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Always searching for the magic ingredient

Elaine Black is the womenswear manager at Tom Hughes, which has stores in Carmarthen and Narbeth, Wales.

Elaine Black

Elaine Black

We’re now into June, so for those of us in retail the summer is over and the planning for next spring ramps up. The performance of every brand is looked at and pulled apart, not just in terms of sales figures and profitability, but also its potential for growth and those more indefinable elements - what they contribute to a dynamic brand mix and how they influence the perception of our shop as a whole.

We are extremely lucky with the brands we stock. Together they give our customers a great offering of weekend and off-duty wear. But we always need something just to lift it and move it on.

It’s difficult to define, but you know it when you’ve got it, and the customers know when you haven’t. The timing also has to be right - you have to be ahead of your customers, give them what they don’t know they want yet, but not too far ahead that you scare them.

So once again we are hitting the shows and showrooms, talking to fellow retailers, asking around - what’s doing well, what have you seen, who are you dropping, what’s new and worth going after? We’ll catch up with old friends, perhaps make some new ones and congratulate ourselves on the fact we’re still standing.

We’ll meet up with suppliers: the really professional ones whose judgment you trust completely and with whom you have a great long-term working relationship; the ones who have become your friends, whose brands you’d like to buy, but you both know wouldn’t work in your shop; the pushy ones who’d sell you anything whether it would work for you or not; and the arrogant ones who barely suppress a sneer at the adjacencies you offer (and whose inflated view of their brand’s place in the fashion universe usually bears no relation to reality).

There’s no denying that it’s hard work - physically exhausting, mentally draining, frustrating, time-consuming, depressing, challenging, inspiring work - but it’s fun and we love it.

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