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A real world outing is a refreshing experience

Victoria Suffield, owner of lifestyle retailer The Hambledon in Winchester, Hampshire.

Victoria Suffield

Victoria Suffield

It is very easy to get stuck in the shop, and I love nothing more than being stuck in the shop for my entire working week. I love micro-managing. I love tweaking about with bits of visual merchandising.

I love gossiping with customers. I love taking the cash.

I love making a plan. But occasionally it is nice to get invited out into the world to spread the word about the joys of lifestyle retail, and to make some sort of use of many years of shopkeeping experience.

Last week I was in the world of academia, lecturing on buying to a group of fashion management students, and it was great. Not that the lecture was great, but the discipline of preparing a two-hour presentation on independent retail really made me consider what it is that we do, why it is that we do it and why it would be the career choice for a young graduate.

Structured around the cycle of the buying year, I had intended to talk about buying, selling and visual merchandising. However, as they were a really lovely, engaged bunch of students who asked lots of questions, the lecture became a tangential conversation about all manner of shop-related things.

There was a lot of talk about marketing and social networking and it was interesting to get the perspective from the digital-native generation where online interaction isn’t an add-on, but an integral part of the process.

We discussed product ranges and adjacencies. Where I think we make interesting, idiosyncratic choices, the students thought we were inconsistent and that our brand line-up wasn’t clear.

We talked about competition in the market and how to differentiate our offer. I just keep piling in with more visual merchandising and they were a bit bemused by how little analysis we do.

So much of the way I retail is instinctive (and in part that’s why I love it) but it was good to be with a new group of people who had a theoretical approach, uncluttered by the daily grind, to ally to my practical one.

I’m not sure the students got anything out of the lecture, but I certainly did.

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