Sarah Simonds owns womenswear independent Artichoke in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and is a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).
Having opened our shop three weeks before Christmas, I’ve been reflecting on the genesis of Artichoke and how we arrived at this exciting new phase.
The whole business started as a pop-up shop; in fact, we began running pop-ups long before the concept took off and set up our first stall in 2006. This selling format offered me flexibility and control and meant I could commit to my children’s school events without any hassle. Of course, this format is nothing new to the fashion industry; Joules started its business with pop-up shops at country shows and it is now a household name.
It wasn’t long before I realised that lugging heavy clothes around to pop-up shops when I’m 60 would not be very clever, so I needed to think ahead. This was the point at which I began to consider a permanent location in the city centre.
It’s phenomenally difficult to survive in retail today, let alone set up a shop in a new location. The only reason I was able to secure a lease was because I had a 10-year track record and experience. It seems that if you can’t lease premises, you can’t borrow money (the banks still are loathe to loan) and if you have no experience then entering retail today is very hard indeed.
As a FAB member, I have been able to borrow from Bira Bank [set up by trade body the British Independent Retailers Association], which satisfied the shortfall from the loan limit set by my bank. The loan has been an enormous help, as well as providing me with peace of mind. I will probably use Bira utilities for the phones and their European Merchant Services payment facility to save costs on bank transfers to my German suppliers. To have such support and reassurance when setting up has been invaluable.
One of the advantages of having cut my teeth by running pop-up shops is that I am not fazed by the prospect of setting up a retail trading space. We
signed the lease and then opened the shop four days later. These are exciting times as we launch Artichoke in Ely and I look forward to venturing into 2015 in this adventurous spirit.