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Interview: Sarah Holmes, Pencil Me In

I met the wonderful Sarah Holmes, proprietor of Pencil Me In (PMI), a few years ago at a trade show after many months DM'ing back and forth on Instagram. Her store in Elgin, Scotland is jam-packed full of hard to find stationery goodies and I was ecstatic when she ordered some of the Rama Publishing collection. I had the great pleasure to interview her recently to get some insight behind PMI and how they have navigated through the lockdown.

What does your typical day look like? 
Post-lockdown I am getting to the shop as early as possible to try and tick off some of my to-do list before we open at 10am. We have kicked off our reopening doing 10am-3pm (pre-lockdown it was usually 9:30am-4:30pm). I check the PMI emails, fire off any replies, and chase up anything I need to stay on top of. I always write a to-do list for the day which can comprise personalisation orders, picking out online orders, prep for posting, the weekly sales numbers, ordering, planning, stock layouts, and the constant tidying of our workshop out back (I am messy behind the scenes!). Naturally, my day is peppered with customer interaction. At some point (usually in the first hour) I jump on Insta Stories to update our community about new products, what’s happening at PMI that week and local events. 

What is your top working-from-home productivity tip? 
Create a calm workspace. I have a small office at home with a lovely view and I have tried hard to maintain its tidiness so it is always ready for me to work whether I have 4 hours or 40 minutes to be in there.  I recently popped up shelves which have photos and postcards from exhibitions and places I have visited. 
What are your essential stationery items? 

A sharp pencil. A fine pen.

How are you dealing with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic?
Very much trying to roll with the punches, which is one of my personal and business values. I’ve had to steer my shop through some lean times so I feel I am well versed for what is to come. I am talking to other shopkeepers on a regular basis and sharing best practise on how to approach things. Also checking in with suppliers, many of whom are sole traders themselves, seeing how the land lies and discussing how we can best support each other. Also linking in with people who work with lots of small businesses and checking on the lay of the land, and discussing ideas on what shops need and how publishers and designers can best link in with shops going forward without trade shows.

What is always in your pencil case? 
I have an A5 pencil case which also holds a grid dot notebook, which is essential for me. Naturally, I have upwards of 10 notebooks on the go at any one time. I have a sharp pencil or two, brass pencil sharpener, a Kaweco fountain pen, a Stabilo 0.4 fine tip in black or teal, headphones, business cards and another super fountain pen with turquoise ink.  

What motivates you each day? 
I love that my business supports many other small businesses, and it is so joyful placing an order for new stock, equally matched by when it arrives, it’s like getting a gift.  But right deep down, is the horror of the thought of not having my business and having to get a job working for someone else, no longer having all the amazing networks from my business, going to trade shows, buying stationery, building my community, and connecting with our wonderful customers. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Walking along a beach shore, just slightly in the water, listening to music, pretending I am the music video.

What are you currently reading? 
Pass, I am so bad at reading so nothing on the go, but my last book was Phillipa Grayson’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did). I’d recommend it for any parent, from pregnancy to grandparents, really great read. However, I do love a business book, especially entrepreneur autobiographies. My top go-to though is Simon Sinek's Start With Why. His TED Talk on the same topic changed my life back in 2013. 

Thank you Sarah for taking the time to let us know a bit more about the world of Pencil Me In! Make sure you check out their website and follow them on Instagram.