The former Whistles brand director tells Ana Santi about launching a retail brand consultancy and the challenges the market faces
Why did you decide to launch retail brand consultancy Geek?
My business partner Rafael Gilston launched Geek about four years ago - he worked with some really successful brands but loved working with retailers the most. We worked together when I was his client when I ran the Shoe Studio Group, and when I left, we decided to relaunch Geek as a pure retail brand consultancy. He’s the pure brand guy and I bring the retail knowledge - it seems to work pretty well.
What services do you offer and which brands do you target?
We work with retailers and retail investors. We work mainly with retailers that need transforming by helping them rejuvenate and innovate. With investors we work in a pre-deal advisory capacity, reviewing companies prior to the sale process to ensure a sufficient return on investment in the future. We are able to combine our expertise in consumer research, strategy, brand concepts and product development to bring new insights to brand owners and investors.
What are the key challenges facing retailers at the moment?
The toughest challenge is maintaining vision. The recession has led to a massive amount of retrenching. Retailers have been scared or unable to take risks or form a vision for the future. We believe the most successful brands will be those with a very clear vision and that clearly understand their market and consumer. Research tells us true brand loyalty no longer exists - the best you can hope to be is ‘top of mind’. There is so much choice, you need to give consumers a clear reason to choose you.
How difficult is it to build a fashion brand from scratch?
It is never easy - fashion is so much more emotional than other branded markets. It has to be all about vision and knowledge. If you have a powerful brand essence, know your market, find your gap and understand your customer, then there is no reason why you can’t succeed. Lack of customer loyalty can be a plus for a new brand. Offer them something new and different, and they are more likely than ever to give it a try.
Which brands do you admire and why?
They tend to be ‘Marmite’ brands - you either love them or hate them - such as All Saints, Lipsy and Karen Millen. They know their customers inside out and never steer away from what he or she wants. If you shop at these retailers, you feel the teams within these retailers really get you. That’s a very powerful thing.
What is driving consumers to spend at the moment?
At every level of the market, consumers are seeking value. They are increasingly savvy and use the web as a powerful research tool. They are not prepared to be ripped off, and the recession has led them to shop around more. Research tells us they are spending the same amount in the main, but expect more and are spreading their spend around a lot more.
Who is your favourite designer?
David Szeto - he’s a pattern-cutting genius. His dresses are so flattering. For accessories, it has to be Pauric Sweeney - such amazing bags.
Who is your fashion mentor and why?
Lucille Lewin [Whistles founder]. She’s such a lovely lady and a true fashion visionary.
Which is your favourite shop?
Start in Hoxton, east London. It was round the corner from my office when I was at Whistles - it has great brands and Brix [Smith-Start], the owner (pictured), is a lot of fun and a true character.
What was the last piece of clothing you bought?
A great ruffle top from Acne.
Amanda Burrows is co-founder of retail brand consultancy Geek