Becnicks co founder Nicola Freer describes Becnicks as a shop selling “antique vintage retro- furniture, homeware, accessories, clothing interiors and accessories…and also hand made, quirky pieces that you’re not going to find elsewhere” I chatted to her and her co founder Rebekah Cooch in the shop on Brook St…
“We’ve known each other since we’re about 14.. from the Chester area, just knocking about, friends of friends, but we hadn’t really been hung around together for a few years…and then we ended up living round the corner and ended up going out boozin!
“I had an idea years ago of having an events venue and a vintage shop combined, I’d been working on a business plan for that. I was working part time and selling vintage and antique clothing at Lady Hayes. Beccy came with me to an auction one day, and said “this is kinda fun”. They ended up driving past the vacant Wheatsheaf Pub in Boughton and thought that it would be a good venue for their commercial and artistic dreams to flourish. Rebekah had given up her job in a retail family business. Nicola: “ we went, sod it! Lets start a business. Lets give it a go. We gave our self 5 weeks.. from the day we decided to do it to opening day.” The name Becnicks was chosen by combining their names plus “it sounded like a take on Beatniks, I was quite into at the time”
“We didn’t have any stock or any traders. I’d been working with Carrie Anderson and Jade Pickering at vintage fairs for a while and we used to have a vintage stall in Manchester market. We asked them if they wanted to be on board” They agreed. Rebekah was on board with her retail skills and a few other independent traders came on board. “We knew we needed bigger premises. We gave our self a year.. there was no footfall, wasn’t any parking.” The Boughton shop had limited window displays and the team knew they had to move somewhere bigger and better with increased footfall.
Rebekah takes up the story “you can walk into Chester city centre, its basically like any city centre in the country, they don’t accept small businesses, they don’t give you any help, any leeway with anything .Rates are extortionate, so its only big business that can afford to be in the centre Its just another boring city centre
“Brook st has a quirkiness that we fit in quite well with, they’re all little independents, and its a cross section.”.
Nicola agrees “ its a mixture of people and a mixture of cultures, which I like.This was a great building at a great place, after a bit of haggling , the rates were cheaper as well” Becnicks moved to Brook St in 2012 “We saw the premises and we did a bit of a recce. We sat in the Brook St cafe and observed how busy it was. “We got some bloody good traders in who did some really good promotion and got their areas looking shit-hot. Basically everybody working here is very dedicated, very hard working and understands how to run a business”
” We had a great opening.. it was me and you doing the building, the painting and plastering, trying to do it on a shoestring budget” says Nicola “Then it was the case of making sure everybody coming from the old premises with us, had their areas all sorted. A lot of people helped us out in the early days, Artichoke gave us nibbles, some canapés. Friends and family all helped. Everybody pulled together really well
“We’ve lost certain elements that we had before, we dont have a tearoom anymore, we dont have as many local artists anymore. We tried with the council to get a grant , we cant afford art space without the help of grants. To keep the bills paid, we need to generate income from that.. its constant work , but its doing something you enjoy…”
“and with no help at all!” Rebekah
“I was going for a positive here love!” says Nicola, the pairs double act friendship very evident (they have known each other for over 20 years)
“lets be positive, then negative!”
“what difference does it make?” they laugh
Rebekah “I’ve always done all the boring paperwork stuff and she’s done the promo side”
Nicola “building up the facebook and social media is quite hard work, fun but hard work.. As you know, it takes a lot of time doesn’t it, social media!”
Nicola spoke of Becnicks role as an artistic hub. “We have had people want to use the shop for things, The Glendale family, Shy and the Fight, they used it for practice..Jonathon Coley “shockingly good” A Comedian wanted to do his promo shots here, we’ve had wedding photos ,we’ve had West Cheshire college doing an art exhibition for the students, we’ve done charity things , coffee mornings.. we want to do more of these things!” Becnicks was the venue for a discussion forum about the @ShitChester phenomena last year.
Rebekah would welcome more council backing “we were doing something for charity, we set it as a casino theme and they wouldn’t let us do it… it wasn’t even a casino. We weren’t allowed to have a child’s roulette wheel out as it was encouraging people to come in gambling. Apparently they had seen the promotion they had put in the Chester Chronicle and said we couldn’t do it. We’d get a fine!”
Nicola “we would have been closed down for the day, with a child’s roulette wheel and a box of chocolates!”
“We did our own mini carnival last Month, with cakes and treats The money went to the Big Bottle fund. Its to do with a rare form of cancer. Next month we have “on your bike” July 25th, which is a little bike trail down the canal from Lime Woodfields, you find clues on the way if you find a Becnicks star, bring it in and you get a prize” Refreshments will be available on the day.
“If you’re an independent retailer, you have to keep reminding people that you’re here. You dont have massive budgets for advertising, you have to find ways of doing it . For us its a lot of old school marketing, flyering, door to door. We get regular customers that come back time and again”
Rebekah says “thing is we have such a quick turnover of stock, especially furniture wise. We know we can keep the regular customers because they come in and it’ll be different and it’ll be fresh” The team are having a stall at Minerva Lodge Chester pride fundraiser and were also present at the MLTC winter gathering in December, We do a lot at outside events, Carrie (Junkbox) and Siobhan (Deadstock curios) are very good at outside events. Siobhan quite often does the antique fair and Brian(Woodstocks vinyl) quite often goes to the record fairs .. partly just to spread the word, you cant ever rest .. you have to constantly push…” The current range of traders also includes Kimberley Jane Anderson of Grunge Monkey and Jade Pickering fashion.
Rebekah “we’ve had a really great time the last four years, its been fun… hard work but fun. Build it and they will come..” “an incredible journey” jokes Nicola with a mock American accent . I pressed the team for anecdotes : “something good must have happened in four years?”
“Well we go to auctions a lot , we’ve never bought anything back quite so crazy, as .. turns out, a dead person! It was the ashes in an urn… !”
“We do think we have a ghost though. When you’re in here of a night working on you’re own… the mannequins get to you dont they “ She says that lots of the team have two jobs and do work in the evenings in the shop “if you cant do it in the day because you’ve got other things on , you work two jobs, you have to have a passion for what you’re doing otherwise its just not gonna work . Working two jobs so you get to do something you actually like doing is a big one”
Life on Brook St has had its ups and downs as Rebekah describes “the first day we came to the building , we got out of the car, we walked into some guy, just being hit on a bike..” On opening day” some guy came in and screamed at Beccy about scrabble , screaming, we had to throw him out” .
Nicola says that “There was another crazy guy, he asked me out once, previously he screamed in my face for half an hour about nothing. We are used to dealing with quite an odd mix of people down here. I think Brook St is probably one of the best streets in Chester , you can buy all sorts of stuff, in the Polish shop you can stuff cheap , but its well nice. Traders all look out for each other, the funeral parlour are dead nice, the Istanbul BBQ” She also praises KASH bar where they have hosted a number of events.
Rebekah feels that “it comes back to the council because they put that barrier around the town dont they …the ASBO boundary, and so basically we get all the weirdo’s, and no security! Actually the PCSO we’ve got at the moment is really nice and he’s lovely.” They also praise Guy from neighbouring shop, Happy Days.. “he always looks out for us. If we get any serious shit, with the threat of violence he will come and help us out”
“We once had a taxidermy owl taken… they walked out of here with it down their pants.” The owl thief sadly died later from a drugs overdose.
As the interview comes to a close Nicola sums up the Becnicks philosophy “We hardly charge any commission.. we do it predominantly so people have a creative outlet . We open our doors to anyone that wants to do something in the community, we do have an open door policy” They plan to “keep trading, keep going strong, get the website going, hopefully get some kind of storage facility, keep supporting other local people. Just keep bloody going, its hard enough to do that!”
Thank you Becnicks http://becnickswonderemporium.com/