Tracy-Anne Fraser, is the owner of Somerset-based womenswear stores Grace at No 5 and The Frock Shop, and a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).
My background in hotel management proves increasingly useful in the occasionwear part of my business. With my experience of customer service in the wedding industry, I’ve developed an insight into that customer’s wants and needs that I might otherwise not have had.
The product mix at my two boutiques varies slightly but ensuring the customer feels at ease is paramount in both.
Having previously run my shops as agencies, I now love the retail side of the business and have found that joining FAB has given me important advantages in my credit card processing, as well as support in other areas.
Observing patterns in customer behaviour is so important in our industry and being able to adapt accordingly matters. We carry end-of-line stock from Ann Balon which sells very well, and have found that Michaela Louisa, with an average retail price of £200, is what our customers are looking for at the moment.
In the past year I’ve noticed a big change in how people dress at weddings. They are not as formal as they used to be and those high-end brands are not necessarily what they are looking for. I think that’s why Michaela Louisa does well for us. Equally, we will sell a linen dress from The Masai Clothing Company or Sahara with a jacket as a wedding outfit and will team that with a hat from Failsworth. There are no rules.
During the summer, one third of our stock is occasionwear but this decreases during the winter months as our lines in Pomodoro, Sahara, Oska, Masai and Adini expand.
I would seriously consider taking on a larger premises as I think the bricks-and-mortar scenario is where our potential for growth is. However, like many retailers I find the business rates prohibitive and couldn’t manage the increased rate that a larger premises would entail.
I wholeheartedly support the action being taken by groups such as FAB to challenge the business rate policy. In time we will explore online options further but, in the meantime, our in-store customer experience is where it’s at.