With a family background in retail going back more than six decades, it was a virtual no brainer that at some point Julia Swaisland would ‘set up shop’ and become an owner/operator of her own entrepreneurial endeavour.
After moving to Bradford 22 years ago, then starting a family with husband Steven, ideas for businesses germinated in the couple’s fertile minds. Seeing a growing need for a cool, vibrant and diverse store for all the new homes being built in the community, the idea for what would become U At Home soon came to the fore, starting as a seasonal Christmas pop-up store for three months. That three months has turned into 14 years, as U At Home became a popular destination for folks seeking gift items, or accessories, décor and other neat knickknacks for their homes.
Over time, and listening to the desires and needs of customers, U At Home branched into personal care items and even clothing within the confines of their establishment, located at 25 Holland St. E.
Already in love with their adopted community, Julia and Steven knew they wanted to work in the same town they were living and raising their daughter. Upon discovery of a vacant building within which to operate their embryonic business, they quickly realized how popular their wares were, and what was meant to be just a temporary operation became, with the consent of an understanding and prescient landlord, the continuation of a business that has brough the couple much joy and added some flair to the community of BWG.
Things were moving along swimmingly as the product lines became more eclectic and diversified as the customer base, from inside and increasingly outside of BWG, found U At Home to be a pleasant shopping experience.
But then – COVID 19. The impact of the global pandemic was felt particularly hard throughout the retail sector, especially ones such as U At Home that depended on people walking across the threshold of their front door to survive.
It was time for some difficult choices and some innovative thinking for Julia and Steve. They had never really felt U At Home needed an online presence, but with most consumers moving to online options during the periods of lockdown, it was either dive into the deep end of e-commerce or see the business swamped.
Obviously, they did the former, and it proved to not only be the golden ticket to the business’s sustainability during the pandemic but is now a consistent and ever-growing source of revenue, alongside the now re-opened physical store. Customers wanted to support U At Home and by having the virtual shopping option, they could do just that, with the store also instituting a delivery service within the community.
Today, a whole new customer base has opened for them – essentially the world. But having much of their product line online also means local folks can do a little advance shopping and then come in to get a first-hand look at the items in which they are interested. Looking back, Julia and Steve realized that being online was just another way in which they listened to the needs of their customers, responded to those needs, and have reaped the rewards ever since.
With the COVID restrictions abating somewhat, and their doors now re-opened, both Julia and Steven are continually impressed and grateful for the support they and their business has received from the community, with folks often just popping their heads in just to say hi and see how everyone’s doing.
It is this sense of community and neighbourliness that brought the couple to Bradford in the first place, and why they are so happy to not only live, but also contribute to the growth and development of their town through their business.