The Drapers’ team has been travelling the length and breadth of the UK to uncover the best businesses vying at the Drapers Awards 2012.
Here they offer their thoughts on the indies that are making it work…
Graeme Moran, junior fashion editor
Getting out there and seeing the UK’s best independent stores is always a highlight. Taking the time to see (and even shop in) the top stores right across the country and being able to talk to the retailers behind them is always so interesting and inspiring. What struck me visiting those nominated in the young fashion sector is the overwhelming and optimistic sense of community that indies have built up in their cities and towns. There is a real feeling of ‘all for one and one for all’ as people come together to make the most of these challenging times. Whether it be local campaigns and petitions or events were different stores work alongside each other, it is great to see the passion everyone has for independent retail and championing, innovating and preserving it in their local areas.
Victoria Gallagher, senior reporter
While visiting indies around the country judging for the menswear retailer of the year award it quickly became clear that those who focus on exclusive product provide shoppers with a robust reason to return. Some of the indies collaborated with brands on designs to produce one-off pieces for their store whilst still maintaining the authority of the established brand name. Others produced their own capsule collections meaning that not only can they tailor their product directly to their customers’ needs but if successful they can also look into wholesaling the brand to other retailers and in time make a healthy profit. Exclusivity appears to be an essential part of the business – but one that can only come from good relationships with designers and brands. As such it is a true sign of success.
Catherine Neilan, news editor
Undeniably times are tight, but the best of the businesses are out there finding innovative new ways to connect with their customers – most of which take time rather than money. It’s now a given that indies will utilise social media to interact with regulars and potential new customers, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or their own blogs. But going the extra mile – whether it’s tailoring a newsletter around what a customer may have bought recently, producing your own in-house magazine, launching themed nights around an activity you know your customers love or in one case, designing a fleet of branded bicycles for regulars to use – is how you build the business and generate buzz around what you’re doing. We may be a jaded, cynical nation, but we love clever ideas and crave something a little bit different. The best indies are those that are giving their customers exactly that.
James Knowles - features writer
In today’s uncertain economic climate it takes some guts and a lot of entrepreneurial spirit to set your stall out and establish your own business – but this is just what the finalists have done in our best new business category. It didn’t matter where I travelled to visit these stores - from Edinburgh, to Derry, to Bristol, Dorchester and London – each business bore remarkably similar traits, albeit in very different forms. Recognising the harsh realities that abound, each had thoroughly researched their local markets, come to really understand their target customer, and then gone after them with largely exclusive product designed to appeal to their sensibilities. This may seem like a straight-forward strategy but not everyone gets it right, especially when starting out. However, the fashion retail businesses taking part in this category – which range from lingerie, to footwear, to clothing – were all impressive and going that extra mile to service a need within their local communities, whether that be via new labels to the area, British brands or by offering a first-class customer service.
The Drapers Awards 2012 take place at the Grosvenor Hotel on November 21.