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Talking Shop: Co-operative brands and exclusivity are critical for indies

Neil Harris is assistant manager and buyer at Hatters menswear store in Norwich, which is a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).

Neil Harris is assistant manager and buyer at Hatters menswear store in Norwich, which is a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).

Neil Harris

When it comes to buying, we really appreciate the co-operation of a supplier if a collection or style isn’t working.

Some brands are more flexible than others; some suppliers will work with us by offering a stock-swap option, which is a massive help.

As an established business, we have a loyal and solid customer base here in Norwich, so would hope our suppliers value the presence of their brand in a shop such as ours. We stick with brands that work for us and yet we make sure we’re not missing anything new and relevant each season by visiting shows such as Pitti Uomo in Florence and Jacket Required in London.

Male shoppers tend to value consistency enormously and will remain loyal to a brand that works for them, so ensuring they can find what they are looking for at Hatters is really important.

There is certainly a price ceiling on product categories such as denim, jackets, shirts and so forth, but the fit, quality and familiarity of a brand tends to override most criteria. There are only a few ‘window pieces’ which we will buy each season, the items that tap into a trend, but in the main we focus on classic and consistent styles.

Exclusivity is a critical issue for independent shops such as Hatters and we work hard to ensure this factor remains central to our offering. Scotch & Soda and Holland Esquire are good examples of brands we carry exclusively, while others we’ve carried for several years have now been sold to larger competitors.

New brands we’ve introduced this season include Swims footwear, which has been well received so far, and it is only our second season with Barena, a nice Italian company, too. Our main hero brands are Diesel, Paul Smith, Lacoste and Hugo Boss. Holland Esquire is another great brand for our customer and, after only a few seasons, Scotch & Soda is performing strongly for us too.

Predictably, the sunshine in April created a run on spring/summer merchandise such as shorts, linen-mix jackets and Tom Ford sunglasses, so naturally we hope for more of the same.

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