The husband and wife behind 25 Ten Boutique in Rochdale have tackled the problem of their deteriorating town head on by opening an indie hub, and now the ambitious pair have their sights set on an own label.
Walking through Rochdale town centre, Drapers passed at least three empty shop units, countless charity shops and discount stores before reaching young fashion indie 25 Ten Boutique, which resides in the art deco Rochdale Emporium building at one end of the high street.
Husband and wife Paul and Kelly Turner-Mitchell typify the breed of ambitious indie owners that have kept their businesses moving and relevant during the recession. And with Rochdale one of the worst-hit towns – one in 20 claim jobseekers’ allowance and 44% of workers commute to work in other parts of Greater Manchester – 25 Ten Boutique could have been odds on to be another indie casualty.
That, however, has not been the case. 25 Ten Boutique has been fighting back and even increasing sales, encouraged by a £500m part-government, part-private regeneration project that within the next five years will bring a new shopping centre and sixth-form college to Rochdale, plus a direct Metrolink to Manchester.
“Rochdale has been suffering from the consolidation of some of the multiple retailers. It’s unfortunately one of the towns that has often been on the list to go,” says Paul. “However, with the regeneration there will be more people coming into the town again.”
The big idea
And 25 Ten Boutique is playing a leading role in this regeneration. In February 2010, Paul sent a proposal to Rochdale council asking it to support his vision of turning the town into a destination for indie retailers. The proposal was to bring a disused, run-down property (now Rochdale Emporium) on Yorkshire Street back to life, not only to house 25 Ten Boutique but also complementary stores that would draw in the local community and shoppers from surrounding areas.
This three-storey building was being eyed up by a discount store that wanted to occupy the whole unit before Paul’s proposal changed its fate: “I spoke to the council about creating a destination and thankfully it bought into it. I was able to take advantage of low property prices and invest now to get a good deal.”
The Turner-Mitchells now own the whole building, with 25 Ten Boutique occupying the ground floor since its move from its Cheetham Street store last November. Says Paul: “The government empty shop grant allowed the council to cover the rent and rates for the first floor until it was ready to be occupied.” The second floor will be taken up by offices, but will be kept separate to the retail side of things.
There are five other retail units in the Emporium, and shoppers will have to walk through 25 Ten Boutique to access the other shops and a cafe, increasing the store’s footfall. “The cafe has been signed off and we are hoping the five units on the first floor will be signed off by next week,” says Paul. “We want to satisfy customer demand and will be renting to stores that range from vintage fashion to an upmarket cosmetics brand and accessories shop that will all complement our store. Think of it like an indie version of Debenhams with its concessions.”
And that’s not the only project in the pipeline. Following an exclusive autumn 11 womenswear range created by Liverpool designer Clare McCullock, Paul and Kelly have been toying with the idea of starting their own brand. They are in talks with a well-known face to front the womenswear brand’s marketing material, and a UK wholesale agent is already in place. If the deal is sealed in time, the duo believe they can get a short-order collection ready for spring 12.
The brand’s design will be split between design students at the University of Salford and two small labels. A name is yet to be decided on. If the spring 12 range does happen, it will take the form of a 12-piece capsule of “commercial and easy-to-wear pieces” with a mix of smart tailoring through to dresses, according to Kelly.
The own label is a logical next step for an indie where sales have been particularly strong since the move to the larger shop, which is 1,400 sq ft compared with the old store’s 650 sq ft. Sales increased 37% in the financial year from 2009-10 in the old store, and by an impressive 106% from 2010-11.
Savvy marketing campaigns have also helped. “We have more than 5,300 people on our Facebook group,” Kelly says, “and for a small indie with no paid advertising we think we’re doing alright.”
Indeed they are. New brands Ichi, Firetrap and Traffic People have been taken on for spring 12 in addition to a growing menswear offer that was added following the move to the Emporium. “We’re shifting a lot of outerwear at the moment,” says Kelly. “It’s too early for people to be thinking about partywear so they are choosing the chunky knits and buying pieces they can carry through [the season].”
The retailer does not follow the rest of the high street into early Sales, choosing to stick to traditional Sale periods, and avoids the heavy discounting expected by many shoppers today. “25% is a big chunk out of our margin but it’s not enough to get people to spend any more; customers expect the Sale to start at 50%,” says Kelly. “We have to entice customers to spend in a different way.”
Initiatives to increase customer loyalty and sales include a free alteration service and a ‘layaway’ scheme – in which customers receive their item after paying in installments. “In 2008 when the recession kicked in, we increased the payback time from two weeks to six weeks and it has become a way that our customer shops now. We are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to not go out of town. This service is something the multiples can’t offer.”
So, as an indie closely involved with efforts to regenerate the local high street, what do the pair think of Mary Portas’s government brief to save the high street? “I welcomed it at first,” says Paul. “But I’m always a bit sceptical when celebrities get involved with the government. She’s the right person and I’m confident she’ll come up with some key initiatives, but it’s whether they’re put into action. She’s said she’s been given no guarantees her suggestions will be implemented.”
Paul and Kelly prefer a hands-on approach to saving the high street. “We are dictating to the council what we think should be done. Often people are quick to moan in their stores but don’t put their head above the parapet to do something about it. The council has been receptive to a lot of our ideas.”
2011 Liverpool designer Clare McCullock creates an exclusive autumn 11 collection for 25 Ten Boutique; store is shortlisted for Drapers Young Fashion Indie of the Year award
2010 Buys disused building to create Rochdale Emporium and secures funding from Rochdale council; relocates to larger premises and starts selling menswear; launches website
2007 25 Ten Boutique opens in Rochdale