Spotlight On: Unique Small Businesses

Small businesses offer space

In Part Two of our Spotlight On Unique Businesses series, we talk to three more businesses about their inspirations, ethos, and highs and lows of their trade. Hoxton Street Monster Supplies teach us how to encourage the imagination, Maison De Moggy about redeveloping trends from overseas, and Dead Wax Social about paying homage to Brighton's musical heritage.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, London

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

“We are a shop by and for monsters. We attempt to create an experience for shoppers - the human ones - that permits them to look in on a monster's world. Our pitch is to monsters rather than humans in other words, but there's no bother in humans listening in, so long as they're respectful and realise that they visit here at their own risk.”

Amongst the corner shops and takeaways of Hoxton Street hides a little something special: Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, London’s only “purveyor of quality goods for monsters of every kind”. Inside, shelves are stacked high with tins of Escalating Panic (mint humbugs), boxes of Cubed Earwax (fudge), and bottles of flavoured salt claiming to be product of tears of Sorrow, Envy, or Boredom; all amongst dozens of other beautifully packaged gifts and treats.

The store is the collaborative work of creatives Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne, who initially opened for business with the intention to run for just six months as a pop up. But, somewhere along the way they met Nick Hornby, award winning author of Fever Pitch and About A Boy, who also wanted to get involved. Inspired by the mentoring organisation 826 Valencia, Hornby developed his own creative writing programme, the Ministry of Stories; which, similarly, works to encourage storytelling and the appreciation of a wild imagination through hosting workshops for young people.

“We get a lot of creative inspiration from the children who attend our creative writing clubs and workshops,” says Emily Murdock, Trading and Administration Manager at the Ministry of Stories. “They're the ones who convinced us to sell ready-spread breakfast snot - which turned out to be one of our best sellers.”

And championing charitable creativity, the storytelling initiative - like the monster shop - is run almost entirely by volunteers; proudly boasting their “service with a snarl”.

We spoke to Trading Manager, Emily to find out more:

Based upon a lesson / experience gained at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, what advice would you give to budding business owners?

"We're a unique endeavour, set up not just to raise funds for the charity - 100% of proceeds from sales goes to Ministry of Stories - but also to create a different experience around writing for the children who attend our creative writing clubs and workshops.

"The fact of being a charity with such a positive and joyful front end has helped us in ways we couldn't have anticipated, certainly allowing us to stand out to potential charity funders. From the beginning, we have had tremendous support from well over 100 volunteers, both to build the physical shop from scratch and to staff the shop and create playful, fun experiences for shop visitors. Starting with such an unusual base makes it hard to pass along much meaningful advice to new business owners."

Tell us about a challenge the store has experience and how it was overcome.

"There was the issue of monsters not wanting to shop alongside humans, so we created special midnight opening hours just for our monster customers - as well as making some of our products monster purchase only so our long time monster customers were reassured they are important to us, that we put them first.

"In our early days our fantastic volunteers did a lot of our product creation but over time reliance on volunteers isn't always possible and does require a fair amount of administration and oversight. As a result we've tended more now towards products that are ready-made that only require our branding be added."

Maison De Moggy, Edinburgh

Maison De Moggy

With their therapeutic benefit and promotion of animal welfare, cat cafés have risen rapidly in popularity over the past few years. They’re popping up all over the UK, and 2015 saw the opening of Scotland’s very first: Maison De Moggy.

“We were the first of our kind in Scotland so that was incredibly exciting, but also incredibly challenging,” says owner Laura O’Neil. “The public reaction has been brilliant – we are the craziest of cat people, so we understand when others are too.”

Laura was inspired by her trip to Japan and the craze surrounding cat cafés that she experienced there. She believed that whilst petting the cats could be a therapeutic activity for people, it could also help people who are thinking of committing to a pet of their own. So after returning to Edinburgh, Laura opened Maison De Moggy in Stockbridge; and just five months later, the business moved to a bigger location near Edinburgh’s Grassmarket.

“It’s looking amazing; we have lots more things for the cats to play on,” she says. “It’s a different layout. There’s an entrance and an exit – that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s something we realised we needed last time. It makes it a lot easier to change the rota of people coming in and out.”

Maison De Moggy is currently home to a total of eleven cats, all given French names in keeping with the theme of the brand; including Jacques the Norwegian Forest Cat, Amelie the ragdoll, and Guillaume the Chinchilla Persian. The café is also supported by the Oak Tree Vet Centre, whose vets have known the cats since they were kittens, and is monitored day and night by a group of ‘cat nannies’ all of whom have backgrounds in animal care.

The café itself serves locally produced tea and coffee, and cakes and traybakes – all prepared in a cat-free environment – and sells cat themed merchandise.

Dead Wax Social, Brighton

Dead Wax Social 

“All vinyl, all the time”

Taking their name from the run out groove of a record, Dead Wax Social is a true tribute to Brighton’s record shops and music industry. By day, the venue spins records from their 5000 + vinyl collection - and invite you to bring along your own too! - and by night, they have all-vinyl DJs playing live until the early hours. Dead Wax Social also host weekly music quizzes, live scratch events, and pop-up record stores.

Although the venue focuses heavily on music, their selection of food and drink doesn’t fall behind at all. They pride themselves on their ever-changing selection of craft beers, available both on tap and in bottles, as curated by The Beer Collective. Their staff have a proven-track record of knowing exactly what to recommend, and support local brewers such as Bison Beer and Two Tribes.

And to line your stomach, the gourmet menu from their Pressing Plant Pizza kitchen can sort you out with no trouble at all. Aligning with their keep-it-local ethos, all of their sour dough bases are supplied by local bakery Flour Pot, and their choice of toppings cover all things meaty, veggie, and vegan – available on bases of 7” or 12” of course.

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