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Dare to be different – it’s what sets indies apart

Carole Hilton-Stone, Former owner of occasionwear retailer Dressed of Harrogate in North Yorkshire and a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).

Carole Hilton-Stone

Carole Hilton-Stone

Reflecting on the 10 years since I opened my shop, I’m staggered how the retail industry has changed. The mechanisms that drove shoppers to your door 10 years ago are totally different today. The internet and social media have made the world a smaller place and now you have competitors that you cannot physically see and price-savvy customers to boot.

I closed my store in December. The street I was on is undergoing an 18-month redevelopment, the footfall dropped to an all-time low and I could not afford to stay open. The local council would not reassess our rates and the developers offered no compensation.

In my experience it is more important than ever to create a niche. And it goes without saying that it is vital to have a personal approach towards your customers. These two things are what make independent retailers different.

In times of recession it is natural to want to play it safe by either trying to have something for everyone or stocking big names for their perceived security. While this approach is understandable, don’t forget that those same companies are feeling the pinch as well. Some of the award-winning brands are relaxing their geographical exclusivity to such a degree that there can be three stockists within a one-and-a-half-mile radius. When this happens that supplier has just diluted your business overnight, there won’t be a thing you can do about it, and that feeling of safety just walked straight off the end of the runway.

Discover new ways of marketing and don’t be fooled by suppliers that promise to pay half towards your advert in a glossy; it is you who is actually paying half towards theirs.

Being independent creates individuality. Trust your instincts and remember why you opened your store in the first place. You haven’t taken all that risk to stock the same as the shop down the road.

Why not try a day shopping in a different town? I guarantee the most pleasure will be gained from purchases from the independent store that has something distinctive, understands your needs and gives you a wonderful experience to draw on every time you wear those items. Oh, and it probably won’t be on Sale.

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