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May poll

Mainstream womenswear and occasionwear retailers lift the lid on spring trading and reveal their buying and Sale strategies for autumn

Tracy Forrest, co-owner of Mary's of Enfield in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire

1. What have been the most commercial looks, colours and trends this season?

Long silk skirts and fitted jackets have sold well in occasionwear - floaty skirts with a slight fishtail sold out. Black and white have also been very strong this spring, and people have bought heavily into real silks.

2. What impact has the warm spring weather had on your business?

The weather has made a real difference. Sales of occasionwear are up 20% and separates up 10% on this time last year. We have already sold out of some high summer looks such as lightweight georgette and chiffon trousers. People are in summer mode far earlier.

3. What changes do you think you will make to your buying strategy for spring 08?

We're likely to buy more, and will increase our occasionwear budget by 15% and separates by about 10%. We sold out too early this season and want to avoid that for spring 08. We will buy a lot more of one or two brands - Paule Vasseur and Condici in particular.

4. Did you hold back on buying for autumn 07, and will you buy in-season to top up?

Autumn accounts for roughly 30% of annual sales, but all the business is forward order. We took on some new labels for autumn 07, such as MaxMara, Lucia and Michael H, and increased the buy in our separates range to try to even out the business season on season.

5. When are you planning to go on Sale?

We have no fixed time to go on Sale. Last year our Sale was throughout August and business was steady the whole month. We try to keep one small Sale rail throughout the year.

NICKY SALE, owner of Signature in Christchurch, Dorset

1. What have been the most commercial looks, colours and trends this season?

Longer city shorts have sold phenomenally well, as have smarter fitted and cropped jackets by Stills with a riding jacket detail at the back. Jersey wrap tops have been popular - customers team them with city shorts for a more relaxed look.

2. What impact has the warm spring weather had on your business?

Sales are 50% up on last year. Weather like this makes people look at their wardrobe and shop to fill the gaps. Synchron dresses have sold well in summer fabrics such as linen.

3. What changes do you think you will make to your buying strategy for spring 08?

The climate is changing, and with that in mind I will be buying into more dresses and skirts. Everybody wants dresses with a bit of a sleeve at this time of year, so I will be looking to buy more of those for early spring sales. My budget will stay about the same and I will hold back about 20% for in-season buying.

4. Did you hold back on buying for autumn 07, and will you buy in-season to top up?

I was very wary in terms of my autumn 07 buying, cutting my budget by about 10% and holding back 20% for in-season buys after a terrible autumn 06. Looks hadn't moved on much and colours were uninspiring. I put most of my money into pieces I knew I could sell and concentrated on transitional-weight knitwear.

5. When are you planning to go on Sale?

I will start the Sale at the end of July and it will run for about three weeks. I start discounts at 30% and by the end I want to clear as much as possible, so we offer up to 70% off.

SUE SLADE, owner of La Belle in Bournemouth, Dorset

1. What have been the most commercial looks, colours and trends this season?

Longer-length dresses and skirts with a bit of a fishtail hem have worked well with older customers, while the younger, shorter look on occasionwear that I bought into with Condici has appealed to younger women looking for wedding outfits.

2. What impact has the warm spring weather had on your business?

The weather has been much warmer here through most of April and early May, but surprisingly we are only slightly up on the back of that, maybe by 2% to 3%. But I think it has prolonged the season for us, and psychologically customers have been more confident about buying into high summer styles.

3. What changes do you think you will make to your buying strategy for spring 08?

Next season I desperately need a decent day dress range. My buying budget will stay about the same, but on occasionwear I will be more adventurous and push my price points a little higher in some areas.

4. Did you hold back on buying for autumn 07, and will you buy in-season to top up?

Autumn 06 wasn't easy. For the past five years we've not had a proper winter here in Bournemouth. The shop's offer is 65% daywear in autumn, so I needed to rein in on outerwear because no one was buying it.

5. When are you planning to go on Sale?

The Sale starts in early July and runs for a month. I'd like to hold out longer but it's impossible. Customers say: "Other shops are on Sale - why aren't you?"

SUZANNE WHALE, owner of Suzanne at the Clothes Room in Hampton Court and Suzanne's in Wimbledon, south-west London

1. What have been the most commercial looks, colours and trends this season?

Black and white has sold exceptionally well, as has black in general, despite reservations about it not being a summer colour. Corals and red have also sold strongly. The silhouette has moved away from a fluid look to more fitted styles, which have worked well.

2. What impact has the warm spring weather had on your business?

The impact of the weather has been huge. We're 50% up on last year. Spring kicked off a month earlier than expected - we've almost sold out of T-shirts already.

3. What changes do you think you will make to your buying strategy for spring 08?

I will up next spring's budget by about 20%. Although I will buy more, I'll look for cost-effective ranges, as customers are very price sensitive at the moment. We've done very well with some Danish labels that offer good design at keen price levels. I'll also be looking for more high summer product and more colour.

4. Did you hold back on buying for autumn 07, and will you buy in-season to top up?

Autumn 06 was tough so we cut back on the buy for autumn 07. I came in under my original buying budget and was happy with that. The season is so short now and winter weather is so unpredictable that people don't seem to want to buy winter clothes any more.

5. When are you planning to go on Sale?

We start the Sale in early July and stay on Sale until late August. Customers understand our Sale is genuine and will hold back cash for it, meaning I don't feel much pressure from department stores going on Sale.

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