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Tapping into bath

Four Bath menswear indies on how the city is changing and their plans for 2008

SW71

Owner: Darius Spikes-Walker

Location: 11 New Bond Street

Founded: September 2005

Brands stocked: Blood & Glitter, Cast Iron, Esprit, Gibson, Nanny State, Superdry

"There are some very exciting developments going on in Bath at the moment. As well as the new SouthGate centre, which has attracted multiples including Debenhams, a property firm run by Birmingham City FC co-owner David Sullivan has bought a small precinct called The Corridor. It's located just off the main high street and I hope it will attract more independents. Ted Baker and Reiss have also recently opened up the road.

"Although competition is increasing, I believe that as new shops open it will attract more shoppers who want something different to the multiples. And if you can provide individual product and good service, this will set you aside.

"Our sales are about 10% up on last year, but this is mainly from our strong made-to-measure and wedding suit hire services. I have noticed a downturn in footfall for our casualwear, which I think is partly due to the recent good weather - people don't want to shop when it's very sunny outside. However, tailored shirts with interesting details and Superdry T-shirts have been selling particularly well.

"The majority of our customers like pieces that are a bit different, so I only buy in small quantities to give them a feeling of exclusivity, and I only repeat on the more basic pieces.

"Shorts have also been selling very strongly. I bought a lot more shorts for this spring and I put them on the floor earlier, which has proved the right thing to do.

"At the moment I spend about 70% of my total budget on forward-order product, but I am readdressing this for spring 08 and saving more for in-season buying after noticing that a growing number of companies are offering short-order stock.

"Men have definitely become more interested in dressing well in recent years; maybe they've been influenced by the likes of David Beckham and have realised it's all right to want to look good."

ZUCCI

Co-owners: Nicole Thompson and Natasha Alexander

Location: 7-13 Upper Borough Walls

Founded: 1984

Brands stocked: Armani Collezioni, Bespoke Couture, Canali, Ozwald Boateng, Paul Smith, Ted Baker

"We have seen a lot of retailers come and go in Bath, and I think the secret to staying ahead of the game is good buying and personal service. We're a family business - my father opened the store in 1984 - and our customers like the family ambiance. Men don't take pleasure in shopping in the way women do. They like to go twice a year to somewhere they know, where they can spend time and don't feel rushed.

"Our customers are looking for something a bit different. For example, the trend for more fitted clothing has introduced many of them to different shapes and textures, so fitted shirts are selling well. We look for product that's ahead of the mainstream, but not too directional.

"About 85% of our spring 08 budget will be for forward order and the rest will be saved for repeats in the season - at our level of the market the suppliers don't hold very much in-season stock. We also have to hedge our bets and not mark down stock too early or by too much. But as long as the product is good quality and they have the money, our customers will buy what they need.

"Bath's forthcoming retail developments, such as the SouthGate scheme and Milsom Place in the centre of town, are good for Bath as a destination. It's a busy town, with more tourists and weekenders visiting, but we are concerned because consumer spend is only so big and there is a real issue with parking here. It is very expensive and there seems to be little of it available, especially at the weekends.

"We know that a lot of local people who live just outside of Bath now prefer to stay away and shop in their own towns because it is less hassle for them."

GAFF

Owner: Mo Behradmehr

Location: 29 Upper Borough Walls

Founded: 1995

Brands stocked: Diesel, Gas, Jack & Jones, Old Glory, Replay

"When I first opened I used to go to Italy, buy a few thousand pieces from the fashion houses, then go back a month later for more. I'm almost returning to those days. Two years ago about 80% to 90% of my buying was done on forward order, but now I've cut this to 40% and I'm saving the rest for in-season buying.

"For spring 08 I will go to a lot more shows, but I will only buy my denim on forward order. It's always best to buy denim in advance if you want the best styles and fabrics, but I'll wait until closer to the season to buy the remainder, especially tops. I was caught off guard this spring after spending about 20% of my budget on long-sleeved tops. But because we moved from a very mild winter directly into summer they have not shifted, whereas the lighter, short-sleeved items started selling very early on.

"The warmer weather over the past few years has meant I have changed my budget breakdown for the seasons: it used to be 40% for spring and 60% for autumn, but now it's the reverse. The winter is milder and shorter so shoppers are spending less on heavy pieces.

"Christmas used to represent about 20% of our overall sales, but it is just not as strong for us nowadays. A lot more people do their Christmas shopping on the internet instead, and because the warmer weather comes earlier we now have to start the Sale earlier in mid-December to make sure we're not left with a lot of ridiculously marked-down jackets in March.

"I think people have become a lot more cautious about what they spend their money on because the cost of living is rising. High-street multiples have also become more competitive on price and are fighting for shoppers in search of a bargain. However, I believe menswear is less affected by this - my male customers are more loyal to the store because they like the personal service it offers."

GABUCCI

Owner: Ali Neil

Location: 35 Milsom Street

Founded: 1991

Brands stocked: Caramelo, Digel, John Smedley, Pierre Lafitte, Roy Robson

"I've noticed that my customers are now becoming a lot more adventurous in what they buy. Although first and foremost it's about the quality and design, they are going for brighter colours and different fabrics. Linen has been selling particularly well so far this season, as well as suiting with a more fitted cut and in more lightweight fabrics.

"I'm positive about spring 08. I'll spend about 40% of my budget on forward order, mostly on linen, and I'll buy the rest of the stock much closer to the season. I'll also visit the showrooms in Spain, Germany, Italy and Portugal during the season to stock up.

I think the faster pace of the market nowadays means it's necessary to save a lot of my budget for in-season buying, but there are also risks involved. The market is tough for suppliers as well as retailers, so some are getting tighter in terms of their own stock control. If not enough forward orders have been placed for some items they may not produce them at all, because holding excess stock is expensive for them as well. You have to make sure you get the right balance so you don't lose out if you leave it too late.

"There are a lot of new retail schemes opening in Bath in the next few years and there is also a lot of work under way in Bristol - even Harvey Nichols is opening there. At the moment a lot of my customers come from Bristol because there isn't much choice there at this level of the market.

"It will be interesting to see the impact that these developments have on Bath and on my own store. I'm optimistic about the changes: the shop is on a prime site on the main high street and it has a very loyal customer base."

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