Independent retailers around the country are cautiously optimistic about the new autumn season following a hard summer.
Matt Horstead, owner of Dartagnan Menswear in Portsmouth, said August trading had been volatile: “I can’t remember a period with such extremes. We’d take £50 in one day and £5,000 another, with no real reason for the difference.”
The founder of a womenswear boutique in Gloucestershire, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I’ve probably had the worst summer I’ve ever had. I haven’t finished paying my bills for this season.”
She said she had tried to cut costs everywhere she can, and is considering sharing the shop with space another trader.
October is usually her best month of the year, so she is hopeful for the upcoming collection: “It’s looking really lovely, it’s just a matter of getting people in through the door. You’ve got to find every angle, and diversify if you can.”
The poor performance of some larger retailers and the resulting drop in footfall has also had an impact on smaller operators. The recent loss of Marks & Spencer in Falkirk has devastated the town, said Lauren Brown, owner of Sisters Boutique.
“It was there 80 years. It’s the flagship store in the town and it’s absolutely ruined the town centre … We have no shops now – we’re about 60% empty [in the town centre].”
However, she believes there is hope for independents to make the most of their key selling point, which she thinks the larger high street chains have forgotten about.
“People are starting to appreciate how good it is to be able to walk into a shop again and get good service,” she said. Her autumn collection, including jackets and boots, is starting to arrive in store and has already been selling well, she added.
Others say they have made changes to their buying behaviour, reducing budgets for 2019 and setting more aside for in-season buying.
Rick Gaglio, managing director of men’s and women’s store Twisted Fabric in Hertfordshire, said he had walked away from some brands who are not willing to give independents flexibility.
“We’re constantly getting new stock in, waiting three months, and then it goes in the Sale. The brands are being too dictatorial about minimum orders,” he said.
He expects Converse’s February announcement that it will not be working with independent retailers any more to have an impact on sales next year.
However, he added: “I think we’ll be OK this season. I just don’t want to be putting myself in too much trouble promotion wise, and putting the discounts on too early.
“We have cut our budget by 30% next year. We want to be very cautious. I’d rather have nothing on the shelf than something [there] for the whole of 2019.”