Meet Retail Manager Sarah Taylor
30th June, 2020
Thousands of products are sold every year through the RSN Shop, both on site at Hampton Court Palace (HCP) as well as online, the latter of which has been extremely busy during lockdown. Orders are sent to every corner of the globe and it is warming to know that a little piece of RSN embroidery happiness is brought in to people’s homes both near and far.
RSN Retail Manager, Sarah Taylor, can be found both behind the scenes and behind the Shop counter at the Palace and some of you have no doubt had the pleasure of meeting Sarah either in person or communicated with her by telephone or email. So, we thought for those who have not yet met Sarah, then this is your chance!
Sarah, you joined the RSN in 2009, what did you do before then?
Having studied fine art, specialising in painting, naturally I ended up working in retail! I have spent my working life mostly in the luxury retail sector, my first taste was at Liberty, where I worked in the beautiful Tudor building in Great Marlborough Street, London. I started in the dress fabric department, which was the whole floor in those days! An Aladdin’s cave of delights for any fabric lover and where I discovered the very best product in the world. I learned the fine art of retailing with Liberty, with roles including management, both in the main store and in their branch operation, buying and product development. There were great times had there and many lifelong friendships made! Since leaving, I have had various roles in the fashion business including a stint at the world famous mannequin company Adel Rootstein, where I was Production Manager for the wig and make-up department – one Christmas I received half a case of champagne from one of the wig suppliers who was touting for business! I worked for 7 years with British fashion designer and retailer Margaret Howell, and ran the Richmond shop with a colleague – we were affectionately known as ‘Trinny and Susannah’ (TV Fashion Presenters). I left that role as I was desperate to start working for myself and get back to some creativity. I had been working as an Alterationist for a local fashion shop, making clothing to commission and exhibiting arts and crafts at shows and markets, but there was not enough income to sustain me. I joined the RSN as a stop gap and now I have been here longer than anywhere else!
What is your ‘typical day’ at the RSN?
The only ‘typical’ part of any day at the RSN is that I get up, have breakfast, get ready and go to work! Currently, that is at home for two days and at HCP for two days. We run the retail operation on a very small team; me and my lovely assistant Lindsay Stallard, who many of you will have had contact with, which means that I do most things and treat it as if it’s my own shop. I do all the buying, product development, collecting deliveries (with Lindsay) and processing them – checking in, pricing and merchandising. When the RSN Shop is open, I can be found serving behind the shop counter and I am also responsible for the RSN Online Shop, so it’s quite likely that I have packed your order! Although these unusual times have been frustrating it has meant that we can get far more development done on our retail IT systems to make everything run smoothly.
I liaise with all parts of the RSN and HCP, it’s so important to have those special relationships with the people we see from day to day and I can be found anywhere in the business (in normal times). We try to look after our customers first, as we couldn’t do any of it without them, then I look after my suppliers. I am always looking out for new product, visiting trade shows and working with RSN Embroiderers to help them develop kits and products that we can sell through the RSN Shop, which helps both parties.
We are very lucky to have some lovely and loyal Volunteers who help with the retail side of things, packing orders and helping to sort donated product that comes into the RSN. We sell some of these items through the Shop and I think that some of our regular visitors come in especially for this area. At the weekends I have a lovely team of Degree Students who work in the Shop. This works really well for all of us, it is good personal development for them and also shows the public that we are encouraging the next generation of hand embroiderers and the importance of our mission to keep the art of hand embroidery alive and thriving.
So, what are the most common and unusual questions you have been asked in the Palace?
Mostly directional, the most common being, “Where are the toilets/loos/bathrooms?”, depending on where the person is from, and an unusual one would be, “How old are the trees?” I would definitely get a job as a Palace Warder!
We have been in lockdown since mid-March and the RSN Shop has been busier than ever. Why do you think this is?
We have a very loyal customer base and they want us to survive, some online customers would have been personal visitors before lockdown. Social media has also driven new traffic to the Online Shop, where people have been exploring the internet to take up a new hobby, start new kit designs and to stock up on equipment and supplies – large retailers, such as John Lewis & Partners, have not been able to continue business due to their size, and we hope that our new customers will stay loyal to the RSN after lockdown and be more conscious of supporting small businesses. We have received orders from all over the world, and some for just one or two small items. In one day, we sent parcels to Hawaii, Las Vegas, New Zealand and Iceland!
How do you decide what to stock in the RSN Shop, do you find that there are trends depending on a ‘fashion’ or a certain time of year?
We have to appeal to a varied customer and I am, to a certain extent, guided by what is required to support our Day Class and C&D students, as well as other customer demand. We have a small space in the Shop so we are limited in the amount of haberdashery we can reasonably stock. I am also influenced by trends in fashion and gift products, gleaning ideas from selected trade shows that I visit. As I mentioned, I have worked with RSN Tutors, Studio Embroiderers and students to develop kits and products that can be sold in the Shop, advising on presentation, costing and helping to come up with ideas. It is very satisfying to see such lovely results. Our notable successes have been Rachel Doyle, Masako Newton, Marg Dier, Chrissie Juno Mann and Helen Stevens.
You have probably grown close to many of the RSN Shop customers, including our regular Day Class and Certificate & Diploma students who buy from you and, no doubt, meet people from all walks of life?
Yes, it’s a shame that HCP is currently closed to the public but we have been able to speak with customers on the phone and I have even made some personal deliveries to our customers who live locally!
I have some customers from previous work places who have found me and are now avid embroiderers, it’s really lovely to catch up with these people! We have our lovely ladies who regularly call up for one or two (sometimes more) skeins of Appleton’s crewel wool. I used to chat regularly with someone who came to the HCP Monday Lectures before heading over to our Shop, we usually discussed earrings and she purchased donated books. I recently bumped into her at the V&A Shop and it took a while for us to remember where we knew each other from; the discussion was the ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’ exhibition and the fact that she wasn’t wearing any earrings having forgotten to put them on that day!
Who is your longest standing customer?
We pride ourselves on confidentiality at the RSN so I can’t reveal too much! One Lady has been buying wools from me since I joined the RSN 11 years ago, she specialises in needlepoint pictures of family houses and it’s lovely to spend time with her discussing her next project and giving her guidance. Singer Jessie J has popped in, as well as Gareth Malone…who was looking for his daughter!
During the past eleven years at the RSN what has been the true highlight for you as Retail Manager?
That’s a difficult one, every day is a highlight! Every day, week, month and year brings new challenges with an evolving landscape within the Palace and the steady growth of the organisation. I was around the Embroidery Studio during the excitement of working the wedding dress of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (then Catherine Middleton) for Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, I’ve been introduced to RSN Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, who specifically requested to visit the RSN Shop during her last visit, and I have been near to HM The Queen at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party!
I certainly won’t forget taking an exhibition stand at the Paris exhibition ‘Aiguille en Fête’, during the coldest February on record when the canal froze over! And, who can forget, the RSN Grand Sales, when we open our doors to sell some of our donated items to the public!
It is wonderful being part of a very special group of people who are passionate about what they do, despite the difficult days we all currently share. We have a great camaraderie and all of us have a desire to do what’s best for the RSN.