In a tough year for trading, one shop scored a hat trick of Drapers Awards. So what makes this York indie so special?
Winning one Drapers Award is a mark of distinction; bagging three is cause for wonder.
But that is exactly what York independent Sarah Coggles achieved in November, walking away with the gongs for best womenswear retailer, best designer retailer and best overall indie. Arguably then, the double-fronted store – whose women’s and men’s stores are two doors apart on Low Petergate in the city – could lay claim to being 2007’s finest fashion retailer.
Owner Mark Bage sounds humble when discussing his triumphant evening. “It was a bit of a shock. It was unbelievable. We thought we’d be lucky to win one,” he says.
But Sarah Coggles’ success came as less of a surprise to anyone who knows the business. Since a refit in 1992 its white walls and wooden fixtures have been the blueprint of the contemporary designer shop.
The 16-year-old shopfit is still modern (the second store, which hosts menswear, was given a similar shopfit when it opened in 2004, and the store’s terraced area was transformed into a Moroccan-style garden last year. This is a retailer that has recognised that shopping is an experience that has to constantly evolve. Other features include cream teas and beer for customers and a personal shopper service.
A black room decked out in glossy vinyl adds verve to the men’s store. It is a blank canvas that houses various displays and often includes invitations to customers to write on it – a risky policy given chaps’ propensity for cheekiness. “That’s fine,” says Bage. “The store needs a certain personality. That ‘edge’ is important.”
In both stores, “living wallpaper” projections are streamed onto the walls, while the web wall reflects a page from the Sarah Coggles website that hosts customers’ pictures. The site has been speedily and seamlessly integrated into the business.
“It has been phenomenal”, says Bage, who confirms that the site, launched at the tail end of 2006, generated £1 million of turnover in its first full year of trading.
Bage says the site’s success is due to it sharing the personality of the stores. “The brand mix is crucial,” he explains. “These days the same people shop in Harvey Nichols as in Topshop. We reflect that. It may not be what all the brands want, but we sell premium names such as Joseph, Nicole Farhi and Vivienne Westwood Gold alongside much more affordable labels. We stock according to quality of design and by item, not by brand personality.”
Beyond all this, Bage attributes Sarah Coggles’ success to a prosaic characteristic. “We work in a bubble,” he says. “We just get our heads down and get on with it. Once we decide to do something, we go for it and assess it again after maybe a year.”
He is not prone to agonising over comparisons with competitors – a useful strategy in a year when trading was tough, summer failed to show and credit crunched.
So will 2008 be just as successful? Bage and his team will just get their heads down and see.
1974: Year the business was founded by Mark Bage’s mother
80: The amount of brands stocked by the business
60: Number of staff employed by Sarah Coggles