Since 2010, Precious Sparkle has established a reputation as one of Perth’s distinctive independent shops, offering customers a choice of high quality, unique products, ranging from gemstone beads and jewellery to womenswear and interior items for the home. Everything is curated and carefully chosen, designed to complement Dawn’s approach to providing an authentic personal service.
As in so much in life, the shop customers enjoy today is very different to that which started out, as is its proprietor.
Having trained as a singer at New York’s famous High School of the Arts – immortalised in the 1980s TV series Fame – followed by a Durham University degree in Anthropology and Sociology, Dawn graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a law degree. After seven years working as a solicitor with a leading city law firm, and with a young family, the appeal of a quieter, greener, more rural life began to appeal to Dawn.
“I gave up law, initially temporarily, but then permanently once I decided to start my own business. We wanted a different lifestyle, somewhere with more countryside on the doorstep for our children, so we’ve been living in beautiful Perthshire for the past 15 years.
“I actually took up jewellery making as a hobby, but quickly realised there were no suppliers of quality gemstone beads in Scotland. That led to the creation of my online business in 2006.” Precious Sparkle quickly grew on the wave of a surge in interest in beading and crafts in general. “I started something called the Scottish Beads Fair, initially held once a year but eventually as often as three times per year – mostly held in Perth. The event attracted upwards of a 1,000 people at its height, but as with many good things, it couldn’t last. I ended the event last summer. That’s just how it is in the crafting world: sometimes knitting is popular, then crocheting, sewing – whatever Kirstie Allsopp is doing on television will give you a clear indication as to what’s popular.”
Dawn continues: “The business has now been a bricks and mortar operation for eight years. I’ve moved twice in that time and I’ve no intention of moving again!”
The most recent move took place in September 2017, when Precious Sparkle relocated a short distance to premises opposite Perth Concert Hall. That decision has proved transformational. “My previous shop was on a main artery in and out of Perth and so didn’t have much natural footfall. I relied on people being curious and making the effort on a subsequent trip into town. Where I am now is ideally positioned.”
While Dawn still supplies gemstone beads to customers all over the world, the core business has evolved considerably. “With new premises I wanted a different focus. The whole ethos of the business now is that I’m providing people with quality items that they won’t have seen before; well-made items, reasonably priced and distinctive.
“I still import gemstones from India, but now increasingly I’m importing textiles from all over as well. I have a new jewellery designer from Spain; I stock handmade cards made in Portugal. The aspiration is always to source something different. I’m also keen to discover new talent and see fresh ideas.”
A personal service
As Dawn scours trade fairs in search of exciting new lines to add to her store, she finds the whole curatorial process can be artistic, as she makes notes on complementary lines she thinks will work together well. “It’s an organic learning experience and I like to think my product lines are less contrived than many bigger retailers,” she adds. “Not that I get everything right! Trust me, I get plenty of things wrong too, but you learn from your mistakes!”
Honesty is everything, and Dawn’s secret to great customer service. “If I don’t think something fits or suits a customer, I’ll let them know. If someone spends £80 on something that they’re not going to wear, they’re going to feel badly about the store and never return. I’d rather a customer left empty-handed, but came back another day because they remembered the store fondly.”
That local service is underlined by Dawn’s enthusiasm for the Perth Gift Card, which is now accepted by more than 85 business across the city. “Many customers love the card. It’s just the greatest thing because you can spend in all these different places. You’re not stuck with one chain. All these initiatives are vital for Perth. We have such an interesting mix of independent retailers and multiples here in the City and we need all of them working together.”
It’s this message of cooperation instead of competition that Dawn believes serves Perth well. It’s reflected in events such as Farmers’ Markets, Christmas Markets and the Winter Festival Lights switch on, which attracted tens of thousands of visitors to the city centre in 2017.
“As winner of Independent Retailer of the Year last year, I always say to people that I don’t see other retailers as competition. I don’t see anyone as our competition. The truth is if another shop is bringing people into town, then that has to be a good thing for Perth. We all benefit from a thriving, busy city centre. All of us should be thinking at all times, what can I be doing to make my business more appealing and serve my customers better?
“Perth has a strong retail offer, but I firmly believe it can be even better. Luckily we’ve seen a lot of shop openings in the past year, so I think it’s already improving and I hope it continues to do so. Initiatives such a free Saturday parking certainly seem to have had a positive impact on the City. The shift to out of town retail parks has been detrimental to society, not just town centres, but we’re starting to see the renaissance of city centres as destinations. People love a vibrant town centre, so we all need to come together to make that happen and make Perth an even more attractive destination for inwards investors.”