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How to upscale: advice from indies who've done it

While the high street is plagued by tough trading, stores closures, company voluntary arrangements and administrations, several independent retailers are defying the odds and expanding successfully. 

Independent fashion chains Tower London, The Edit and Psyche currently operate 12 bricks-and-mortar stores between them. Listing finding the right location and the incremental costs associated with opening new stores among the biggest challenges, they shared their secrets to successful expansion.

Rink bindra head of omni channel towerlondon

Rink Bindra, head of omnichannel at London-based five-store independent footwear chain Tower London

When we first decided to expand, the high street was full of multiples and department stores, but indies were dying. We saw a gap in the market and jumped in.

We currently have five shops across London, all funded through investor directors, bank loans and Tower’s own funds.

You have to know your business inside out, from your mission statement to your offering to your customer.

Don’t assume that expanding is as simple as opening a shop. Look at your finances from all angles and work out budgets for absolutely everything – you never know what costs might arise. Expanding is an extortionate operation that can be hard to manage: rents, rates, staff and decorating all need to be accounted for.

Location is also vital. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because there is no competition on a street that you can expand there. Really look into each project and treat them all individually: situations change all the time, so you can never judge one store by another.

Penny rawson founder theedit

Penny Rawson, founder of four-store womenswear and accessories independent The Edit in Manchester

After the success of the first The Edit store in Hale [which opened in May 2016], expanding was an easy and natural decision and has been funded through retained profit from the business.

You need to be confident in your business model and make sure that you stand out from competitors. For us, it’s all down to location. Although we offer a very good price point, all of our shops are in affluent areas. This helps to attract a certain clientele while the affordable prices give shoppers a “guilt-free” mentality.

Expanding should be done slowly and surely. Don’t rush into it, as things are bound to go wrong. Finding the right location and team members are so important. I’d much rather pay the price for being in a prime location where I’m guaranteed the custom. I’ve also been lucky enough to take on people that I’ve previously worked with, but they need to have lots of energy and be willing to help out.

Steve cochrane psyche managing director

Steve Cochrane, managing director of three-store premium independent  Psyche, based in north-east England

Although the market is challenging right now, it has presented us with lots of opportunities. When we opened our Durham store, we were able to negotiate with property agents and the local council on rents and rates, as well as the local business group on advertising, as they’re all huge advocates of supporting the British high street.

I’d advise any indie to speak to their local council before opening up, as you never know what incentives they might offer.

This was especially important for us as we funded the second and third Psyche shops out of cashflow, because we didn’t want to take on borrowings. That said, we massively overspent fitting out the Durham shop – this is easily the biggest cost and it’s easy to get carried away. Be aware of your budget and stick to it.

Need business advice?

Drapers is launching an advice portal for small and medium-sized brands and retailers, in partnership with Clipper. It will be designed around the questions you want us to answer, with a focus on helping fashion businesses to grow. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, send it to Rebecca.Thomson@emap.com.

 

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