When Sam and Danielle Robins moved to Conflans (78) in March 2010, they were in search of a less stressful and more flexible lifestyle. Sam had spent over 20 years working for the Immigration Service in the UK and wanted to do something completely different. Danielle works for a global estate agency, so when the chance came to transfer to the Paris office, the couple decided to seize the opportunity. Sam explains why, “Danielle’s grandmother is French and as a result, she’d spent many childhood holidays in France. I love the country too and we initially thought about opening a gite in the Languedoc region. When we eventually ended up in the 78, I needed to find work and did a variety of things. Painting, decorating, gardening - you name it and I’ve done it. I even spent six months dropping supermarket catalogues through doors, which was utterly soul destroying as you don’t need a single brain cell!
We soon realised that there would be a huge market for imported British goods. There was nothing available in the local supermarkets and the British and international communities in our area were crying out for those ‘taste of home’ type products that can make all the difference when you are feeling a bit homesick or just need cheering up!”
So British Store was launched in November last year and began life as a stall on the local Sunday market. Their local expat population isn’t especially large but the couple knew that there was a potentially huge audience for their British products and so, very sensibly decided to head further afield. They now cover specialist and regular markets in Yvelines and Picardie: the locations are usually posted on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sobritishstore and are also currently in negotiation for a pitch at the highly sought after Saint Germain en Laye market.
Needless to say, all of this required endless paperwork and this alone, combined with the recent creation of the So British Store website and a house purchase, has kept them very busy! Luckily as Sam explains, “We are ‘yes’ people, which is kind of why we ended up in France. If someone asks us whether we can do something or get something for them, we will always give it a try.”
This approach really stands out when you look at the website. There’s a Suggest a Product page and no minimum order size. There’s a great range of all those kind of things that you suddenly get an odd craving for, from curry paste to piccalilli and they even stock malt vinegar - my personal addiction and something I haven’t been able to find anywhere in France. And for those of us whose kids have grown up almost entirely in France, it’s nice to be able to introduce them to things like traditional British jelly!! They also have some lovely British tea sets which make great presents.
But where the So British Store really stands out from the crowd, is its selection of homeware and gifts. They have a lovely selection of typically British mugs and stock a wide range of Union Jack themed products, all of which would make great gifts for French friends and neighbours. I especially like the ‘Keep calm and blame the Euro’ mug and am also lusting after the Cherry Bakewell cake tin. Their selection of tea canisters and cake tins is really nice and is absolutely perfect if you are feeling a bit nostalgic! From ‘black cab’ key rings to Union Jack biros and brollies, this site has the lot.
It’s fun, it’s kitsch, it’s reasonably priced and most of all, it cheers up a miserable grey day. And given the weather we’ve had so far this year, I think we need all the cheering up we can get!
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