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Independents on how trade has been since non-essential retail reopened

Tom Bottomley
21 April 2021

It’s been just over a week now since retailers were able to reopen their stores on 12 April and fashion independents have now got the first weekend of trading since Lockdown 3 under their belts. The mood has been positive, with customers enjoying being out to get their retail “fix” after so many months stuck inside, or out with nowhere to go.

Here’s what some independents have experienced so far back on the shopfloor.

Chris Terry The Modern Draper

Chris Terry

Chris Terry, Managing Director, The Modern Draper, Beverley, Yorkshire

It’s still early days but thankfully we had a solid week. Perhaps not the queues out of the door that some were predicting, but a steady stream of old faces and new customers alike. The feeling has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are lucky to have many friends among our customers, and both staff and customers alike seem very happy to be having a bit of social interaction once again.

"I admit that we did open a magnum of champagne towards the end of Saturday’s trade"

We’re not doing anything in terms of discounts or promotions to entice people back in, or anything like that. We’re just giving a very warm welcome, great customer service and a fantastic product offer. I admit though that we did open a magnum of champagne towards the end of Saturday’s trade that our friends at Veja kindly sent to us! That went down well.

In terms of what people have been most interested in, it’s been a real mixture in terms of brands. I’d say that our newer, more streetwear orientated store has been the busiest, which might indicate that some of our older customers are being a bit more cautious. The most frequently heard thing though was ‘I’m looking for something to wear for a trip to the pub’!

Off the top of my head, I’ve seen some good results from the new SS21 collections from Portuguese Flannel, Lacoste, Armorlux, Veja and Obey. It’s hard to say how SS21 will pan out, but we remain optimistic despite having some catching up to do.

Victoria Suffield

Victoria Suffield

Victoria Suffield, Owner and Director, The Hambledon, Winchester

We had an amazing first week back. It wasn’t crazy busy in terms of footfall, which was a surprise but hugely helpful in terms of crowd management. I think every customer came with intent, so turnover was really good. Less busy, but more lucrative. I think customers are absolutely delighted to be back out. They've been very respectful of other shoppers in terms of Covid security, and very grateful to us for being open. There’s definitely a feelgood factor from both sides.

Prior to reopening, we obviously had a jolly good tidy and clean, as three months closed and running a busy online business created a lot of chaos, but we're not launching any particular initiatives to drive customers back.

"I think we just have to be the very best version of ourselves and encourage customers' good feelings about the shop."

I think we just have to be the very best version of ourselves and encourage customers' good feelings about the shop. We're obviously communicating with our database several times a week about what's going on, but I don't want to do any discounting or promotional activity to drive business. It has been a difficult year, which we have weathered pretty well, and I'm not interested in creating an environment where promotion is the easy fall back and becomes a customer expectation. As ever, we want to be about beautiful and unusual product in a beautiful environment.

Gratifyingly, customers are buying into everything. On menswear, we’re doing really well with NN07, which is new to us so that's very encouraging. We've also had a great start with Ganni since we reopened. I think it's a brand with such a strong online presence of their own, that we tend not to sell it so well online, but it has a real following in store. Bellerose always does well for us too. In homeware, I think our strong presentation of key new brands like Colombia Collective has driven some healthy sales.

In terms of how we see SS21 panning out, I think it depends on a number of things. We'd gain from a run of sunny weather for starters. We'd definitely see the benefit of a bit of foreign travel later in the season as well. We're hoping to keep the season running at full price for a few weeks longer than usual as it has been such a late start, but we'll have to keep a close eye on other retailers in terms of Sale dates. And we have to keep our online sales buoyant if we're going to begin to claw back turnover lost in the first three months of the year. Broadly speaking, I'm feeling pretty optimistic. Obviously, any further lockdown would be disastrous.

Jason Ody

Jason Ody, Owner, Le Monde, Wolverhampton

It’s certainly been good to be reopen, and last week was decent business-wise. There’s definitely been a bit of a bounce. The only thing is, people still can’t really go out as such, in terms of in pubs, clubs and restaurants, and we’re linked to the leisure industry really. Yes, people can meet outdoors, but it’s been cold! It might be a bit of game changer when people can go in leisure venues again, but I do think people are still a bit cautious, with everyone asking each other if they’ve had the jab.

However, the reopening has still been received well as people have come for their retail ‘fix’ as it were. Being left with stock from AW20 is a bit of an issue, so I’ve got a bit more stock than I’d like, but there’s nothing we can do about that – we’ve just got to manage our cash flow. We’re getting new stock in when we can, as we sell the stock we have. It’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube!

The first weekend back was good, but it wasn’t like coming out of the last lockdown, which was like a Christmas week. We’re restarting, and it’s a process. I think people need to feel confident, and it’s hard to predict anything at the moment.

We’re in a secondary position in Wolverhampton city centre and footfall has picked up, but it seems to be more younger people. They’re definitely more comfortable with being out and about.

"I’m not going down the discounting route, it’s a waste of time. We’re thinking of new marketing strategies, maybe targeting a more local audience."

A new Flannels store opened in Wolverhampton towards the end of last year, so it’s probably no coincidence that we’re no longer able to stock Stone Island and C.P. Company. They have the power after all. That’s changed the landscape somewhat as you’re not going to replace those brands. They are very specific. A new Frasers concept store also opened in Wolverhampton last Monday, 12 April.

We’re now buying brands that aren’t so heavily distributed, as well as newer and younger brands such as Daily Paper, which has been very good. Hoodies and sweats go for £90 - £100, and Tees are about £65. We’ve had Carhartt for about four seasons and that’s been doing well for us, and Nigel Cabourn, which was new for us for AW20, has performed well so far.

I’m not going down the discounting route, it’s a waste of time. We’re thinking of new marketing strategies, maybe targeting a more local audience. We’ll have a fresh load of students coming in to Wolverhampton from September, so we’re trying to develop our social media side – mainly Instagram. We’ve really got to reinvent ourselves a bit.

Room 14

Rowan Hines, Owner, Room 14, Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester

The bounce last week was really good. It helped that it was dry and sunny and, despite it being a bit nippy, people were still going out for a drink in a beer garden. It’s just nice to be back open and get some sort of normality back. It was a feelgood week all round.

I usually open Tuesday to Saturday, but last week I made an exception and opened on Monday, 12 April, like most others. Everything was positive and people were in a good frame of mind – just happy to be out and about doing things they’d missed. Saturday was very good and people coming through the door were generally leaving with something, just because they wanted that ‘fix’. Most of my regulars have been back in, even if it was just to say hello and have a catch up. They were genuinely happy for me to be back open, as they appreciate it’s been hard. And most of them bought something.

"I’d say it was as busy as I’d expected it to be. It wasn’t chaotic, it was just a nice steady busy all through the week"

I’d say it was as busy as I’d expected it to be. It wasn’t chaotic, it was just a nice steady busy all through the week, getting busier on Friday and Saturday. I’m on my own, so it’s not hard to make me busy! I wasn’t expecting it to be like a Christmas week, although I know some people were, but I was certainly expecting a bounce, which I got.

It was a tricky one reopening and toying with a discount day or week, or a bounce back Sale, but thankfully I didn’t. If it hadn’t been very busy, I’d really have needed to hold on to my margins, and the gamble of no reopening promotions has paid off.

Fred Perry and Selected Homme have done very well, also Farah footwear. Where people have been living in loungewear for the best part of a year, a lot of them wanted to jump in to something more semi-smart but casual, whether it be a Fred Perry polo shirt or an overshirt from Selected Homme.

I’m very positive regarding SS21. With the pre-orders I’ve done, I know what’s coming in and I’m very confident with that product. A lot of the brands I’m going forward with, I’ve had good performance from, so I kind of know what I’m going to get from them.

The benefit of the lockdown was I got a bit more traction to the website, so hopefully now the shop is open again they can both work in tandem.

Union Clothing

Doug Ellison, Co-owner, Union Clothing, Newcastle upon Tyne

Business has been very good since reopening. We didn’t anticipate it to be as busy as it has, as we thought it would take a few weeks before people slotted back in to shopping mode. We’ve got some good regulars who are twice yearly spenders, and when they come in, they spend big.

There seems to be a lot of cash around funnily enough, especially with the guys that come in who are in the trades such as plumbers, electricians and engineers. They’ve all been super busy through lockdown, and they all seem to have cash burning a hole in their pockets – or burning a hole in a shoe box under the bed!

Last week was equivalent to a Christmas week for us in the shop, and we had a really good Saturday. We’ve just got to see if that continues. I don’t think it will if I’m brutally honest, but it would be lovely if it did.

Over the lockdown, the online business has built up quite dramatically and has kept steady, but towards last weekend our online sales dropped off a little bit. We’ll have to see how that all balances out with the shop now reopen.

We’ve actually just had the website redesigned to coincide with the reopening as we had the time to do it while we were closed, and we’re generating more on social media – putting at least one post out a day on Instagram, which is the real driver.

"We’ve not had a proper Sale for about two and half years. We just keep the stock ticking over and make sure we get on to the winners quickly."

The good thing about where we are is all the pubs and restaurants – of which there are plenty near us - have had to adapt and there’s loads of new outdoor seating areas. It’s been great for us as more people are coming in as a result – it’s made us more visible even if we are in a secondary site in Newcastle. There’s more people on the streets. It’s also a good thing that we’re not in a more high profile and high rent location, as that’s why we’ve survived as long as we have.

In terms of brands, it’s still Carhartt that’s really doing it for us. It’s a volume brand for us because we’re quite a big account, and historically we’ve always been able to replenish on the winners quite quickly to maximise sales.

We’ve not had a proper Sale for about two and half years. We just keep the stock ticking over and make sure we get on to the winners quickly. If a Carhartt product is hot, it’s generally hot right across the country, so we get in quick and buy more on the B2B system.

We’ve had a good week on denim, especially Edwin, because people haven’t really been buying denim in lockdown. Nearly all the brands across the board have been doing well for us, such as By Parra and a new one we’ve had in from Manchester, called Uskees. It’s from the guy who used to be the agent for Dickies. He put a little story together last year – with jackets along the lines of Le Laboureur and Vetra, but in a much lighter fabric. They’re quite an ethical company, and there’s some great casual blazers and smocks. It’s a good tight collection that’s competitively priced, and it’s working well.

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