Fresh out of university, graphic designer Dominic Early worked feverishly to pay the bills selling his handmade cards on a market stall in Spitalfields.
22 years later he and his wife Heidi run one of Stoke Newington’s most popular and community-minded shops: Earlybird Cards.
They’ve been in Church Street for 14 years and recently moved to a new store – to what used to be Rosa Lingerie.
Heidi and Dominic met at university – she was training as a journalist and he was studying at Central St Martin’s. She went on to work for various magazines, including OK and Director Magazine, where she learnt a lot about running a small business.
She said: “At the beginning Dom made all his cards individually – our flat in Clapton was full of cards and he spent hours cutting and sticking. Business got better and better and I divided my time between freelance writing and Earlybird. When the redevelopment of Spitalfields was announced we took on the lease of a shop in Stokey. After a while we were busy enough for me to stop my journalism work to focus on the business.”
Earlybird began printing Dominic’s designs and working with other local artists. They now supply greetings cards to shops all over the UK. Their wholesale business benefits from the insight they get in the shop; enabling them to spot trends and find gaps in the market.
Heidi added: “When our son Oliver was born we were so busy there was no chance of me taking maternity leave - we put a travel cot out the back. Just as the customers have seen our children grow, so we’ve loved seeing their children get bigger and go to university.
“Stoke Newington is a brilliant place to be a small business; people value independents, it’s what they want here and we have incredibly loyal customers. We’ve built amazing friendships and support the community. People look out for each other here – we’re all part of something. I like the idea that this would be a familiar, safe place for a child to come if they ever needed help.
“Stokey has changed a lot since we came – there definitely used to be more crime; the introduction of Radio Watch between businesses has helped.”
Earlybird Cards is one of dozens of local shops offering discounts to members of the Local Buyers Club. They’ve been part of its predecessor (The Family Card) for the past few years.
Heidi added: “The card has really helped us to develop our personal relationships with our customers. It sparks that recognition and creates a talking point. Our customers love getting a good deal and that in turn rewards us by creating loyalty.”