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Coes, Ipswich

The landmark store is getting a contemporary refit, but its old-fashioned approach to customer service will remain.

For most retailers, an overhaul is a more considered process than a quick call to Mary Portas. At Coes in Ipswich it is part of a long-term strategy instigated long before Portas ruffled many menswear retailers’ feathers with her dissection of the apparently ailing HT Burt in Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester.

Midway through the overhaul and the store design of Coes’ 30,000sq ft flagship on Norwich Road in Ipswich has a split personality – part traditional 1980s-style fascia and part modern contemporary.

Director Matthew Rawlings says: “The last major refurb was in 2002 and that left us with a very modern glass building next door to a more dated-looking frontage with a canopy.”

The canopy, he says, is now on its way out and will be replaced by a glass and concrete shopfront next June. “It sounds horrible I know, but it will be really great. It is a clean, modern look that won’t put off our traditional customers,” he says.

And therein lies the trick. In this, its 80th year of trading, Coes’ bedrock remains its outstanding local reputation. The Ipswich shop has 15,000 customers on a database, including 5,000 account holders.

“No one knows Ipswich like we do,” Rawlings says proudly. The database is being migrated to email, but he says the city is a broad church to administer. In terms of Coes’ menswear offer, for every Gurteen or Meyer, there is a Fullcircle or Firetrap, while Gant and Tommy Hilfiger sit alongside Barbour, DrunknMunky and Ted Baker.

The meticulous buying, led by Rawlings, also uncovers a sprinkling of unknown gems. “Holland is great for a buying trip,” says Rawlings. “There are so many independent shops to investigate.” And Coes has the courage to import niche brands direct.

But with more than 100 suppliers, it is a head-spinning operation. Rawlings plans to trim that list and introduce one or more power brands such as Ralph Lauren or Boss Black or Paul Smith after the relaunch.

While Rawlings is a fixture at every gathering of the menswear industry, Coes has an even longer reach. For instance, schoolwear is its biggest crowd puller, making August (not December) the retailer’s most profitable month.

“We do more than 30,000 units in August – 12,000 of those are school and kids’ wear. Most of the rest comes from mums and dads,” says Rawlings. Sports and women’s wear departments are also key parts of the mix.

“We’re not perfect and we know that to the outsider we may seem old-fashioned, but we’re not embarrassed,” says Rawlings. “We are changing, but it has to be a considered process that will appeal to all our customers.”

And even if the Ipswich shopfront will look wholly modern soon, old-fashioned standards will remain. Rawlings adds: “Vast choice and impeccable service are what Coes is about.”

Coes 20-28 Norwich Road, Ipswich

80: Number of years since the business was founded by the Coe family
8: Number of stores owned by Coes, including six with the Coes fascia
200: Number of staff employed by Coes across its stores

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