Independents across the UK have enjoyed a strong autumn season so far and are optimistic about Christmas, as more consumers seek unique products and store experiences.
While multiples suffer from the milder-than-usual weather, the ongoing decline in high street footfall and pressure from Black Friday discounting, many indies appear to be bucking the trend.
Deryane Tadd, owner of womenswear boutique The Dressing Room in St Albans, said: “We’ve had a really good season so far and it should end on a high. People are definitely spending and they’ve started their Christmas shopping nice and early, which is great. We’ve noticed a higher-than-average spend, too.
“People want to shop with independents more. They’re fed up of the discounts and they want a great shopping experience. Events such as Small Business Saturday [which took place on 1 December this year] have spread a really positive message.”
Azeem Ansari, co-owner of premium menswear independent Burrows & Hare in Oxford, said he expected sales to be up on 2017.
He added: “It hasn’t been too cold, so we haven’t sold as much knitwear or coats, but overall December is off to a good start.”
As well as third-party brands, Burrows & Hare sells its own label, which gives it a point of difference, believes Ansari: “Our own-brand product is made in the UK and I think people appreciate that even more so when they’re gifting. People are being a bit wiser about how they’re spending in terms of quality.”
Alison Kilgour, owner of Country Pursuits and Capture Boutique in Bridge of Allan, near Stirling in Scotland, expects to see double-digit growth this festive season: “For November, sales were up on last year by 14.2%. The last week of November and first week of December have been a bit slower but I think, overall, we’ll be up by about 10%.
“People don’t seem to have started their Christmas shopping yet, perhaps because the weather has been mild, but I think [that will change] this weekend and we’ll be very busy from then until Christmas.”
Black Friday discounting has left some in a less-than-festive spirit, but still optimistic for a last-minute boost to sales in the run-up to Christmas.
“The last 10 days haven’t filled me with confidence,” said Matt Horstead, owner of menswear store Dartagnan in Chichester. “We’ve not had a great start to December because of Black Friday. It’s a scourge on the British high street.
“I hope trade will pick up towards the end of the month. That’s what happened last year: they left us panicking and then the week before Christmas we had a record week.”
Jeremy Clayton, co-owner of Javelin in Suffolk, admitted he was considering bringing forward their Sale to before Christmas for the first time in order to remain competitive: “We had great trading over the Black Friday weekend. We offered some select discounts, but it’s a bit up and down at the moment. It’s picking up like it should do this time of year but there’s still so much to play for.”