Penny Rawson, founder of The Edit, scooped the Best Store Design prize at the Drapers Independents Awards last year, after opening four shops in under two years. She tells Drapers how she intends to build the business further and expand into new areas.
The premise for the Edit was simple: to cater to the under-served “yummy mummies” of the north-west of England with reasonably priced premium womenswear.
“I think this is how all good ideas begin: when you see a good opportunity in the marketplace,” explains owner Penny Rawson. “I saw a gap for affluent mums who have grown out of high street brands such as Topshop but are not ready for the maturity of Marks & Spencer.”
The 35-year-old businesswoman opened her debut store in May 2016 in Hale, followed by Knutsford, Didsbury and Alderley Edge over the next 23 months.
The Edit sells clothing and accessories from womenswear brands such as Fransa, Elie Beaumont and Kaffe at average retail prices of around £50. Rawson strives to provide easy, every-day, affordable fashion that makes her customers feel glamorous on the school run.
The store design in Hale aims to appeal to this customer base with quirky touches, such as The Edit’s slogans “Take the stress out of getting dressed!” and “For the beautiful every day” affixed to the mirrors by the founder and her daughter.
All the stores are designed and decorated by Rawson in a contemporary and cool styling with touches of homeliness. An overt consistency in branding works to create connection between the different locations. Plush carpeting at the rear of the store ensures comfort for those using the dressing rooms, and the geometric prints against the predominantly grey colour palette create a fun atmosphere designed to attract her mid-thirties-and-upwards customer base.
I saw a gap for affluent mums who have grown out of high street brands such as Topshop but are not ready for the maturity of Marks & Spencer
This award-winning formula led the Edit boutique in Hale to beat seven other contenders to win the Drapers Independents Award for Best Store Design last September.
For Rawson, the win was a “total shock”. But for one of the judges, Juls Dawson, co-founder of sales agency Just Consultancies, The Edit was a clear winner.
“The store immediately appealed to myself and fellow judges because of the standout simplicity in its design, from logo to shopfit.
“The impressive growth in store count since inception proves Rawson has a formula for success. She has tapped into an obvious demand for middle price-point product in what is traditionally an affluent part of Cheshire and south Manchester.”
The Edit generates an average total turnover of £23,000 a week. Annual turnover for the year to 31 March 2018 was £700,000, up from £475,000 the preceding year. Like-for-like sales for the year were up 2% on 2016. Rawson expects turnover to reach £1.2m turnover in the current financial year.
Operating profit was flat compared with the previous year because of investment in new stores – Didsbury opened in September 2017 – while profit margins increased by five percentage points year on year.
Rawson attributes the strong growth to her choice of product. The Edit’s bestsellers are joggers from womenswear brand Suzy D. She discovered the brand through customer recommendations, and, on seeing the brand at trade shows such as Pure London, she introduced the brand online and in stores from spring 17.
Suzy D founder Suzanne Kern says: “Penny has a really good eye for buying and, although she can’t buy everything, as we have so much stock, she is really adept at choosing what works for her and her customers. On top of all that, I really rate that she is so young to be as successful as she is.”
Buoyed by her early success and Drapers Independents Award win, Rawson is now preparing to expand into new areas: the launch of her own Bless Cashmere line this autumn; growing the online side of the business; and further store openings.
Knitwear is the biggest-selling category for the The Edit, so Rawson saw her own line as “the next logical step”. Bless Cashmere will launch in The Edit stores and online for autumn 18 with 34 styles, including 50% cashmere jumpers with symbol and slogan designs. It will also be available for wholesale short orders at £24 for knitted jumpers with a suggested retail price of £64.50.
I had around two months’ salary, a bank loan of £10,000 and that was it
“It will feature lots of fun patterns such as animal print, lightning bolts and other fun elements like that, so it is aimed at the younger ’yummy mummy’ end of the market, which is my core customer base,” she says.
Rawson’s ambitions also extend to online growth. Currently online sales make up 8% of total sales. She believes represents the biggest opportunity for sales growth in the future. “The website is a massive opportunity for us, but it is really difficult because you do not have a shop that people can walk by and therefore it requires a different skillset from what I have done in the past.”
Her husband, Tim, joined the business when the Knutsford store opened in October 2016. He previously worked as the menswear manager at Selfridges in Manchester where he met Penny and went on to a series of HR roles working for Boohoo, a rental car company and a hotel group.
The couple plan to drive growth in this area by expanding the brand range and depth available, developing targeted offers tailored to customers and focusing on social media posts for new products. They have already introduced free domestic and international shipping, which has increased conversion by 50%.
Further store expansion is also on the cards, but Rawson is adamant that each site must have the right proposition and demographics: “It is like buying a house. You have to go for the absolute best location that you can. Location is the one thing that I would never compromise on.”
Rawson has seen properties in Liverpool that have interested her and fit her target retail proposition, but she has no immediate plans to open there. She insists growth will be organic and remains is focused on ensuring The Edit stores maintain their point of difference and original personalities.
“We might open more stores, but what is important to me is maintaining organic growth. I would love to expand into London eventually, but probably not until my daughter [Georgia, aged nine] is older.”
Despite her aptitude for retail, Rawson surprised her family by her initial decision to move into the industry: she studied neuroscience at the University of Manchester.
She fell for fashion retail while working in Selfridges in Manchester as a teenager selling Prada handbags. After graduating in 2001, she abandoned her medical ambitions and joined the graduate scheme with Topshop at Arcadia Group, where she worked in several stores around Cheshire.
Rawson spent 15 years working for retailers such as Topshop, Selfridges, Mothercare and Debenhams, predominantly on the shop floor as the store or womenswear manager, until a brain virus forced her to give up work temporarily in 2015.
When she recovered, she decided to open her first store in Hale in May 2016. Starting the business with £18,000, Rawson paid back her initial investment in just eight weeks.
“I had around two months’ salary, a bank loan of £10,000 and that was it,” she recalls. “The store used to be a florist. We completed all the work and opened in just two weeks. And then a year and a half later we won the Drapers Independents Award for store design.”
Having grown The Edit from a single-person operation, she now employs 13 staff.
“What makes building the business so easy is how amazing the staff are,” she says. “I think it is always a mistake when people take on less-expensive staff ,because they are worth their weight in gold. You are so much better off to just pay more to get better staff.”
One of the challenges Rawson has faced, as with many independent retailers, is management of cashflow, especially as brands deliver collections twice-yearly, so large invoices arrive from multiple brands at the same time.
This can be difficult for Rawson, as she prefers to pay for everything by forward order: “We pay for all of our stock upfront, which is quite unusual for boutiques, but it gives me peace of mind because I do all the bookkeeping, too, and it really relieves the stress.”
Discounting in particular is a big trap for businesses. Customers begin to anticipate discounts, so they wait to buy
Many independents across the country are struggling with rising costs, the constant discounting culture, and increased competition from value retailers and online businesses. Rawson’s strategy for dealing with this is to focus on offering designer clothing at affordable prices and focusing on great customer service.
“It is a difficult climate for retail at the moment but it does open up opportunities for new independent businesses who do not have to deal with big slow operations or long legacy leases.
“Discounting in particular is a big trap for businesses. Customers begin to anticipate discounts, so they wait to buy. We try to only have two Sales a year to prevent that and ensure that customers feel they are paying a fair price for what they get in return.”
London-based contemporary agency TCA Showrooms sells Rawson many of her most popular brands, including Garcia and Salsa.
TCA’s brand manager for Salsa, Lee White, agrees with Rawson’s strategy: “She operates uniquely for the customer-base and market that she works in. You see many premium boutiques in the area and although she caters for that market, she also targets the less expensive end of the market.
“That is why she has hit the ground running. Her background in retail and buying has shown her that this market exists.”
But despite all her ambitions for growth, Rawson is keen to remain a manageable independent with a loyal and strong shopper base: “I would love to see the brand grow bigger, because I think it is really strong but I don’t know if I would have to sell it on to do that. I don’t want to be the owner of a big business – that’s not really what I want to do.
“The thing that I am probably most proud of is that I had a vision in mind and I have just worked towards that. It is a really difficult time for retail at the moment and I think maintaining my core philosophy of ‘taking the stress out of getting dressed’ with good customer service, a strong retail offer and curated brand mix is the way forward for the shopping experience.”