more lifestyle stores as opposed to niche clothing or home wares stores?

A clothing shop is so seasonal. I know from working in the industry that a beautiful garment or piece of knitwear would take 6 months to design, then it’s in the shops for a few weeks and then it’s in the sale at half the price. It just devalues it. It comes in at the wrong time, summer stuff comes in March when it’s freezing cold. It’s all about making margin. Get it in, on to the next season, selling the next season, going to the trade shows, buying years ahead. It’s just crazy that you would buy something without knowing what might happen. The economy might change, the weather might change, trends might change. So buying 30 pairs of a certain trendy shoe, a year before you’re going to have them in store, I find quite old-fashioned. The nice thing about my shop is that I can be reactive. Even on Monday I can think, “Okay this weekend looks like it’s going to be busy.” I can buy new ceramics or sunglasses, do a store event, or have products I know that are going to be popular in the next couple of weeks rather than having to buy something ahead of time. Also it keeps the shop fresh, it allows people to see lots of new stuff all the time. They can come in at O’Dells and spend a little money on a candle and build up a relationship with that customer by telling them about something new that’s coming in next week or two weeks time rather than saying you have to wait until the Spring/Summer collection to come in six months.

You said you aren’t very involved with social media, how do you find inspiration for the shop décor and style?

I’m sure people would disagree, but I feel like I don’t really copy anyone. There’s always been lifestyle stores so I’m not saying I’m ahead of my game and I’m not saying I’m the first. But definitely, in the last few years, there’s been an influx of lifestyle stores that can be seen as similar which always happens, there’s always going to be people that copy or influence or take the details from this shop but that’s fine. The only thing that I work on is Instagram, which is a good tool for me because it allows me to take one or two pictures a week or so, interact with a different kind of customer that’s not coming in to the shop, a customer that can go onto the website. It also allows me to not only portray the products sold in the store but also the lifestyle behind it, the customers, the people who work in the shop, the whole ethos of the shop rather than saying “This is a new pair of sunglasses” or “This is a new ceramic”. It’s the whole thing that you’re buying into.

Influence wise, Thailand has this reputation of being quite behind the times or for being popular for sex tourism or “Brits abroad”. I went to Chang Mai and some of the coffee shops or shops that I went to were much better than anything in London. They weren’t trying to copy London style or New York style, they had their own style and they were super cool. I really thought that Chang Mai, for a place that not very many visit as a sort of city place, out trumps most European cities I’ve been to. They seemed old-fashioned in comparison. And that gave me a good idea of how you can go to New York and London and there’s everything, there’s the “Top Best” bakeries, bars and jazz bars. Whereas you go to Chang Mai and you have a good feeling that something new was happening. They won’t have massive investment in building a bar, serving 800 people a night. They might have had three or four people there and had a real sort of authentic feel about it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan you tell us about your new store opening?

The new store’s going to be in North London, 5 minutes from Tufnell Park station. It’s very contrasting to the Calvert Avenue store, it’s not in a trendy shopping area and it doesn’t have a reputation for brands or boutiques. But it is in an area where people actually live and where people potter around on the weekend. The nice thing about it is that we are probably going to be the first shop of that type opening on that street. At the moment there’s no shop or café or bar or cool pub there. You know, it’s a risk but it’s a risk worth taking. I’d love a shop in Soho or Marylebone, but rent would be crazy and I would be worrying about it, where this, if it works, could be a big success. It’s nice to be in an area where there’s nothing at the moment, it feels like a safe option moving into an area where there’s stuff already going on. The rent’s affordable and it could be quite exciting interacting with all the people who live around the area.

The shop’s twice the size of the Calvert Avenue shop, and it will sell home wares (similar to O’Dells on Calvert) with the addition of provisions like jams, breads, olive oil, honey, porridge, cereals that people can buy on a daily basis. Also, we will be selling leather goods, menswear accessories, sunglasses, white t-shirt and jeans.

The shop will also be opening with Caroline and Rose who own the plant company “RoCo”. They do everything from hanging planters to copper kits to air plants. They’re going to have their studio in the basement where they’ll have meetings for projects and workshops with the local people.

We’ll also be doing other workshops like woodcarving or ceramics or natural dying, illustrations and stuff like that. It will be a community shop where children, young adults, people that live around the area will come in, talk to us, do workshops like an old corner shop or general store used to be. They might need a brush to wash their dishes or a nice vase or something for the house. It’s a shop that has a bit of everything in there. We’re trying to keep the prices not too high either, a shop where they come in for one thing but might buy something else that day as well.

The shop will be called 171: O’Dells and RoCo and it’s homewares, provisions, and workshops. The soft launch opening will take place on 23rd July with a grand opening 6th August.

It’s nerve-racking but it’s exciting because you never know what happens. That’s exactly how I felt with the Calvert Avenue shop, when I opened it I was essentially unemployed (self-employed) and I didn’t know if anyone would come in. The first day was busy, then it was quiet the next day and then it was busy and that’s how it has continued. I’m sure the new shop will be exactly the same.

Learn more about O’Dells Store.
Interview and Photography: Macy Fuquay