The owner of Havetolove in Newcastle tells us about her own brand and staying ahead of the competition.
You opened your womenswear boutique in Gosforth, Newcastle, in 2006. How has your outlook changed since?
It has been a steep learning curve, as I opened Havetolove just before the recession hit. Fashion seasons seem to be disappearing and stock turnover is a lot quicker, which means adjusting to in-season buying. Customers want good-quality pieces at affordable prices and with the emergence of ecommerce, customers are savvy and tend to price match, so our prices must be competitive. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort in developing our online store.
How has your brand mix changed since then?
We have an established loyal customer base and buy specifically for their tastes, but we also buy more generally for the online store which is faster-paced - so we favour brands that deliver on time, have a strong PR company behind them and can send us product and model images. We have changed our brand mix by including some short-order brands to reflect the faster fashion market, savvy ecommerce shoppers and our growing customer base, but we are constantly on the lookout for new brands while staying faithful to our favourite long-standing brands like MiH Jeans, Victoria Beckham Denim and Gestuz, for example.
Are you planning to expand the business?
To reflect the upsurge in online sales we have invested in developing the website rather than the store, which has paid off with the increase of online sales to about 60% of our total.
What has been the biggest surprise to you since opening the store?
The recession has been the biggest surprise but I have thrived on the challenge and we have adapted to the current economic climate.
How do you maintain close relationships with customers?
Customers can call on us for style advice and last-minute styling for events. The key is in knowing their needs and we have even been known to open the boutique out of hours.
What do you look for in new brands?
We are always on the lookout for new brands to stay one step ahead of the competition. We look for versatility, quality, affordability and, most importantly, that the company behind the brand has a solid infrastructure.
How do you find new brands?
Over the years we have amassed numerous contacts to help us stay ahead of the curve. Also with our growing reputation we are often approached by agents and suppliers directly.
Are trade shows still important?
Time pressures make it difficult to attend as many as we would like, but Scoop is one to look out for.
Are you buying more into short-order or pre-collections?
Yes, it is important to refresh in store and online with short-order ranges. Online, customers are always looking for what’s new.
How do you interpret trends for your customers?
We know our customers well and often buy with them in mind, so sometimes we adapt trends to suit their preferences. We have to consider the longevity of trends and whether they are age-appropriate.
You launched your own line of cashmere jumpers and jewellery last year - how is that going?
The Havetolove brand is proving very popular, so we are planning to expand this in spring 14 and wholesale it.
What has been your most successful brand?
MiH Jeans constantly adapts to suit customer needs and the latest trends. Our customers are loyal to this brand, and as MiH is British-born we are particularly fond of it.
If you could stock any brand, regardless of the price, what would it be?
Chanel is the ultimate super-brand that never dates. It’s a retailer’s dream brand and one of my favourites.
What is your personal favourite brand?
Havetolove, of course.
If you weren’t working in fashion, what would you do instead?
I’ve always loved horses so would probably be involved in the equine industry.