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Working together can only make us stronger

Grant Mitchell is the managing director of mainstream menswear independent Cooper & McKenzie in Dundee and a member of IMC.

As a member of buying group Independent Menswear Company (IMC), we have advantages in flexibility and access to niche brands such as Oscar Menswear, Culture and Sunwill that the larger stores don’t have.

This has been a major lifeline for us during the past few years, without which we might have struggled to hold our own. Being an independent retailer can be frustrating at the best of times. As a medium-sized business it can also be isolating, but the IMC has given us the support we needed to navigate the recent choppy waters.

Retailers can be notoriously closed when it comes to divulging the truth about how they are faring. However, when a fellow IMC retailer is more than 200
miles away and discusses challenges openly, it can only be advantageous.

IMC membership helps us carry merchandise that will not appear elsewhere and will not be discounted, giving us a point of difference. Culture shirts, for example, are one of our strongest-selling items - they’re quirky but tasteful. IMC has sole rights to supply them in the UK, and I could never have found them alone.

So many brands today are predictable, leaving indies with little leverage for inspiring customers. With an IMC brand like Falabella, however, I know I will present my customers with something unique and - because it’s not overexposed - we can retain good margins on it.

We also produce some own-brand collections, such as our increasingly popular ‘heritage’ tweed jackets. Making these products with quality cloth under our own label really works, and is where our 140-year heritage comes into its own. We source the fabrics and can share that knowledge with other IMC members.

Price points remain an issue, but when we produce a garment we make sure to give it a unique twist. When that product is delivered onto our shop floor, it’s got to have that little bit of ‘wow’ to it.

If someone wants a suit for £60, they can get it from Tesco. With access to IMC suppliers, I can be sure Cooper & McKenzie need never compete in that market and can offer something exclusive, yet still at great value.

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