Plucked straight from the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley and landed halfway up Brighton’s Trafalgar St., one of the city’s many centralised shopping destinations, resides Oliver’s Brighton, an olde world trinket store, dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter franchise.
Your guide among its shelves upon shelves of officially licensed Harry Potter products, the independently run Oliver’s Brighton is owned by Oliver Dall, a self- confessed super-fan of the multi-billion dollar franchise and the self-appointed compere to Brighton’s population of Potterheads.
Allow him to facilitate your journey into the magical world, and you’ll soon be uncovering a trove of goods imaginable only to the most devout fan.
Oliver’s Brighton is only new to scene, having opened in November 2017, but has already got a string of awards to its name. In 2018 it was handed Brighton and Hove Business Awards Start Up of the Year, and earlier this year named One to Watch in the Best Independent Retailer category and Highly Commended in the Best Customer Service award.
This year saw the shop in the running for Independent Retail’s Best Small Shop in the UK. That’s all before Oliver Dall even makes mention of the more than 2000 Five-Star reviews and recommendations his shop has received within just two years.
With such a wealth of recognition behind it, there’s no doubt that Oliver’s Brighton is leaving its mark on the locals and tourists from near and far, alike. But just how did it all begin for Dall, and what is it that Oliver’s Brighton is getting so right?
“I love anything to do with the geeky genre – from Lord of the Rings to Adventure Time, but Harry Potter was something I grew up with as a kid,” recalls Dall.
“The biggest moment of fascination came from when I read the book, The Philosopher’s Stone, and that summer went to see the film. After seeing the film, we went to the Co Op and saw they were selling these Chocolate Frogs, and it was at that moment that it all came together.
“Suddenly, I had something tangible in my hands from that world. That subsequently became my focus to collect all of the chocolate frogs, and spend all my pocket money on this new found passion.”
It was some years, and a few career moves later, including a stint running a photo booth business and a spell at Fuji Film, that Dall struck upon the idea of recouping the money spent on Harry Potter by his younger self, and set up shop as Brighton’s premiere inspired retailer.
“I needed to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes at Warner Bros, so I contacted them and they came back to me saying that as long as I don’t pretend to be official, and as long as I only sell officially approved product, and don’t make it into an immersive experience, then I won’t be upsetting them. That was enough for me to get going with the plan.”
By November 11 2017, Dall’s vision of an authentic looking magical shop was realised and open to the public.
“It’s been amazing, the response I have had,” he continues. “During the opening, it was social media that captured people’s attention. They were saying ‘Oh my God, there’s a wizarding shop coming to Brighton,’ then the newspapers heard about it and started running stories, and before I knew it, it was opening day. There was a four and a half hour queue that snaked all the way down the street, zigzagged through the alleys. It was absolutely crazy.”
The excitement around Oliver’s Brighton, while not at the fever pitch it was two years ago, remains very strong today, Dall explains. It’s a concept that has certainly captured the consumers’ attention. So much so, in fact, that Dall recalls being approached on more than one occasion to franchise outwards and build up a portfolio of stores.
“Without sounding too big-headed, the shop is what it is because of me and my staff,” says Dall. “The moment I get greedy is the moment I fail, because how do I make sure the calibre is the same across the two?
“I want to stick with Brighton because the shop is never finished. We are always perfecting it. The way I look at the business – even though it’s coming up to two years and is doing well – is that there is never nothing to do.”
The key to his success these past two years, Dall divulges, is down to his own immersion in the local community. It’s on the strength of the community, after all, that Dall believes local prosperity is built.
“I am so involved in the community – shopping at independents, helping out the local neighbours, whether that’s the hand I played in sorting out the sewage problem the area had, or helping the neighbours clear up the graffiti,” Dall explains.
“If you get on with your neighbours, it will work in your favour. If you ignore them, you’re not going to be strong and you can’t survive in isolation.”
But just because it’s been a successful first two years for Dall – a Slytherine with a rabbit Petronus (he’s done all the research) – it hasn’t come without the same struggles as the UK’s population of indie retailers.
“It’s hard. Very, very hard in this climate,” says Dall. “Everyone I have spoken to who has been in retail for ten or 20 years have all said this is the hardest time there’s ever been. Whether there’s a specific reason for that, it almost doesn’t matter because you still have to think outside of the box.”
Success, according to Dall, is the derivative of delivering consistently good customer service.
“If you can do the best flipping customer service you possibly can, and I don’t just mean that Americanised version, but genuine, sincere customer service,” he explains. “An example is that we get many customers – adults or children – with autism, who prefer a quieter environment and one on one service.
“I do my best to make them feel comfortable and at ease. I don’t make a big show of anything, just turn the music down and let them know I’m around if they need anything. We get a five star reviews from that, and the parents tell us it’s the best shopping experience their child has ever had. It meant a lot to me. That’s how the independents will win,”says Dall. “Because we mean it.”