It’s hard to imagine Roman Road without SNAP, the quirky gift store that has become our staple shop for gifts and stationery, specialising in products that you never knew you needed but can’t live without. We speak to owner Helen Fisher about her meteoric rise on the high street and what the future holds.
Helen Fisher set up shop six years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She had lived round the corner for years, and saw the opportunity to open a business when there was nothing like it on our high street. Between lunches at Muxima and tea at Fiesta Cafe, the idea for Snap was born.
Snap is a colourful addition to Roman Road and her swathes of loyal customers agree. Helen explains, ‘British people send more greetings cards than any other nation. People come back each holiday – Christmas, Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and just when they want to cheer someone up. Cards are still in fashion!’
The selection of goodies in Snap are perfect for when you need a gift for someone, but don’t know what to buy. Our advice? Pick up one of the best-selling Roman Road prints, or a Soapsmith soap, both designed and made in London.
The Roman Road and Number 8 bus gift cards are ‘relentless bestsellers’ – she has sold hundreds of the designs since she began stocking them. Kate Ellis, the artist behind the Roman Road drawing has always drawn local London scenes, so Helen suggested she draw a Roman Road one. Claudia Morris, the artist behind Made by Morris, has always drawn buses, and again, Helen suggested that the Number 8 bus would work well in our area. She was right.
Many of the suppliers Helen works with are local to East London, and she finds them either through social media or mutual connections. Helen likes to work with local, independent artists as much as possible, as not only does it support local creativity, but it often gives her exclusivity as the only stockist of certain products. Working so closely with local artists allows Helen to flex her creative muscles too – some design ideas she has had have been put into practice by the artists.
Helen’s creativity is evident inside the store. Everything is cleverly displayed, and it’s not a surprise when you find out about her past. Window dressing was her previous occupation, and her talent for presentation is an important part of Snap’s identity.
In case you haven’t seen them, it is worth a trip to Snap just to see her A-boards that are outside the shop. Every day, Helen tries to find a motivational or funny quote to write on them. ‘Even if people don’t get it, at least they pop in to see what I’m talking about,’ she explained.
Despite the fact high streets across the country are still struggling, Helen has hope for the future. ‘High streets are struggling, yes, but they are also changing and adapting. The high street needs to become a more service-based place, where you can get your hair cut, or go to the estate agent, or do things you can only do in person. So many things are bought over the internet, but with stores like Snap, most people don’t know what they want until they come in and browse. For a shop to survive these days, it has to be about the experience.’
Having said that, Helen has just invested hugely in her website and wants to increase the amount of sales that it makes. ‘The internet, especially social media, is very important for my brand,’ she says.
Helen is such a pro with social media in fact, that she has given a number of talks for the council about how best businesses should use their social media. ‘The number one rule – keep your socials up-to-date and your business and personal accounts separate!’ Doesn’t sound too hard.
Helen is a member of East End Trades Guild, a modern day union for local businesses supporting small independent traders. ‘Residential property is far more profitable than commercial property, and small businesses need protection from harsh rent hikes!’ she said. Sadly, Helen is all too familiar with the reality of rent – she opened another shop in Mile End in November 2015, but could only afford to keep it open for eight months.
Over the next year, Helen plans to continue investing in her website as well as starting to design a few of her own cards, meaning if you have any bright ideas for a card you can’t find anywhere, let her know and she may well be able to design it for you. She is currently doing a course on photo shop and is loving the design process. In the summer, Helen is also planning to hold some workshops and events at the store.
And if she was give a million pounds to spend? ‘It’s so boring, but the first thing I’d do is fix my leaky roof.’ƒ