Marie Hawthorne opened Sweet Marie’s, purveyors of the most dazzling and delightful party décor, just before the Easter rush and what a stir the shop has created in the village. With the most beautiful window display, balloons galore and party pieces you will be proud of at a gathering.

I caught up with Marie to find out more about her venture and what we can expect to see in the window next.

Tell me a little about you and your background?

I grew up in Cheshire and after studying for my degree at Nottingham Trent University I started on a graduate training scheme at BLACK & DECKER, a global manufacturer of power tools and home appliances and I ended up working at the company for the next 19 years. I worked in various product development and product marketing roles and more recently as BLACK+DECKER Global Licensing Director. I absolutely loved my time at the company - I worked on many exciting projects and I travelled the world - I had some pretty amazing times there! In 2016 however, I had a little girl and she changed everything for me. Working late into each evening and travelling long haul to Asia and America became more and more difficult. I knew in my heart something would have to give and so it was time to force a career change!

What was your inspiration to open Sweet Marie’s?

Even before Ava was born I had a dream of opening a party and gift store. My hobby for many years has been baking and I often found I was sourcing supplies from retail sites outside of the UK. I was inspired by party styling blogs in Australia and the U.S, and followed the latest trends. The concept of bringing together a curated range of party supplies from the best global suppliers really appealed to me. Having Ava was really the impetus in following my dream.

What can we expect to see in Sweet Marie’s?

My aim with the shop is to offer a wide range of high quality party essentials. The key categories are Tableware, Party Decorations, Balloons, Baking, Favours & Gifts, Gift Wraps & Greeting Cards and Childrens Dress Up - everything you need to throw an amazing party for all celebrations in life!

So many party products seem to come with an environmental impact, how have you manged to keep this to a minimum?

I have partnered with several UK based and Global suppliers that offer the very best in party supplies and who share a passion for creating great product designs, underpinned with superior product quality and with an eco-conscious! I will be avoiding as much as possible the disposable plastic products that are so common in the party industry - all of the party tableware lines in the shop are paper based; the greetings cards and gift wraps are printed in the UK using vegetable based inks on FSC certified papers and are packaged in bio-degradeable cellos; I have a fully stocked balloon bar offering 100% latex balloons (which biodegrade in landfill at the same rate as an oak leaf!) and I weight all helium filled balloons for free to prevent the accidental release of balloons into the environment.

What do you enjoy most and least about working independently?

My mornings are a lot less stressful than when I was working in Corporate. I now have breakfast at home with my daughter and it’s a much nicer start to the day. Previously I was dropping her into nursery at 7.30am and spending the next hour in heavy traffic to the office. I also absolutely don’t miss spending hours creating PowerPoint presentations or the late night conference calls with the U.S team! I am probably working as many hours as I did before, perhaps even more, but I know that everything I put into making my new business a success will directly benefit myself and my daughter long term so hopefully it will all be worth it. I am very passionate about ensuring my business has a sustainable future and that will come from providing my customers with unique and appealing products and a high level of service they wouldn’t necessarily get if they were ordering party goods off the internet or a large high street store.

I am really loving be a part of the Cookham community and meeting all the people who have visited. Everybody has been complimentary about the store and the product lines and that’s really great! I am also finding that people are travelling from outside of the area to visit and that’s really positive for me too - If my little shop can help attract new people to our village and help boost the high street footfall than it will feel like I am giving something back to the community.

What’s a typical day at Sweet Marie’s?

Well so far no two days have been the same! First coffee! And then I typically I have a quick tidy around after I arrive, check emails that have come through overnight and track any scheduled deliveries for that day. If I have customers collecting balloons that day I aim to get the orders prepared in the morning.

I am still settling into the premises and so any time when I don’t have customers I spend organising the stock and unpacking new products which have been delivered. I am also planning on launching a website so I can offer National and International deliveries of all the items I stock and so I have also been busy uploading content to the site. If I do get a spare five minutes here and there then I try and take photos of the products to upload to the social media pages.

This past week I have been placing all of my orders for Quarter 4, which has been really exciting. There are so many amazing products I will be stocking through the Autumn / Winter time - for Halloween, Christmas and NYE2020.

How does being in Cookham help your business?

I have had so many of the local residents supporting the shop opening - everybody has been really lovely and I think happy that we now have a little shop in the village offering party and gift supplies. I get a real sense that the local people are keen to support the independents on our High Street because it’s important to them to be able to shop local and that’s really great.

There are a lot of families in the village and therefore a lot of childrens birthday parties taking place and so I have had a high level of interest for balloons and party decorations & tableware. It’s lovely to have the little ones come into the shop and choose their ‘Birthday Theme’.

The Greetings cards and gift side is also going particularly well and of course when we had the lovely sunny weather recently there were a lot of people hosting BBQ’s and so were looking for outdoor catering supplies. I’ve been really happy with the support I’ve had in the first four weeks of opening!

How do you maintain your work/life balance?

Currently the shop is closed on a Sunday and Monday. I try not to work at all on a Sunday and dedicate the day to my daughter - we always try to get out and about to do something fun and just fully switch off and unwind for the day, it’s our only full day of the week that we have together and so I try my best to make the most of it. We are so lucky that we have so many great restaurants and places to visit in the area and so it’s not hard to have a lovely day out!

I typically spend Monday preparing for the week ahead - admin tasks, house chores, order the grocery shop, preparing our clothes for the week and anything else that needs my attention - basically anything I can get done to ensure the rest of the week and our routine runs smoothly. In the shop and at home I have a rule - if something can be done in under a minute to get it done there and then, I find this small rule really helps keep things in order and stops the ‘To Do’ list from building up too much.

Do you have any exciting events planned for Sweet Marie’s?

For the first 6 months I am very much focussed on getting the shop running smoothly and bringing in new product lines and of course launching the website. I am taking on board the feedback I am getting a good understanding of which products are most favoured - for example I have just expanded the Greeting Card offering because I am finding they are selling particularly well and the Gift side also - I have lots of lovely new bits coming into store over the next few weeks. I think when you start any new business the early days should really be focussed on getting the word out there and so I am investing in some targeted marketing which will run through May/June.

As for events, the first big event I am planning for is the Christmas product launch and I will be looking to host a ticket only Christmas pre launch party at the shop in early October - I have great plans to transform the shop into a magical grotto filled with dazzling and delightful party decorations and gifts. I am already getting very excited about the products I will be stocking!

What is your no.1 product of the moment?

We have a few products that have been super popular since we opened our doors four weeks ago - but the top three from a volume perspective are the Meri Meri Shark Balloon, Hank In The Bag and the Cherry PomPom necklace!

Make sure you head along to Sweet Marie's between 16 - 22 May, mention Mums about Cookham and you'll receive a 15% discount on your purchase. Now is the time to stock up for upcoming parties and events!

Website: www.sweetmaries.co.uk (Launching in June!)

Instagram: @sweetmariespartyshop

Facebook: Sweet Marie’s Party Shop