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Big and small retailers hail strong start to 2014

Retailers have given 2014 a tentative thumbs-up based on initial trading but are buying cautiously as they fear the weather and consumer sentiment could remain problematic.

Selfridges managing director Anne Pitcher was the most bullish about 2014. “Are we feeling optimistic? Yes we are,” she said, adding so far there has been “real excitement around fashion newness on the shop floor”, with strong sales across all categories. “We are expecting another great year ahead,” she added.

Nikki Clark, store manager of Edinburgh designer womenswear retailer Jane Davidson, told Drapers trade was flat on last year but an increase in brands offering pre-collections or early drops had helped drive interest on the shop floor.

“Edinburgh feels like we could be on our way to a full recovery, but we still have to be proactive, with pop-up shops, fashion shows and other initiatives to drive interest. People are feeling more positive but we have to keep working hard,” she said.

Paul Monks, director of Purple Menswear in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, said he had also benefitted from early drops. “I made sure to have new stock delivered early for spring so it want newness.”

Nancy Hamilton, womenswear buyer at Gerrards in Reigate, Surrey, agreed: “The reaction to the early deliveries has been good but we are still being careful with our budgets.

“Our strength over Christmas was keeping back some budget so we could replenish as we went along, so we are reserving more this time around.”

Hamilton noted that the rain and floods were taking their toll on consumer sentiment, but was hoping to win over winter-weary customers with trans-seasonal knitwear, ankle boots and accessories.

However, some retailers complained of a lack of any strong trends coming through, with Hamilton noting there “isn’t a really strong direction” for 2014.

A national womenswear retail chief, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed. “No big trends have shown up in the stuff coming through yet, so although there are signs of consumer confidence we need something that people will say is really big,” she said.

Jim Saron, owner of Baileys Menswear, which has stores in Lancashire and Manchester, said January had been tough but he was hoping for a turnaround this weekend.

“We’ve been holding back on putting out new season stock because of the weather – there’s no point in spring product sitting on the shelves and invoices ageing when it’s too cold to sell on,” he said.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of value footwear chain Shoe Zone, has also held off bringing out new stock. “I don’t think spring and summer will be racy but I think it will be decent,” he told Drapers. “Last year was dreadful because summer didn’t really start until late July, so we’ll be up against soft like-for-likes.”

Fat Face chief executive Anthony Thompson said the weather had got 2014 off to a damp start but he was pleased with spring sales so far: “We got into spring about a week-and- a-half earlier than usual. The best test of whether spring is settling in is this weekend because it’s the first payday after Christmas.”

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