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Indies 'bullish' in face of high street anxiety

Despite troubling forecasts and anxiety from key multiples, independent retailers are hopeful of a positive 2017

Personalised offers and services are expected to help them face up to the concerns overshadowing many high streets, and while overall fashion sales fell 2% in 2016, independents bucked the trend. Their sales were up 3.2%, research from Kantar Worldpanel indicates, and despite uncertainty around Brexit being a cause for concern, the mood for the coming year is positive.

“We’re feeling bullish about 2017,” said Russell Jones, co-owner of premium retailer Robinsons of Bawtry in South Bawtry, Yorkshire. “We had our strongest year ever in 2016 and the start of this year has also been good. Sales were up 14% in the first week of January and 9% in the second week. Our anxieties over the impact of Brexit and the impact of the internet have lessened slightly because of what our customers are saying and our experiences so far, and we’re looking forward to a pro-active 2017.”

Becky Furbank, managing director of Anne Furbank in St Neot’s, was also positive about the year ahead thanks to strong sales last year. “We’re in a very good place coming into the year and so far the shop has been very busy so we’re feeling confident for the next year,” she said. “We’re looking to do some refurbishment work in the summer, as well as expanding our occasionwear offering which always sells well for us, in order to continue growth.”

Strong January sales also marked a positive start to 2017 for menswear retailer Number Eight, in Stirling. “January has also been strong for us both in store and online, and we’re confident that will continue,” said manager Matthew Hamilton. “Obviously, things are a little uncertain with Brexit, but we’re feeling all right, and we’re happy with how things are going.”

Menswear suppliers Douglas and Grahame says the positive mood is down to confidence in the personalisation that independent retailers can offer.

UK managing director Anton Jenkins said: “What we have seen this year is consumers willing to support their local stores, but what the stores have to do is highlight their USPs to fight against the big boys. No-one does service like an independent.”

Robinsons of Bawtry is one of the indies capitalising on this personal service and relationship, by introducing a loyalty scheme to help drive growth in 2017. “That’s definitely the reason we can be so resilient: it is personal between us and our customers,” said Jones. “We see what they’re saying and we can modify our offer accordingly.”

Rosie Wild, owner of womenswear boutique Moda Rosa in Ashford, agreed: “I think that because we’re so small, our customers really respond to our offer and our personal service,” she said. “As long as our collections are interesting then our customers will keep coming in. Because of that, we have nine new designers for spring, and we’re hoping for a really strong summer.”


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