Kent womenswear indie The Find won an overhaul by retail guru Mary Portas last night, at the Drapers Fashion Summit, as well as monthly coverage in Drapers over the course of the next year to track its progress.
The Find, which has two stores in Sevenoaks and Cranbrook, also secured a scholarship to three workshops fronted by Portas and run by Skillsmart Retail, the national skills council for the retail industry, as part of the prize for the indie most in need of Portas’ help.
The family-run indie triumphed over Asian occasionwear boutique Jasminique, in Bedford, lifestyle menswear and womenswear boutique Gente Bella in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and womenswear boutique Fortuny, which has stores in Chislehurst and Teddington, which were also shortlisted for the prize.
All four businesses were critiqued by Portas live on stage at the Summit, at London’s May Fair Hotel, and their respective owners were offered tailored advice on how to improve their stores.
Jasmanique was instructed to go more upmarket and deliver “tasteful India” to Western women. Gente Bella was advised to take merchandising tips from US retail chain J Crew and to expand by selling stock from a branded Gente Bella vehicle. Fortuny was instructed to stop trying to replicate Beverley Hills-style retailing in home counties England, and to tailor product to the different customer profiles of each of its stores.
Portas advised The Find owner and manager Wendy Leat to shut the business’ Sevenoaks store, run by her “too shy” daughter Georgie Leat, and instead to focus on online expansion.
The Find, which stocks womenswear brands Sandwich, Desigual, Lauren Vidal, Karen Cole and Belgian brand Mais Il Est Ou Le Soleil?, opened in Cranbrook in 2005 and made a profit of £150,000 in its first year of trading. It was also shortlisted as Drapers Best New Indie of the year.
Leat opened the second branch of The Find in Sevenoaks in 2008, with her husband Ian Leat, formerly UK distribution and contracts manager for fashion logistics firm DTS Logistics, but the store has been steadily losing money since. The Leats have been using cash and stock from the once-successful Cranbrook store to subsidise the Sevenoaks store.
Leat said yesterday that the prize gave her “renewed hope”. “Since we entered this competition we have really been looking at the nuts and bolts of every component of our business. In hindsight we wish we had never opened the Sevenoaks store,” she said.
“[Our daughter] is an ideas person and she’s very good at making sure those ideas are followed through, but she is not chatty enough with customers. I think she would be better suited to an online business.”
Portas added: “The Find needs this help but it can work. It needs to sell its lease on Sevenoaks and use the resources that it has got to build a proper online business.”