This month we speak to Mark Walter from The Green House in The Mint.
1. Tell us a bit about The Green House?
The business is unique in the sense that it’s a combination of houseplants and vintage furnishings – glassware, pots and bits and pieces. Anything you can put a plant on or in!
I think it’s this quality that interests people – the aesthetics of the shop are pleasing, people comment on them. It feels like a home, somewhere you can comfortably spend time in, relax, have a chat.
The run up to Christmas has been good for us this year. The day of the Christmas In Rye Festival was in fact our best day ever! We had a lot of visitors from out of town – the social media campaign for the festival had obviously been successful – word had spread. I think it shows what can be achieved when we work together to bring people into the town.
The shop doesn’t have a website but we are on Instagram and we have regulars who have discovered us on previous trips to Rye and make trips back to visit us which means a great deal to me. Shoppers from all over really - Tunbridge Wells, North Kent, not just locals.
2. What’s your story – what led you to The Green House?
I did some interior design and decorating work when I was in my twenties and thirties but then I went into teaching. I was a primary school teacher for twelve years. When I first moved to Rye from St Albans I was doing supply teaching but of course that dried up because of Covid. Georgina was the driving force behind the idea for the shop and originally I simply stepped in to help but ended up taking the shop on because she was so busy with her own business (Rye Health Store). I found I had an eye for it.
3. How did the shop start life?
We were originally in partnership with others and the first shop was in Cinque Ports Street. That premises closed after the second lockdown and Georgina and I found the premises on The Mint and saw its potential. It has evolved a great deal since then.
4. How’s business going now?
Since the shop moved to The Mint we’ve benefitted from better footfall. With the arrival of The Other Record Store and 8Note Caffe we now have a little enclave at Needles Passage which I think draws visitors. We have AirBnB’s either side of the shop and guests often pop in, and we even have people shop with us while they are waiting for their Fish and Chips next door at Marinos!
I never expected it to be a full time business – but it has rather taken over my life and I really do enjoy it. I’m hugely grateful to Georgina for having the initial vision and courage to start it. It was a big surprise how quickly it took off – I never expected to have to register for VAT!
5. What do you enjoy best?
My favourite part of the job is sourcing stock. The plants come from the Netherlands and are delivered once every six weeks. For the furnishings I have runners that bring things to me, I look online, go to auctions. I look for things to tinker with, repair and restore. I love finding things that people didn’t see the potential in and restoring them. Like on the tv show The Repair Shop – which I absolutely love.
I enjoy selling too. I had some experience of sales a long time ago, I’ve always found engaging with the public easy and enjoyable and it’s not a big leap having been in teaching – you get used to talking all the time to all sorts of people - 90% of sales is just talking to people. Yes it takes a certain skill set, but it’s just finding what makes people tick, what floats their boat.
6. What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
I love to find a new home for something that was neglected and has now been restored. I love giving people something of quality – I’m always looking for items that maybe have lost their way a bit that I can restore and people will value. I like to imagine all the plants are going to be treasured in their new homes. Yes, I guess I’m a bit of a romantic!
7. What are your plans for your business in 2024 – what are you focusing on?
Looking ahead I always try to vary my stock so that visitors always find something new and different. Of course certain plants sell very well and the temptation would be stock those plants all of the time but I don’t want people to step inside The Green House and always see the same things – I love it when people comment that they always find something different when they visit. So I put a lot of time and energy into keeping things varied, and I’m always tinkering and tweaking things inside the shop so that it feels right – a sense of abundance is important to me – it creates the atmosphere that is unique to the shop.
8. What are the challenges your business faces?
I think the challenges I have are similar to most of those faced by any small independent businesses in town. Taking time off is difficult – I could close twice a week but I don’t like to disappoint people, but hiring staff is difficult because I’d only need them ad hoc and finding people on that sort of arrangement isn’t easy.
It’s been a steep learning curve, as I said I never anticipated it becoming the business it now is. There isn’t much guidance when you start a business – no one really tells you how things work – so you feel your way.
9. What are you most proud of in your business?
I think it’s the fact that people come back. Returning customers are very gratifying – knowing that people love what you’ve created and what you offer. I love the way it’s developed over time and that positive feedback means a lot.
10. If there was one piece of advice you wish you’d had been given when you opened your business what would it be?
Make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row! Starting a business is fun and exciting, and then suddenly it’s a lot of responsibilities. If you’re not a paperwork person, you have to learn to be!
You can find The Green House at 40, The Mint Rye, TN31 7EN. Instagram:@the_green_house_rye Tel: 01797 226572.