Louise Schneider is director of premium retailer Accent Clothing in Leeds.
This year marks Accent Clothing’s 30th year in independent fashion, and how things have changed. We have been learning since the beginning, and this has been particularly true in the last five years with the rapid rise of internet retail and fast fashion.
The skillset required to run a single-door, young fashion independent 30 years ago was very different to now. Excellent customer service skills, passion for the product, a love of fashion and only basic management skills were all that was needed. Shopping was very much a local experience, you knew most of your customers by name, and they knew you.
With social media and an online store, the nature of business is no longer local. Your biggest shop window is your website, which reaches consumers globally rather than just a small geographical community.
Relationships with the customer have changed - individuals buy differently, think differently and have significantly different expectations of their local independent. Shoppers are now price savvy, knowledgeable and expect transparency. In this customer-centric world, they dictate the price and margins are often challenged.
Like every independent, we have had to adapt to the changes and become operationally more efficient and organised. Immediacy defines the times. Efficiency and effectiveness are essential as everything is squeezed at the top, and lower footfall and margin combine with higher wages, rent and rates. This is not a sustainable business model, as many independents are finding out. We communicate with our customers through a raft of different means, including social media platforms, our website, live chat, the shop floor, community events, email, direct mail and the telephone. Communication with our customers is now a two-way process - interaction is the word.
In the last 30 years, a lot has changed and what we have learned is endless. The most important lesson, though, is to adapt to the modern world while keeping our traditional values at heart. You are definitely never too old to learn. In fact, the older we get as a fashion retailer, the more we have had to learn - and quickly.