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Marketing tips for independent fashion retailers

Should you take to Twitter or rely on exposure in local magazines? Is it best to launch as a pop-up or are one-off events the way to go? Drapers investigates the different marketing strategies open to independents. 

Having a great brand mix and committed staff is not enough if shoppers in your local area don’t even know a new store has opened. Marketing your business is key, whether it is done by using the power of social media, targeted email marketing, advertising in local newspapers and magazines, or hosting events. But which strategies work best on a small budget?

Adam Jagger, retail director of Leeds premium concept store Lambert’s Yard, began marketing its launch in November 2014 through word of mouth. “We started as a pop-up when the building was still an empty shell, which really helped when we opened the doors as a permanent destination,” he says.

In terms of social media, Jagger finds Instagram works best for Lambert’s Yard’s “creative consumer”, although Twitter is great for talking to customers directly and being reactive to what they say. Lambert’s Yard benefits from having an events space on the second floor above the shop, which is used to promote brand launches in store.

The events space at Lambert's Yard.

The events space at Lambert’s Yard

For Jagger, understanding your target audience is central to an effective marketing strategy: “There’s no point marketing yourself to people who probably won’t buy your product. Imagine your ideal customer and think like they do. What do they read? What music do they listen to? Where do they like to drink? After that, the strategy starts to speak for itself.”

Tammy Bell, head of brand communications at womenswear brand Viz-a-Viz, says the first six months of any business should be dedicated to spreading the word and creating awareness: “There should be an aggressive approach in the initial stages followed by a regular campaign that’s enough to inform and communicate, but not bombard the customer.

“It is always advisable to sit back and look at any campaign through the eyes of the customer. Social media can definitely help in raising awareness. Twitter is a great way to announce Sales and new products in store. It also allows the retailer to have a dialogue with its customers.”

Tracy Williams, manager of contemporary independent Encore in Crosby, Merseyside, finds Twitter is the best way to engage younger customers. “We make an effort to tweet daily, mainly about promotions and offers, but we also like to give an idea of what is going on in store to add personality and humour,” she says.

“Our customers generally like to come in store to purchase, so we capture their email addresses and telephone numbers to email and text them when we have new promotions.”

Paul Dodd, owner of men’s young fashion retailer Elements in Norwich, has switched from a focus on marketing in local magazines and student publications to social media. “Instagram is our most active account and we try to post new product images daily. We really see customers responding to that, both on the app and in store,” he says.

“On Twitter we often link back to brands we are talking about. Our posts are mainly about new products, but occasionally we’ll post some funny anecdotes about the team. We like to promote our fellow local independent retailers and tell our followers if they’re hosting an event. At the moment we don’t use email marketing, but the launch of our new website in June will hopefully allow us to get this up and running.”

Neil Warwick, director of Warwicks in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, acknowledges that even as a traditional menswear retailer it is good to engage with customers on Facebook, building up ‘likes’ and traffic to the website.

“We post around three or four times a week about goings-on in store, such as new stock and visual merchandising. In terms of direct emails, we contact our customers no more than once a month with selective offers and promotions as we don’t want to bombard them. We want them to feel individually valued,” he says.

this year, contemporary womenswear independent Fleur in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, has stepped up its presence on social media, according to owner Kassie Le Marchand. As well as posting pictures and information about events on Twitter and Facebook, she finds publicising competitions can gain good traction.

“We recently staged a competition where customers could sign up to our website and win a £250 voucher, which generated a lot of buzz around the shop and a huge number of sign-ups,” says Le Marchand. “We also have a great relationship with several local magazines that are stocked by local hotels, which helps drive tourists in store.

“A smaller touch is putting postcards in our shopping bags so that customers can leave a comment for us. We also like to get involved in local events, like the music festival Latitude (July 16-19), and tap into their official promotional material.”

In-store events are an important way for Sam Withall, owner of premium womenswear indie Sam Brown, to connect with her established customers and attract new fans. Withall hosts fashion shows with professional models showcasing new-season product twice a year in spring and autumn at her stores in Edinburgh and St Andrews. Ahead of time, she uses bulk SMS messaging service Textlocal to text her customers informing them about the show. It costs £60 to send messages to 15,000 mobile numbers, supplied by customers signing up to the mailing list in store.

An example of a text sent my Sam Brown to its shoppers via Textlocal.

An example of a text sent by Sam Brown to its shoppers via Textlocal

“A launch party is another very good idea for a new independent, but make sure you follow up quickly with something else more than offering just another discount,” Withall advises. “For example, we work with a stylist who gives an in-store presentation to our customers on how to wear the latest trends. That really appeals to our customers.”

Sarah Simonds, owner of mainstream womenswear boutique Artichoke, uses her two shops in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and Hackford, Norfolk, as a space for charity events. While Simonds provides the drinks and food, a charity sells tickets to the event and takes 10% of the profits of any garments sold on the night.

“When I started I had zero advertising budget, so I decided to approach different local charities and present the shop as a fundraising venue,” Simonds explains. “With a charity event you’re helping the community and also making contact with women who might not have known about the shop.”

She also recommends carefully placed advertorials in publications relevant to the local community. “We work with Norfolk Magazine, which is aimed at 40-year-old-plus women. People stop and read advertorials more than adverts. For example, we had one about the jeans we sell, using photographs of our own staff to illustrate the different shapes available. We still have people coming into store six months later off the back of that advertorial.”

Advertising and features in local magazines is also the method of choice for Paul Stocks, owner of contemporary retailer Keith James Menswear in Horsforth, Leeds.

“We also use email marketing, but only once a month and even then only when we have new products or events to talk about,” he says. “If there is a special Sale or promotion we still send direct mailers in the post and ring our most loyal customers if we know something has come into store that they’ll be really interested in. We like to take a traditional approach with our customers and not overwhelm them with communication.”

Viz-a-Viz’s Bell advises combining advertising in local press with small in-store events or new arrival launches. “Launch events are a great way to introduce new collections or brands and it’s also a more fun and exciting way to interact with customers and stand apart from other retailers,” she says.

Ultimately, the right marketing strategy will be the one that best fits the identity of the business and the needs of the specific customer base. For some independent retailers social media will provide an invaluable way to engage with shoppers, whereas for others a more localised approach based on in-store events will be the best way to drive footfall. As long as the message is relevant and tailored to the store, success should follow.

Jo Green, associate director, Gung Ho Communications

Gung Ho Communications represents independent retailers like Woodhouse Clothing in Notting Hill, London, as well as larger fashion retail clients such as The Fort Shopping Park in Birmingham, Selfridges and Urban Outfitters.  

Jo Green, Gung Ho Communications

Jo Green, Gung Ho Communications

What do you think are the best methods for an independent fashion retailer to market themselves?

In my opinion the most effective methods of promotion for independent fashion retailers (whether clicks or bricks or both) are PR and social media.

PR is essential. Storytelling about the business and its people creates a relationship with the consumer. Leveraging topical issues and trends by being a spokesperson in the media also helps to build credibility and profile.

The power of social media can’t be ignored and there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to connect directly with consumers via Facebook and Instagram. I would say Instagram is the most simple and cost-effective method and its highly visual nature means it’s a great vehicle for announcing new products.

If resource allows, direct mail can also be a really powerful tool for the independent retailer. Brands are able to build and maintain a customer database while carving out a distinctive tone of voice. This, alongside strong editorial content, will reap the rewards in terms of driving traffic and ecommerce sales. Blogging can also be an effective way to optimise content.

Should retailers host events in-store to get their name known?

The ability to forge a truly personal relationship with the consumer is what sets the independent retailer apart and presents a real opportunity in terms of promoting the business and carving a niche. Events really lend themselves to this.

The best events have a strong hook and clear objectives, whether it’s the reveal of a new collection for your best customers or an exclusive blogger event. The best way to approach this is to consider the end results, which could be sales of a particular product or X number of pieces of coverage in target media.

Getting to know the buyers of the key brands you stock can really help in terms of securing exclusive or unique products.

Do you have any other marketing advice for indies?

Make sure your website has a solid up-to-date landing page that’s optimised and treat it as your virtual shop window. Populate your website with fresh, engaging content and repurpose this for newsletters and e-flyers.

Be as responsive as possible. Keep ahead of industry updates and use Google Analytics to decipher what’s working and what’s not. Utilise all this data to enhance your customer service in-store and online.

Keep on top of trends and comment on topical issues across your online platforms to engage your consumer even further.

Try to go to as many events attended by your target audience as possible and network, network, network. Establish connections with local/complementary businesses and explore how you can collaborate in order to build your mutual audiences.

Work with an ambassador, for example a blogger, who shares your brand values and ‘speaks’ to your consumer. Collaborate with them to develop engaging content that can be rolled out across your channels.


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