Vicki Wheeler is owner of womenswear indie Ambiance of Colchester and a committee member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).
It’s true to say there are two generally accepted ways of approaching challenging times in retail. One tactic is to ‘play it safe’ and stick with what is reliable, what has worked in the past and to then hope for the best. Another approach is to do things differently with the understanding that repeating the same behaviour is likely to bring the same results.
This season at Ambiance we have taken the latter approach and, on the whole, I am glad that we did. In an established independent like Ambiance - we have been trading since 1985 - you need to judge these moves carefully so as to not alienate your long-time customers who place great value on the familiarity of the shop.
We introduced Marc Cain this season, shortly after it was awarded Premium Fashion Brand of the Year at the Drapers Independents Awards last October. This was exciting and daunting at the same time and it took us a while to establish who the Marc Cain customer was. As ever, it wasn’t exactly the demographic we had imagined it would be, but it has actually turned out to be a great brand for us.
In conjunction with launching this, we held a Macmillan coffee morning in April and ran a whole week of fundraising and fashion for cancer charities. The suppliers were enormously supportive and the risk we took by breaking with tradition in store paid off. It’s increasingly important for us to provide something different and unique for our customers, to give them a reason to choose us over another store and mark our point of difference from the multiples.
Olvi’s Lace Collection has been a surprise hit for us and a case in point that something jaw-droppingly exquisite outweighs any price resistance that might usually arise. This autumn we are really excited about introducing Bitte Kai Rand to our customers. I had heard about the brand before but discovered them at Pure in February.
Keeping abreast of what’s going on isn’t easy when you’re running a business, but having the subscription to Drapers and being able to see Bitte Kai Rand’s presence in these pages recently has inspired staff in the shop and whet their appetite for our new brand this autumn.