IT'S MY LABOUR OF LOVE
Before we embark on this week's voyage around one of Bristol's loveliest shopping destinations, I ask you to come with us on a journey back in time – over a decade ago to 2001, to be precise.
While the world was still welcoming a brand new millennium, the retail experience was undergoing a serious shift in perception. It was slowly beginning to dawn on entrepreneurs and UK shoppers alike that in order to survive, the retail industry as a whole had to change.
Online shopping was becoming really big business, and high street, big brand conglomerates were being forced to face up to the fact that artisan, Fairtrade and unique were the new buzzwords, replacing mass produced, imported and "designer label". Meanwhile, a whole new financial landscape was about to further influence the spending habits of a nation as the credit crunch loomed.
3, 2, 1 – back in the room; it's 2012, and we're shopping in Soukous, the charming, lively emporium of retail merriment just up the road from Clifton Down Shopping Centre. "Soukous opened 11 years ago. While I can't believe how quickly time has gone by, I love the shop as much today as I did when I first opened the doors", says owner Elisa Snaden as she treats us to a whistlestop tour of her stylishly packed shelves. "I thrive on everything involved in running a shop like this: researching new lines, going to shows and trade fairs and discovering brand new must-haves for my customers to get as excited about as I am. But my main criteria for buying something to sell is always, do I like it and is it well made? In the current economic climate, it's very important to be selective in the products I offer – they have to offer good value for money, and they have to last".
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Maintaining such an ethos has not only paid off for Elisa's many regular customers, but has been acknowledged and rewarded formally in the trade too: the shop was nominated as a finalist in 'The Greats' awards for three years running (Best Independent Retailer in the South West and Wales area, don'cha know) and also enjoyed 'Finalist' acclaim in the Retas awards (Best Independent Greeting Card Retailer in the South West).
But away from the heady awards ceremony spotlight, it's the wholly uplifting but always down-to-earth Soukous experience itself that keeps the shop buzzing. "Soukous actively welcomes browsers", says Elisa. "There's so much to explore over both floors: bright colours, pretty things, beautiful jewellery – it's an Aladdin's Cave! When customers tell me it's so lovely here they could buy the whole shop, or that this is their favourite shop, it makes my efforts worthwhile".
Indeed, shopping at Soukous is an eminently cheerful activity. Stock changes on a regular basis, but all manner of gorgeous, quirky, imaginative options for gifts, home and wardrobe accessories, greeting cards and Fairtrade products maintain the overall theme. "We cater for all ages, really", says Elisa. "Younger customers tend to love our Fairy Dust and Jellycat soft toys, with teenagers zoning in on the Nail Art and Crystal sets, notebooks, hand creams and bath bombs. Students like the Bright Side range, scatter cushions, fairy lights and bunting – all affordable ways of transforming student digs. I'm also proud of our mums-to-be gift options, and we're very accessible for men in search of gifting inspirations too – a lot of chaps tell us that their partners tell them that if they choose anything from here, they'll like it!"
But this being 2012 an' all (remember, we took a trip back in time at the start of our Soukous foray), Elisa's shop hasn't been afraid to move with the times: if you haven't got much time to spare, a tempting, easy-to-navigate website puts Soukous at your fingertips, 24 hours a day. Soukous, we salute you!
Soukous 44a-46 Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6LA, 0117 923 9854, www.soukous.co.uk.