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Mini Story 10 - Jo McCarthy, Shop Owner, Firain Shop

Updated: May 26, 2023

I've been following Jo for a while over on Instagram (@jo_at_firain), her feed is beautiful and full of inspiration and I was so happy that she agreed to take part in this little story. Jo runs Firain, an online shop filled with homemade gifts and homewares from independent makers, she has a real eye for selecting beautiful products from small brands with a great story and everything comes packaged with such care and it feels like a real treat when you receive your order.

When choosing a name for the shop, the ancient welsh word 'firain' came to us. meaning 'good, noble, fair and fine', for us it evokes the feelings of provenance, integrity and authenticity. i look for handmade pieces that are not only uplifting to use, but are made in an ethical way by passionate creatives - many of whom run very small businesses themselves.

When did you open your online shop?

I opened at the end of September 2017. I remember pressing buttons in a sort of out-of-body experience and suddenly, we were in business! I was amazed to have real customers (not just my mum!) on the very first day and suddenly panicking that I had no idea how to wrap anything!

  Why did you want to be a shop-keeper?

I have always loved bringing people together (give me a party to arrange and I am in my element!) and there is something about being a shopkeeper that satisfies this need in me. I enjoy working with such a beautiful variety of makers and introducing them to appreciative customers through Firain is a joy. I am artistic and creative but I don't make anything, so being a gallery space for those that do is a privilege. 

What did you do before you started? 

I have done a very wide range of jobs, from being a gardener to an estate agent and lots in between! I must say that being a freelancer really suits my short-attention span! 

Any other interesting snippets you would like to share about how Firain came to be. 

I opened the shop just after my big brother died. It was honestly one of the toughest times in my life and I worked on autopilot. It's amazing how running the shop has helped me to focus on positive and good things. 

How do you find new suppliers?

Most of the makers I stock have caught my eye on Instagram. I generally stalk someone for a while and get a feel for their brand then take the plunge and send them a DM or an email. 

What makes you say YES to a new supplier? 

I wish I could say 'yes' to more people because there is so much handmade talent out there. However, one of my core values is to 'shop slowly.' I don't stock things in Firain just to follow trends or to constantly have new stuff. I want to have products that I connect with because they are made by talented craftspeople. If I do go ahead with an order, it's usually because I have fallen hard for the products; they are priced realistically and most importantly I think my customers will love them too. I have made mistakes along the way - I have overstocked and understocked! 

What way do you think it's best for a potential supplier to reach out to you? How often do you think it's appropriate for them to follow up?

Many shopkeepers wouldn't like this approach, but I quite like a quick DM on Instagram. It helps if the potential supplier has looked at my name, my website, my social media and are realistic about whether their product will fit in my shop. By sending a DM, this gives me the chance to look at the maker's Instagram, and then if I think it would be good to know more, I will ask the person to email me. The hardest people to respond to are those who have clearly copy and pasted a message that they are blasting out to lots of shops. It's so much better to spend a little time making each message relevant and personal. 

What makes a supplier a good supplier?

I am quite selective about working with people who understand my limitations as a small business; the makers with whom I work are generally themselves very small businesses with financial and time constraints. We allow each other time to pause and breathe. I appreciate suppliers who communicate well, who tell me when new products are being launched so I can consider stocking them, who promote my shop, who deliver on time; who supply good, high-quality photos if possible; who provide dimensions for their products; who list Firain as a stockist on their own website; who package their items in recyclable or reusable packaging. overall, I look for people who are generally just easy to work with! I have been really fortunate so far! 

What advice would you give someone who's thinking about starting to wholesale?

Besides understanding the process of wholesaling, I would say it's important that a maker starts to get really good systems in place in their workshop/ office to alleviate stress when things get busy. I would also take advice on the wholesale catalogue or line sheet from a friend or mentor who can look at it from the perspective of a shop owner. For example, are the thumbnail pictures easy to see on a mobile? Does the PDF print off well in black and white? Is the pricing structure easy to understand? Is the MOQ reasonable? These are really small things that it's worth paying attention to! 

Any other wise words?

My strongest advice is this: just try. A friend of mine printed off a label to stick to my computer that reads: don't overthink it. We have so many privileges and choices and freedoms in this part of the world, so try to enjoy them and bring joy to others through your creativity. 

Final words

Thank you so much Jo for all your brilliant nuggets of advice, I'm sure other small business owners will find these so helpful. I love to connect on Instagram and actually get to know the behinds the scenes a bit more and sharing little stories like these.

When you're after a little bit of retail therapy or a gift, for yourself or someone you care for, please visit Firain, I promise, you will feel super special when you get that parcel through the door and make sure you follow Jo on Instagram, @jo_at_firain for a daily dose of inspiration.

As always, if you want to find out more about working with me you can send me an email here or read more about the services I offer here, finally you can follow me over on Instagram, @small_business_collaborative.


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