From Recession to Success
I think about the different groups of customers we have and try to categorise them, which makes me focus my buying. Anne Wright
After nearly 25 years in the food industry Anne Wright followed her passion for fashion and took over an ailing indie fashion retailing business in her home town.
Just then, the recession hit…
…now she is an award-winning independent premium and womenswear retailer.
Young Ideas was an established womenswear shop that I’d known for a long time. The owner had been running it since the late 60’s and it had a small but loyal customer base and great staff. But it had run out of steam and wasn’t winning new, younger customers to replace the older ones.
Even though I wasn’t starting a business from scratch, it felt that way because I came from the food industry. Although that meant I was used to dealing with retailers and understood the importance of new product, it’s very different from running a small business.
I learnt very quickly that you are at the sharp end because it’s your own money. You have to make all the decisions that matter. I bought Young Ideas in 2008 and unfortunately the recession began at the end of that year. Business just melted away. Customers couldn’t or wouldn’t spend.
Looking back, I think it forced us to look even harder at the business and to understand it better. It meant we had to work very, very hard but the business today is very different and much stronger.
A key lesson is that you have to completely immerse yourself in the business to understand it. This is absolutely essential for a fashion business which depends on forward ordering. I needed to be involved in everything for at least 18 months so that I could understand what customers wanted, how they were buying and who they were.
It is absolutely essential to know your customers if you are going to survive as an independent retailer.
The recession also brought with it opportunities. In 2011, we opened a new store in Derby city centre in a good location and low overhead, and we were beginning to feel confident about the brand portfolio.
Our next big move was forced upon us when we tried and failed buy the freehold for the original shop in Ashbourne. We knew the lease was near the end of its life when we bought the business in 2008. When the landlord wouldn’t negotiate we started looking at other options.
The big leap of faith was when my husband and I decided that the empty but iconic coaching inn at the heart of Ashbourne offered a great opportunity to refurbish and redevelop.
Young Ideas relocated in 2013 to a bigger shop and we have been redeveloping the site in different phases. We added menswear to our portfolio and we now have smaller units in the courtyard and we will be adding a restaurant in time. The business is now doing very well, has tripled since 2008.
ANNE’S KEY LESSONS
1 Know your customer
Capture data on your customers all the time. When I bought the business, we had around 500 names of customers but the list hadn’t been refreshed for some time. Everyone at Young Ideas knows that they have to add new customers to our mailing lists. We now have over 7,000 names and many of them are regular customers.
2 Immerse yourself in the business
If you are responsible for the buying, then this is even more essential. It is the only way you get to understand who you are buying for.
3 You have to take online seriously
Your customers may not always buy from your site, but they will go to it for information and to see what products are new in store.
4 Buy for your customers and not yourself
I think about the different groups of customers we have and try to categorise them which makes me focus my buying.
5 Invest in a good retail management system
It is essential to know what you have in stock and what you have sold. Cash flow and understanding cash flow is probably the biggest single lesson that every small retailer has to learn.
6 Create excitement
We have always run events to get closer to our customers. Running events such as fashion shows is a big investment but was a powerful way of getting customers into the shop.