To the surprise of my regular fans (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Cheam in Surrey), I'd like to talk about someone other than myself today - and about something positive. I realise this may cause some confusion, but what the heck.
I'd like to tell you about Steve Waller of Little London. Steve and his wife Lynne have four fashion boutiques in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, Chichester in West Sussex, Guildford in Surrey and Winchester in Hampshire, selling labels such Hugo Boss, Chloe and Kenzo as well as our own label, Sarah Arnett.
Steve is what you might call a fashion retail geek. An insight into a typical day at Little London will hopefully demonstrate this and show how he is proving that technology can be our friend, rather than our bugbear.
It's 1am on Saturday morning and the alarm goes off at the Guildford store. It could be a burglar, but more likely it's a spider having a leisurely stroll. Rather than jump in the car and belt across Surrey, Steve will log on to his laptop and key into his CCTV. An employee from his security company is doing the same. If there is a problem they will alert the police. If not, they will ensure police time is not wasted and everyone can sleep soundly. As a result, Little London gets 10% off its insurance premium.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo a customer is looking for the latest Biba bag. Thanks to Little London's great web marketing the customer can see the bag is available on the store's website and decides to buy it. Steve's product is selling while he sleeps, so when his staff arrive for work on Saturday morning they already know they have had a good day. They simply hit a button to print out customer details, a return slip and a mailing label - all the info they need. Then all they have to do is select the garment from the rail, pack up the bag and wait for the courier.
However, because Steve is ultimately a face-to-face retailer he believes in bringing his excellent personal service to the internet, so fairly soon the customer in Japan will be able to view and speak directly to a salesperson in Guildford, who will be able to show them a garment, zoom in on a detail, or even model - all for free by way of Skype.
Steve and Lynne might visit Paris on a buying trip, but still want to know how the stores are doing. So they flip open the phone and connect via WAP to the EPoS system and hey presto - real-time sales figures. Time for a bottle of chablis.
This is just the start of what Steve can do. As an early adopter who has embraced the internet, he is showing how IT can help increase sales. But the key thing is that he has spent years developing a system that integrates EPoS and ecommerce. This means he can treat the world like a huge shop window while still having a system that is easy to use and provides real benefits for customers.
The good news is that Steve and Lynne have decided to offer their system to the world. This could be a valuable tool designed by and for fashion retailers that offers immediate and tangible benefits. Goodness me, I am in a positive mood. Must be something in the coffee.
- Simon Beales is managing director of Brighton independent designer womenswear store Simultane and wholesale label Sarah Arnett.