A jack of all trades and a master of each is how suppliers describe the owner of award-winning indie The Dressing Room in St Albans, whose success is built on a solid retailing background
The staffroom walls at contemporary womenswear indie The Dressing Room are strewn with images and descriptions of different customer types. From “the label lover” to “Mr and Mrs Safe”, it’s clear that owner Deryane Tadd’s focus is on knowing her customers inside and out - and making sure her staff do too.
And it’s this motivation that has set Tadd on her way towards making the St Albans store a £1m business in this, its fifth year of trading.
With skills to rival the buying, merchandising and financial directors of some multiples, Tadd is a jack of all trades and, according to one of her suppliers, a master of each.
“Deryane pushes the boundaries by bringing in new and exciting product but at the same time keeps a firm grasp on the business with a methodical approach to management. It’s unusual to have that balance,” says Debra McCann, co-founder of agency Area 142, which supplies Tadd with premium brands Pyrus, Designers Remix and By Zoe.
If Tadd has an edge, it is due in part to a solid retail background that gave her experience of store management, operations and buying with retailers including French Connection, Warehouse and Knickerbox.
Ensuring she has the right product mix to satisfy every customer segment has always been high on the agenda for Tadd, who has upped the percentage of short-order brands she buys from 25% to 35% in the past year.
“Short-order brands such as American Vintage do very well with the girls who work in the City who come in on a Saturday and they’re great for getting freshness in every weekend, but I wouldn’t want to push the balance any further,” she says. “The core collections are where we make more of our money and they do better with the young mums who come in during the week.”
With the new brands she’s taken on for spring 10 now on the shopfloor, including contemporary brands By Zoe, Leslie Evers and Circus & Co, Tadd is awaiting delivery of the brands she’s just signed up for autumn 10 such as Maison Scotch - the more grown-up, feminine collection launched last year by streetwear brand Scotch & Soda - and premium footwear label H by Hudson.
Pushing the boundaries
Although sales at The Dressing Room were up 15% during autumn 09 compared with the previous year, Tadd only increased her forward-order budget by 5%, choosing to hold some cash back to react to trends and take on emerging brands.
“We need to push the boundaries,” she says. “We educate our customers about the latest brands but we can’t push it too far because this is St Albans, not central London.”
But it’s not savvy buying alone that has given Tadd a sell-through of 89% for autumn 09. A constant dialogue with suppliers is a must, she believes. “I do a monthly check on sell-throughs and if I’m overstocked on a brand I’ll ring them and see if they’ll do swaps for me. Hudson Jeans and Area 241 are particularly helpful and in the past I’ve dropped brands that aren’t.”
As well as ensuring she delivers what the customer wants, Tadd is focusing on developing The Dressing Room’s web offer, an area in which she admits she is far from an expert.
“Until now the website has been more of a marketing tool and has driven people into the store, but it’s time to take it national and start taking money from it,” she says. “This year I want it to make about 30% of what the store does.”
With total turnover forecast to continue growing by 5% to 10% each year for the next three years, Tadd is confident there is still potential to develop The Dressing Room in its current one-store format so has shelved plans for bricks-and-mortar expansion. “I used to want five stores but one is all-consuming and I wouldn’t want to weaken it by opening a second store,” she says, before her ambition gets the better of her and she adds: “Yet.”
While many contemporary womens-wear indies were badly shaken by the recession, Tadd’s turnover has grown steadily year on year and was up 20% in 2009, an achievement she puts down to a mix of “the natural growth of a young business” and an inability to stand still.
In 2007, Tadd relocated The Dressing Room from a secondary site in St Albans to the town’s High Street, in the process tripling the store’s trading space to 1,500 sq ft.
She has since launched a raft of marketing initiatives, one of the most successful being Dressing Room To You, a service that sees Tadd and her staff drive the length of the country, hosting buying parties in people’s homes.
“It’s an old-fashioned concept but it’s really taken off,” she says. In-store personal shopping appointments, promotional events for her top customers and tie-ups with local businesses have also helped Tadd boost turnover and awareness of the store, which saw autumn 09 footfall increase 17% on the previous year.
Tadd’s passion for retail is unmistakable, but get her talking about her staff and she could wax lyrical for hours. “It’s really important that people see retail as a career,” she says. Although Tadd has only eight staff, the training and development programme she offers could have been structured for a firm with 10 times as many. With a clearly defined route for progression through the business, Tadd holds quarterly reviews and sets her staff goals for promotion.
Most of Tadd’s team have remained with the business since The Dressing Room first opened, and Tadd keeps them involved by being open about the store’s performance, and breaking down how she and her staff will achieve the business’s goals.
“[Those goals] might mean selling an extra pair of jeans a day. If you make it simple it’s not so daunting,” she says.
2007 Relocates The Dressing Room to a more central 1,500 sq ft site
2005 Opens The Dressing Room as a 550 sq ft store on Hollywell Hill
1999 Operations and buying director for five French Connection franchises
1998 Area manager for a group of five French Connection franchises
1997 Store manager in a French Connection franchise, Watford
1995 Assistant manager, Warehouse, Watford
1993 Store manager,Stirling Cooper
1992 Trainee manager, Knickerbox
What career achievement are you most proud of?
Becoming a director of the French Connection franchise businesses and achieving what I did there was immensely satisfying, but ultimately making a success of The Dressing Room and having that recognised in the industry by winning the Womenswear Independent of the Year prize at the Drapers Awards in 2009 and the Best New Business Award in 2006.
Which other retailers do you admire?
I love the way Liberty merchandises with props rather than just product. It creates some really magical windows and displays.
Who is your fashion icon?
I think what Coco Chanel achieved was amazing. She made her name in a male-dominated world.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working in fashion?
I can’t imagine feeling this passionate about anything else. I love the fact that my job is so varied. One minute I could be out at buying appointments and the next I’ll be changing the store and re-merchandising.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
My boss at the French Connection franchises, Stuart Selwyn, inspired me to go further in business. He taught me how to analyse figures and to be firm but fair in business.I wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t listened to his advice.
From where do you source your product?
I go to Pure London and London Fashion Week here and Who’s Next in Paris. Next year I want to do Gallery in Copenhagen too.