The credit crunch has been a positive catalyst for change at Austique, my womenswear boutique in Chelsea, west London.
We had been very successful in our opening years, which arguably had left us a little complacent. An industry expert once described to me fashion as a wheel that perpetually rotates; to survive you have to stay one turn ahead of your customer.
Re-evaluation of the business became a necessity, as we knew that 2009 was going to be our toughest year yet and small businesses such as ours were going to have to fight for survival. So we decided to totally revise our buying strategy to keep our customer interested.
Previously we had spent close to our entire budget for a season in advance, leaving a small amount for in-season buying. By placing small orders we have been able to monitor our sell-throughs closely and repeat order or place new orders on the right products at the right times, based on demand.
Key to this strategy has been finding designers that carry stock throughout the season. Many local designers have had orders cancelled this season so were happy to shift their excess stock. This change in buying strategy also allows us to respond to seasonality and the weather, which has a huge impact on spending patterns.
We have become a more nimble business over this year; more responsive to our customers’ needs, sitting on less stock and so seeing increased profitability. Customers have become far more selective about how to spend their cash, although they are still willing to invest in beautiful pieces that are appropriately priced. By placing smaller, regular orders we can also take more risks and keep the stock fresh and exciting, staying one turn ahead of the fashion wheel.
- Katie Canvin is the owner of contemporary womenswear independent Austique in Chelsea, west London