Before I interview shopkeeper Darren Simpson of the Bears Trading Company, I hear from various town sources that he is ‘The Man of Tankerton’. He humbly denies this (by declaring he is one of seven from The Talk of Tankerton team), but I can quickly tell that Darren is a man of creative conviction and a spirit that every independent trader needs on his side.
Why did you choose to set up in Tankerton
We very nearly didn’t! Peter and I had been looking for premises for three years and had actually found a farm in Scotland for a bed and breakfast. Then this shop became available which used to sell fruit and veg with a tearoom attached. When we viewed it, the landlady was someone I had worked with previously at Whitstable Castle. It felt like it was meant to be. We renovated it in 2016 and opened in November. Inside we created it into a frontier-style trading post from the early 1900s with clad walls and bears over the fireplaces and we specialise in offering great food and coffee and ice cream in our tea room with gorgeous bears to cuddle and collect along with gift items.
I was born in Castle Road and have lived in Whitstable all of my life, so it was great to be able to stay in the area.
What do you love about your business and working here?
It’s so laid back here and we work with other traders, there’s no ‘them and us’ amongst the shops. To be able to call owners friends is a real achievement. Tankerton has a really strong community.
Are there any funny anecdotes that you can share?
We did have a customer who knocked Peter out once by mistake! He was a dad who had rushed in to buy a present for his daughter’s birthday. He bought a 53-inch teddy bear and Peter carried it out to the gentleman’s car. He accidentally pulled the boot down on top of Peter’s head and knocked him out!
What is special about your products?
We are both from a hospitality background, I’ve trained as a chef and worked in hotels, Peter used to work on cross channel ferries and we are both collectors and love our bears. We wanted to combine our passions into a business for ourselves and endeavour to give all our customers we welcoming, positive experience.
On the bear side we have special cuddle bears for new-born upwards and the special collection bears such as the Charlie Bear collection and Steiff for serious collectors like ourselves. We have a lot of bear and food knowledge!
How do you take your coffee?
Hot and black and it has got to be a decent one. We have a bespoke coffee blend here at Bears Trading that we created especially for us. We only ever tell customers three of the ingredients out of the four to keep it secret. It is a blend of Columbian, Brazillian, New Guinea arabica style coffee beans and the last one is a secret. We are really fussy about our coffee.
A couple of times during the year we try to do a whole day of coffee tastings elsewhere. We have just done one in Brighton. We won’t do local tastings as we don’t want to duplicate what everyone else’s niche is, we will visit places such as London and Birmingham.
What do your customers say about you?
We are well known for our banter with our customers. Peter and I are not your normal quiet shop keepers, once we get to know them we have a laugh and a joke. We sometimes have to warn new customers who may come in during fun chit-chat. It is like welcoming people into our own home. We just want everyone to feel welcomed even doggies!
Why do you think shopping local is important?
To me local independent traders are the heart and soul of any community. There are people out there that rely on shops. We provide a space where people can feel welcomed and talked to, especially if they are on their own. With the Talk of Tankerton group, we give something back as the community too as they support us 52 weeks of the year and if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. We arrange new planters, clean up graffiti, arrange Christmas lights and it is all paid for by the local businesses.
What has been your proudest moment or biggest achievement?
Being nominated for Great British High Street awards. This will also be our fourth Christmas here and with the Talk of Tankerton this Christmas is set to be the best yet. I am proud to work with a great team of people who have put their energy into bringing this together.
What is your biggest selling item?
On the food side it would be our sticky salted caramel cake. On the gift side, it would definitely be our bears!
What other shops in Whitstable or Tankerton would you recommend to your customers?
All of them! Any independent shop, go and support them and spend money in them. It is the only way high streets will survive. Even if you just browse and say hello– it all helps.
I’m planning to treat my mum to one of their famous savoury afternoon teas and make a guess at that fourth ingredient in their bespoke coffee blend.