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My fashion life - Martin Schneider

The owner of Leeds premium retailer Accent explains how he has kept its customers happy since 1984.

In November you merged Accent’s separate menswear, kidswear and womenswear stores in Queens Arcade, Leeds, into one. Why?

There are two main reasons. First, the womenswear store was a really difficult space to work with. It was three units knocked into one over three floors, which meant there were a lot of staffing costs and the shopping space was cramped, long and thin - so it was very inefficient at displaying brands. Also the cost of the rent was astronomical - it had nearly doubled over the past 10 years.

So the move was a no-brainer. We now have more space [3,500 sq ft] and for a lesser rate. It looks, feels and operates so much better, and having all three stores under one roof just adds to the whole shopping experience.

Accent, Leeds

Have you picked up new labels or dropped others in the expansion?

Not really.

We are always picking up new labels and dropping others, so nothing has really changed there. But we will now be able to provide a larger range.

How has the new store format been received by customers?

Very well - they all really like the space. We had our grand opening in November and the response was amazing. There have been many comments on how the stock is a lot better, but the funny thing is the stock hasn’t changed - it is just displayed better.

How have your customers changed since you first opened in 1984?

They are now more price-savvy and that is definitely because of the internet. We still have loyal customers who prefer to come in store and are not interested in online shopping and never will be, but the internet is still definitely the biggest change.

What sets the retail landscape in Leeds apart from other cities?

The Victorian arcades are the best thing about Leeds - they are what make this city unique. They are filled with independents where you can find things you wouldn’t anywhere else. But that independent base is now shrinking, which is sad. Leeds is
also a very compact city. All the fashion is concentrated in one small area, which is good for consumers but difficult when everyone is chasing the same brands.

How has the opening of the Trinity Leeds shopping centre affected your footfall?

It has shifted traffic towards the bottom of town but it attracts more of a high street customer, so it hasn’t affected ours. The footfall for the whole of Leeds, however, is still down overall. The city council stats show like-for-like footfall has significantly dropped over recent years, which is scary.

What do you personally think of Trinity Leeds?

It’s OK. It’s just the same as every other shopping centre but with no free parking.

What is the key to independents’ success when competing against big centres like Trinity Leeds?

Having a good brand mix, offering great service and, most of all, knowing your customer. We not only give great service but we can give fashion advice and up-to-date information on all the latest trends. I don’t believe many stores in the shopping centre could do that.

Which is your personal favourite brand?

Replay. We’ve dealt with the brand since day one of opening and it just fits in perfectly with Accent and what we are about.

How is it working with your wife Louise (a director at Accent)?

It’s great. We wouldn’t have the business we have today if it wasn’t for her. I am the trader and she is the brains. We do try to keep work and home separate but it’s not always easy. Louise is a workaholic and is always on her laptop until the early hours of the morning.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

Still being in business. I am also proud of the reputation we’ve built up in the industry and the fact we still have customers who have been shopping with us since day one.

Why is the shop called Accent?

Well, when my old business partner and I first opened the shop we still didn’t have a name two weeks before opening. He came up with the name Accent and I couldn’t think of anything better.

It was as simple as that.

How would you sum up Accent in three words?

Stylish, helpful, family.

So, what is your favourite accent?

It’s got to be the French accent, it’s just so beautiful.

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