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Fi Lovett

Drapers probes leading indies to get their View From The Shop Floor

How’s trade at the moment? It’s been unbelievably good the past couple of weeks. We went on Sale at the end of June and we’ve had our best sale ever. We were up on last year anyway and this has really given us a boost. We’ve had women fighting over dresses in the store.

Did you feel the pressure to go on sale early when the department stores did? Definitely. They seem to be on almost permanent Sale. We normally go in the first week of July and I know other independents who have insisted on holding out until the end of July but we had to compete. Also, we didn’t want to leave it too late because people still have money in June and are buying for their holidays. The only worry with going early is that people will hold out for the sale but we sell out of so many styles before we discount that I don’t think it will be a problem for us.

How much are you discounting? We always go into Sale with a flat 50% off. The department stores lure people in with “up to 50%” stickers, but in store it’s mostly just 20 or 30%. Our customers know we do a good Sale and the regulars always come for it.

What are the other challenges for independent womenswear retailers? A lot of consumers don’t value quality during a recession. They say our higher-priced items are just too expensive but we don’t do big mark ups. If a product costs more it’s because the supplier charges us more and we think the quality is high enough to justify that. The weak sterling is still a challenge too, but that’s getting better and it has an up side because we are taking on more UK designers who are doing well for us.

Which brands are selling best at the moment? Manoush is doing well because people are willing to spend more for something that’s individual and quirky. Gabby Harris is popular too because her cashmere is classic and timeless. Some of the lesser-known foreign brands are doing well too. Schumacher is one of our higher-end brands but is very popular with people looking for something striking.

Are you adjusting your budgets for Spring 10? No, they’re about the same. We cut a tiny bit for winter stock but we always buy less in winter than summer. I know of other retailers who have cut budgets then found themselves under stocked.

What advice would you give to independents who are struggling in the recession? You can’t play at this, you need to do your research and know your customer. I never go past a shop without looking at the layout. A boutique near our Chelsea shop just shut down and I think it was simply a problem of the layout. The walls were all lined with box shelving and there were piles and piles of folded clothes. People want you to edit the collection for them and show them how to put pieces together. You need to be out there on the shopfloor advising them.

What can we expect from you for the rest of this year? We’re just about to launch our transactional website at the beginning of August. We’ve had a website for a while but we’ve not sold through it yet. I’m going to differentiate it from other etailers by giving shoppers advice, such as which labels to choose for certain body shapes, which labels’ sizes come up small and what’s selling well on the shopfloor.

Fi Lovett, owner of three-store contemporary womenswear and kidswear indie Fifi Wilson in London
Brands include Annabel Winship, By Malene Birger, Gabby Harris, Manoush

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