About Simply The Best/Outside The Box
Simply The Best Introduction
In 2005, Dornoch became the first Fairtrade Town in the Scottish Highlands. In 2009, Simply The Best opened their doors, becoming the first shop in Dornoch dedicated to Fair Trade.
Simply The Best was set up to give something back. By selling beautiful goods handmade by talented artisans around the world, they aim to improve awareness of the concept of Fair Trading.
The artisans are paid a fair price for their goods, and also a Fair Trade Premium. This Premium is used by the communities for life-enriching projects such as freshwater wells, health services, schools and other things we take for granted.
So why did we start Simply The Best?
It all started with a photo frame. One day, shopping with the family in Inverness, we saw a rather nice solid wooden photo frame with a number of apertures. As my wife said, "Just right for some pictures of our kiddies". The frame was duly purchased...(and filled with photos of our kiddies!). As at the time I was working as a freelance photographer, I thought it might be good to use these in my work - and maybe sell them in the photographic studio and gallery I was hoping to open once I found premises.
I found out who the UK supplier was (Shared Earth), contacted them and received a catalogue by return. I was amazed to find it was crammed full of all sorts of Fair Trade goodies. I already had the photo frame, so I knew the exceptional quality. It got me thinking....
By pure chance I happened upon a place that was being built - actually it was to be two units, but I reasoned that as a photographic studio may well not be busy all the time, if I took both units I could use the smaller unit as an outlet for all these new Fair Trade goodies that I had found.
Realising what Fair Trade was all about...
Well, as I looked at the catalogue more and more, and read stories of the producers, I came to realise that opening a Fair Trade shop could be a really cool thing to do, and potentially much more fulfilling than photography. Serendipity had played her hand before; a few years previously I had re-discovered a long-lost love of photography, when I was made redundant from a very technology-related job. It looked rather like she was about to change my life again.
I changed my plans and decided to run the studio from the smaller unit, leaving the (much larger) unit for Fair Trade. As the building neared completion, I started sourcing from other suppliers and planning the layout. This was exciting....! My first job had been working for an electronics shop and since then I had worked in pricing and obviously with photography and design. It seemed that all my life had been leading up to this; I had all the skills and I just needed to apply them. What better cause than to work in a field where I could help folk by selling their beautiful products, and meeting marvellous customers who cared as much as I did?
To be perfectly honest, before I set eyes on that photo frame and started thinking, I had no idea about Fair Trade. Of course I cared for people worse off than myself, but it had never been made so personal to me. Now my life took on extra meaning. It wasn't just about bringing up a marvellous family with my (long-suffering and) wonderful wife - it was about how I could help others at the same time.
Since opening the shop, we opened up two more rooms (the photographic studio and gallery never happened...) and the number of products we sell has increased dramatically; as of April 2019 we listed over 4,000 different product lines, from over 40 suppliers and coming from over 200 mainly small suppliers. We don't just sell Fair Trade items; we also source organic and eco-friendly goods, although our mainstay is still Fairly Traded items.
Given a choice between an item that is Fairly Traded and an item that is not, we will choose the Fairly Traded item every time. Sometimes we may stock a Fairtrade item and alternative that is organic - but only if the alternative is not *un*fairly traded; it may be produced in the UK, for instance. We sell NO items that are Un-Fairly Traded.
Over the last year, because of customer demand, we have introduced a range of Scottish souvenirs, which unfortunately are not Fair Trade items. We have also increased - and are continuing to increase - our range of wooden educational toys. While they aren't Fair Trade items, most of them are FSC and ethical. We have also introduced a number of items based on 'Pop Culture' -Marvel, DC Comics, Harry Potter, Pokemon, TY Beanies - which cater for those who are some way on from wooden jigsaw puzzles but haven't quite reached bicycle chain coat hooks :-)
Where do we go from here?
We keep doing what we do well; sourcing Simply The Best products from around the world, selling them at reasonable prices and giving our customers a wealth of information about the people behind the goods. Every item comes with a little card giving, as far as possible, some information about the people who made the item. Where this is not possible, we tell you about the importer and how they work with their producers.
We also opened another shop in Dornoch which we've called 'Outside The Box Toys & Gifts', which is currently being run by my daughter. She now stocks a huge range of all sorts of Toys & Gifts from major brands. lots of things you'll have difficulty finding elsewhere...
And the Internet?
We've been through a few iterations, using different platforms and we're confident our new site is the best compromise between features and usability. It's by 'Shopify', a Canadian company who have been very helpful in setting up this site. Thanks also to 'Digital Boost', who provided a grant so we could bring our offering right up-to-date.
What a clever doggie :-)