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Kate Walton

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

How’s business at the moment?

Really good. January and February were quieter, but March, April and the first half of May have been brilliant for us. We specialise in dresses so people are buying now for weddings, proms and holidays. This is always a busy time for us. We stagger our new season stock with the old, but as soon as we get new stock in there are regular clients we call so they all come in to see it. We’ve had a lot of new customers lately though as well.

How is your transactional website faring?

That’s been doing well too. We launched it about two years ago and it’s started to do well in the past year or so. In fact it now accounts for about 40% of our turnover, with 60% from the shop.

Is your success typical of young fashion retailers in your area at the moment?

Young brands are selling really well right now. People want cheering up. In the north-east we don’t seem to be experiencing the recession as badly as other regions. The independents all seem to be discounting in London but we’re not. But then we are a specialist retailer; we have people visiting us from York, Leeds – across the north because we stock lines they can’t find anywhere else outside London.

Which brands and styles are selling best now?

Tibi’s doing well because we only choose special dresses from the range, we’re selling a lot of their prints and maxi dresses. 18th Amendment always sells well because it has an accessible price point. We’re selling a lot of single-colour brights.

How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?

We don’t have much direct competition locally. We target the 18 to 45-year-old bracket, whereas other local boutiques are aimed more at 45 plus, and we don’t see ourselves as in competition with the high street. Our customers are looking for a special item they can keep for years rather than throw-away fashion. Newcastle upon Tyne is comparatively small, so women want a dress no one else will be wearing.

Will you be discounting this season?

We’ll run the usual summer sale, but we’re not discounting now as many of the other shops are.

Will you be taking on any new brands soon?

We’ll be stocking Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, which is a great brand fit for us. We’re also going to start selling shoes because a lot of our customers buy only from us and want to get the whole look. They want amazing quirky shoes to go with a special dress. We’ll definitely be stocking Kate Kuba and we’re researching other footwear brands now.

Do you go to any trade shows to source brands?

Yes, I go to Who’s Next in Paris and London Fashion Week.

What advice would you give to other independents about surviving recession?

Personal service is key. You have to have a clear idea of your market. Get to know your customer and buy for them. Concentrate on special pieces to stand out and contact your customers often. We run a lot of events so we see our core market and get their opinions regularly.

Kate Walton, director of young fashion independent Have to Love in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne

Brands include 18th Amendment, American Retro, Made in Heaven, Manoush, Tibi

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