High street shop experiences massive online sales boost thanks to rates grant, innovation and extremely loyal customers

Rates grants, social media and extremely loyal customers helped one Gwynedd business not only to survive lockdown, but to come out the other side stronger than ever.

Tom and Myfanwy Gloster have run their physical shop in Porthmadog since 2014. While Tom, who’s been a potter since 2004, creates the distinctive ceramic goods they sell, it’s Myfanwy who handles the marketing – something at which she’s extremely talented.

When the first lockdown hit in March 2020, after the initial panic the couple decided to up their game.

They already had an ecommerce website, which was doing well.  But if the Glosters were to cover the costs of running an empty shop, the website would need to do better.

“Our online sales were already growing in 2020,” Myfanwy says. “We were putting more effort into it, I think. And then we got closed down, and we had the initial panic of ‘oh my goodness, how are we going to pay for everything?’ We had the [rates rebate] grant for closing, so we spent a good chunk of that on redoing our website. And we just ploughed all our time into it, and it paid off.”

Having an online store helped ease the panic of potentially being locked down for months, Myfanwy says. In fact, online sales have more than doubled in the past year. Even since being allowed to reopen, online sales have continued to grow.

Another challenge was keeping up with online orders when the kilns kept blowing the electrics in the workshop, which was above the shop. Myfanwy and Tom had already been trying to find a way to deal with this problem, but lockdown gave them the opportunity to do so sooner.

“We had two options of digging up the road outside the shop and putting a three-phase supply in, or we could move,” she explains. “And the only place we could move to was massive, and we weren’t turning over enough or making enough to warrant that. And then everything locked down and the business started growing at an alarming rate, and then our kilns were still playing up, and we realised that if we were going to keep being locked down then the kilns needed to work, otherwise we wouldn’t survive. But I didn’t anticipate that it would be quite that successful.”

Always a prolific Facebook poster – Myfanwy says she uses the social media platform a bit like a diary, telling followers what the Glosters are up to, when new colours and shapes would be available – she again turned to the shop’s Facebook followers, this time with an appeal for help.

Myfanwy and Tom set up a crowdfunding appeal offering a variety of rewards, from badges and mugs to pottery courses and dinner with the Glosters at the new premises. The money raised would be used to fund the workshop being moved to swish new premises, with more space to work and, crucially, the correct electricity supply.

Incredibly, within two hours the campaign target had been met. What’s more, within 24 hours of launch the couple had smashed the stretch target too, raising an impressive £40,000.

Myfanwy is full of praise for the business’ customers for making the move a success.

“They’re so loyal, and they are so into it being two people and a small business and helping them grow, and I think at that time when everything was a little bit rubbish, it was that feelgood factor of contributing to something good.” 

Such is the loyalty of Glosters’ customers, they’re more than happy to invest in new products without having an opportunity to inspect them in person.

“The day we got locked down in March was the day that we launched a new, smaller mug. For seven months we had this mug that we were selling that nobody had ever really seen or held or knew how it felt or anything. If it hadn’t been for that mug, I don’t think those first two months would have gone very well!”

Although the lockdown rates grant was a ‘godsend’ to Glosters, helping to cover bills while the shop was ‘mothballed’, a specific part of the couple’s business model - along with those ever-loyal customers - was also very helpful in keeping their finances in order. For three years or so, Glosters has offered customers the opportunity to join the ‘Glosters mug club’, which supplies customers with limited edition, never-to-be-repeated mug designs up to four times a year.

“It’s like an instant cash injection, when you launch it and people buy it,” Myfanwy explains, “and it’s like a pre-order that keeps you busy for a while.” 

Two other areas of the business suffered during lockdown: the ability to hold training sessions, and the ‘hub’ which provides other makers with workshop and training space. Both would now have to be socially distanced, which will be much easier now that the new workspace is up and running. 

“We’ve built this huge wooden structure shed thing that we’re calling the pottery shed,” Myfanwy explains. “It’s massive and can fit 20 people comfortably; it’s got huge tables and we’ll be holding our courses there, and it’ll also be a place where other people can hold their courses too, the same as before.”

Did being unable to hold the courses a have big impact on Glosters’ finances?

“Yes. We’d already sold out all our Christmas courses, so we had to cancel them all and refund them, so that wasn’t the best. But it’s getting back to normal now, so there’s hope!”
One other aspect of the business has also been transformed sooner than planned, thanks to lockdown: changing to fully recyclable packaging for online orders.

“Suddenly we had to pack everything, which you don’t think about when you’re selling it in a shop. And then suddenly you’re researching boxes and packaging and how best to get it out. So now, even though we’re sending out ceramics, they’re going out in a honeycomb-like paper, an alternative to bubble wrap. And then they’re surrounded by puffed wheat noodles that dissolve in water. And then there’s paper tape that’s all recyclable, and the cardboard boxes are recyclable of course.”

Having come through lockdown into a hopefully less fraught time for the business, would Myfanwy have done anything differently?

“No, I don’t think so. I think lockdown definitely pushed us to expand bigger and quicker and maybe that was a good thing, otherwise I think we’d still be umming and ahhing about it!”


Business Wales has a number of schemes to support Welsh businesses, including Helo Blod, a free translation service; help to establish a workplace recycling scheme; and We’re In Your Corner, a skills gateway for businesses.