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Retailer Insight: independents must adapt to survive

As premium womenswear independent Pamela Shiffer celebrates its 30th anniversary, the owner of the eponymous store based in Primrose Hill, north London, says retailers have to keep changing their approach to satisfy shoppers.

A lot of retailers have lost their relevance. Thirty years ago, the high street was a very different place, and what was relevant then, now simply isn’t.

The customer has moved on and is making different choices, and the mid-market is becoming confused and slightly saturated. To put it bluntly, middle-market retailers have lost their way. Shoppers want an exciting, unique customer experience and beautiful products that cannot be discovered on the corner of every high street. At present, I don’t think many retailers offer this, and it is why so many businesses are falling by the wayside.

Retailing is not just about buying brands and putting them on a rail: it is much more complicated than that. It might sound obvious, but if you want to keep your presence on the high street shining, then you have to offer something extra-special to the customer by having your own identity.

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Like everyone, we have had to evolve with the times. Last year, we revamped the whole store to bring us up to date. The shop was painted, decorated, and fitted with new lighting and rails. We also refreshed our carrier bags and business cards.

It gave Pamela Shiffer a completely fresh look and feel, and doing this has attracted a whole new crowd. Business is tough out there – especially now with competition from online and social media – so it is important to draw customers in visually.

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The price is right

Retailers must also be willing to adapt their price points. For the first 15 years, our products were more expensive. Now customers are buying more product in the middle-ground. Before, we would sell one piece for £550, whereas now we’re selling five pieces at £100. Customers see our offer as good value for money because our price point is reflected at retailers such as Whistles and in higher-price products on the high street.

However, this might not be the case in five years’ time, and we will therefore have to evolve again to meet those changes.

You need to spend time on the shop floor and respond to customers’ needs

To stay relevant, you have also got to know your customer, and listen to them. You have to understand who you’re appealing to. To do this, you need to spend time on the shop floor and respond to customers’ needs, because that’s where the magic happens. For example, recently a customer asked for a specific product that we didn’t have in stock – we will get that product in for her and give her a call when it’s in the store.

This aligns with employing the right staff. Customers are time-short nowadays, which is where shopping online is an advantage for them, but not so for us.

If a shopper is short of time, staff members have to know their products. We’ll have customers coming in saying, “I’ve got 20 minutes and I need three outfits – what have you got?” They don’t want to look through the rails. You have to be sharp and on your toes if you want to make that sale. There are countless scenarios that can be solved by being in store.

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Shared knowledge

It’s also so important to listen to other retailers. I have a group of friends who also run independent stores, and we meet up regularly to give advice and stay ahead of the game.

I take inspiration from customers, online, social media platforms and designers: Gucci for its ability to break down the stereotype of co-ordinated dressing by offering the customer a new and acceptable way of clashing prints with simple shapes; Stella McCartney for her anti-fur campaigns and animal-free products; Erdem for his inspiring prints and feminine shapes; and Valentino, which reigns supreme as the master of cut, style and inspiration.

It is a difficult time for retail, but there are several steps that can be taken to combat this. By keeping things fresh, listening to the customer, adapting price points and asking other retailers for advice, it is possible to stay relevant and stand out from the crowd.

 

The store at a glance

Founded: 1989

Location: 75 Regent’s Park Road, Primrose Hill

Staff: Shiffer, plus one part-time and four-full time and one staff members

Brands stocked: Around 50, including Samsøe & Samsøe, Rino & Pelle, Nü Denmark, Vilagallo, King Louie and Pom

Retail prices: £35 for T-shirts to £450 for silk coats.

 

Pamela Shiffer’s fashion career

1973: Fashion and photographic model in Leeds

1976: Moved to London where she started working for Jeff Banks as a wholesale fashion showroom assistant

1977: Promoted to showroom manager and worked there for a further three years

1980: Moved away from wholesale and worked as a store manager for fashion retailers, including Joseph and Nicole Farhi

1989: Opened eponymous Pamela Shiffer boutique in Murray Street, Camden

1996: Moved location from Camden to Primrose Hill

2004: Opened a second store in Notting Hill, which closed in 2008

2017: Launched own website

2018: Store revamp: logo change, new carrier bags, website revamp

2019: Still works full-time at her eponymous store

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