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Frances Chalmers

Drapers probes leading independents to get their View From the Shop Floor

How is trade at the moment? 

Trade is absolutely amazing, I’m hearing so much about the doom and gloom but it’s not what I’m experiencing. March was phenomenal, like-for-likes sales were up 149%, compared to the previous year. My average basket price is still about £200.

 Do you feel confident about business this year? 

I’m really confident. I expect to make £250,000 this year. I’m looking to double turnover to £500,000 next year.

You are bucking the trend, what is driving this big uplift in sales? 

I’ve been looking for more opportunities, and more channels to sell through. I’ve been clearing a lot of old stock through designer discount portals like Koodos, it has been really good for me. I also have a retail partner in the north-east of England which has four stores and I sell stock through there as well. I’ve been looking at my product and how best to get it out to market, and how to find customers, rather than waiting for them to find me. 

What is your advice to other independents that might be struggling in the downturn? 

Establish an internet presence, and look for new channels to sell through. I established as an internet retailer initially, and then opened a store. It’s good to have the combination of channels. It’s also really important to keep speaking to customers and find out what they want.  

What are the biggest challenges facing you? 

I am opening a kidswear designer shoe store next door to the existing Exclusive Footwear store early May. It will also be launched online. It will double the size of my current store to 700sq ft. Kidswear is a whole new ballgame for me, but the only place in York that currently sells kids shoes is , and then out-of-town stores, so there’s a gap in the market. I’m taking a big risk, but I see it as an opportunity. 

Which trends are doing well? 

I’ve expanded on comfort footwear, such as MBT and Chung Shi, it’s been selling really well in womens. Brands that are more geared towards the figure and improving posture have been doing well. They are key investment pieces, maybe people are cutting back on gym costs, so footwear is the answer? Men’s footwear is also selling consistently well. 

How is the independent footwear market in general? 

There are lots of people who have got the formula right and who are doing well, there is bound to be natural fallout from retailers who haven’t got the formula right. Some of the kidswear brands I’ve spoken to have said business has never been better.

  • Frances Chalmers is director of designer footwear indie Exclusive Footwear in York.
  • Brands include Gina, Jeffery-West, Moschino, Oliver Sweeney, Rupert Sanderson


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