Hi Sophie. Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do!
Hi Lisa! I’m Sophie and I run a penguin themed online gift store called The Penguin Patrol. I work out of my spare room in Sheffield and I also work full time in Digital, so it’s a bit of a juggle!
I love the idea of a website dedicated to all things penguin-related! How did this come about?
It actually all started from a question from a work colleague actually! I had started an Instagram account for Pici Penguin, a cuddly toy bought for me from The Deep, where I documented his adventures – and after showing a co-worker the account they asked: “are you selling penguins too?” – I wasn’t, but that got me thinking, why wasn’t I?! I started researching into it, and after sourcing some possible products and doing some planning, The Penguin Patrol online store was born!
What kind of suppliers do you feature?
I feature items from all sorts of suppliers, from big brands such as Aurora World, who are US based and Keel Toys, a UK based company to independent makers and illustrators such as Martha & Hepsie (who are from Sheffield) and other small indie creators.
I also stock some cute imported stationery pieces from Japan – so pieces come from everywhere really! I do love stocking independent UK artists though, and I’m always on the lookout for new small creators to stock – as a small independent business myself, I know how important it is to champion others like me!
What does ‘A Day in the Life’ of Penguin Patrol like?
As I work full time, it’s a case of squishing some stuff into the evening or a weekend, but generally I spend time in the evenings printing and packaging any orders, and trying to schedule some social media posts or add any new items on to the store, plus planning future items and looking at products when I’m running low on stock.
I head to the post office during my lunch break if I’ve got an order, then repeat! I wish I could tell you a neat little routine that I do, and tell you how much it has contributed to the growth of my business, but in reality, I’m winging it all the time!
I work very haphazardly, going through super productive periods, where I manage to get lots of products listed, social media posts, Instagram content planned and emails sent out, and other times I just manage to get packages sent out.
I really struggle with being organised, doing planning and working consistently, that kind of thing, which I think people emphasise so much in a business – there is definitely a media narrative that harks the ‘super productive, ultra-planned, work hard and grind, boss business runner’ as the only way to be successful.
Of course, I can totally see how working like that is very helpful, but for me it’s not an innate skill or drive I have – I’ve got to work on it every day, and I often don’t manage to work in this way, but I know that I’m doing my best and that is enough for me. So if you’re like me and think you’re too unorganised for a small business, please don’t let that put you off!
Is there anything you’d have done differently if you knew what you know now?
A tricky one! I don’t think I would change much to be honest – there have been a few times where I’ve overbought on particular products under the impression that my ideas and product ideas will, of course, be a big success, where in reality I’ve struggled to sell them, but I do think that you’ve sometimes got to make those mistakes to learn from them!
I still have the physical stock, so that means I’ll just have to put in more work to promote those items and go get those sales – now I have more skills and knowledge in promotion and I’ve gotten market feedback about my items – all valuable learning points for the future.
Tell us an interesting penguin fact!
Did you know that a group of penguins in the water is called a ‘raft’.