Award-winning Gwynedd designer uses lockdown experience as an opportunity to improve her business
Award-winning designer-maker Ann Catrin Evans used Covid restrictions to her advantage by taking online courses to improve her business skills and commissioning a new online store to sell her unique handmade jewellery.
Originally from Dyffryn Ogwen, Ann has been a familiar face in Caernarfon since launching her business in 1989. She’s had a workshop at Glynllifon since 1991, and opened her shop, Siop iard, in Palace Street eight years ago.
After graduating from college in Brighton in 1989, Ann immediately set up a workshop with the help of local government grants and worked from a cowshed on the family farm for a couple of years. “It was very lonely because there were no cows,” she says. “I was about to give up at that point, it was so difficult.”
But then she won the Gold Medal for the craft masterpiece at the National Eisteddfod in Builth Wells in 1993. “When I won that prize it catapulted me forward which was what I needed.”
Ann says she does the “big and dirty work” at her Glynllifon workshop, before taking her forged jewellery pieces to be finished off at her other workshop at Siop iard. “The marks of the anvil are on the jewellery, even the small fine stuff,” she explains. “The markings rough it up a bit to make it more organic, so it looks a bit closer to nature, and each piece is different.”
One range, “Amrwd” (“raw”) has what Ann describes as a “moonscape or riven slate” texture. Is nature an influence in a lot of Ann’s work?
“Yes, I would say. The nature of the materials as well, how things behave. And I think when I work with iron or precious metals and gold, I treat the two in the same way, with the same kind of love if you like, because to me they're both precious and they're both valid for the same care and attention.”
How did the arrival of Covid affect Ann’s business?
“It hit me financially and that was quite frightening. At first I set up a jewellery bench at home. I realised after about 3 weeks that I could walk to work and go in because nobody else was there. I tried to think of the positive of it, and I thought I can make the things that I have on the waiting list, and I can take this time to learn so I enrolled on a few things online. There were webinars with goldsmiths and things like that. I did a lot of things like that, because in a way we'd gained time, so I made the most of the time.”
Ann received some financial help - rates grants and the self-employment grant – and in late 2020 she set up a Shopify online store with the help of her shop assistants, Laura and Hannah – all of which helped to keep the wolf from the door, just in time for the Christmas lockdown.
“Everybody else had their own website and I think almost everyone was selling as well, whether on Etsy or their own website, so I was really behind. So we set up Shopify quickly and that helped. And Siop iard had been selling craft courses online so we were quickly able to turn that into selling goods online. So when we had to close a year ago I had a few sales.”
In summer 2021 Ann signed up for a Business Wales webinar which led to a one-to-one session with one of the advisors, who assessed Ann’s business and helped her identify potential improvements. Following these sessions Ann decided to combine her main business website with an online store and commissioned a local web designer to build a brand new bilingual ecommerce website which has already resulted in several sales.
“Some people have started up businesses and just used online, but online is nothing compared to a walk-in shop,” Ann says. “With jewellery people usually want to hold it and touch it and feel it and see it, see the details and the fine aspects of it, and know what it feels like. I think that with the shop, what's important is the experience.”
Although she estimates that around 85% of visitors to the shop are local people, Ann adds that “people are fans from a lot further afield than Gwynedd or Caernarfon and can't actually come to the shop, so the website now can start filling that gap. And people are buying things without seeing them first, which is incredible.”
Has living through the pandemic made Ann think about the longer term and how she might change the way she does business?
“It’s made me realise that if people can't touch things then you need to do little videos or more photos. And it's made me think that I need to keep juggling different balls because you never know which one's going to fall. Closing the shop was critical for my livelihood so yes, online is really important and it's made me realise that now's the time for a mailing list ... everybody says email is the way to target your target audience, the people who've signed up with you are the ones that want you, so they're the ones to feed and to nurture, so I think that's really important moving forward.”
Ann continues: “[A mailing list] is a good thing because it sorts the wheat from the chaff and you can target exactly who are your customers. I think with the shop you don't really notice that, but with online I think you need to know about it.”
And business post-pandemic?
“It's going to be another world - a life full of promise on the website!”
Ann is currently offering a 10% discount to newsletter subscribers at her online store.