The popularity of ITV series The Only Way is Essex is sprinkling some stardust on independent boutiques in the county.
Reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, which follows the lives, loves and fake tans of a group of friends from Essex, has become a national obsession, with the end of the second season in May attracting 1.57 million viewers. And it’s proving to be a moneyspinner for fashion indies in the county.
Anecdotal evidence shows that businesses in Essex, from hotels to bars and shops, have seen a rise in footfall, especially in areas seen on the show, such as Brentwood and Buckhurst Hill. Fashion entrepreneurs have taken advantage by opening stores in the area, including two stars of the show, Billie and Sam Faiers. Business at their store, Minnie’s Boutique, is soaring.
Matthew Hopkinson, director of research firm Local Data Company, says: “Essex has a higher wealth index than other parts of the country, with a lot of city workers residing in the area and with the wealth to support independent businesses.” According to its data, womenswear indies make up 5% of the retail and leisure sector in towns such as Loughton and Buckhurst Hill - far higher than the 1.8% national average.
Deryane Tadd, owner of contemporary womenswear indie The Dressing Room in St Albans, Hertfordshire, believes these openings could be beneficial for the whole sector: “If they are good stores, on a local level it makes competitors raise their game and on a national level it is a positive message that new businesses are setting up shop and have the potential to do well.”
8 Ropers Yard, Brentwood
Opened in April 2011 to hordes of expectant fans, Minnies Boutique has become one of the best-known womenswear boutiques in Essex. The family business, owned by The Only Way is Essex stars and sisters Sam and Bille Faiers, attracted pre-opening publicity by being featured on the TV show.
Minnies Boutique has exceeded expectations. The store is so popular that it is selling product quicker than it can replenish. “On Saturdays the store has a queue around the block and we need to have a bodyguard on the door,” says Billie Faiers. “Because of the popularity of the store we have to find brands that can offer a shorter lead time so we can quickly replenish stock and drop brands that can’t.”
But Minnies Boutique is successful for more than its celebrity status. Its perfectly pitched product mix, which includes brands such as Lipsy, Truffle Shuffle and D Brand Denim are surefire winners for the young and brash Essex shopper.
Its use of social media is also key to its success, as the store regularly updates customers with store opening times and product availability through its Facebook page, responding to customers’ requests via the social networking site with a large dose of Essex charm.
Minnies next challenge is the launch of a website, which will heighten the need for an efficient stock management system.
The holding page has already had three million hits, demonstrating its potential.
18 Queens Road, Buckhurst Hill
Fulfilling a lifelong ambition, Big Brother star Chantelle Houghton opened a shop in Essex earlier this year in the affluent town of Buckhurst Hill. The boutique sells high-end occasionwear with dresses ranging from £150 to more than £500 from brands such as Forever Unique and Arrogant Cat.
Houghton runs the business with her brother Gregg and the product is merchandised according to the shopper profile. The left-hand side of the store is aimed at older shoppers looking for occasionwear, while the right side attracts younger customers, in particular those looking for a prom dress - proms are a key event in the Essex student’s diary.
The decor of the store is simple, which is intended to show off the product. But the product mix is slightly confusing. In what is predominantly an occasionwear store, menswear brand One Off One You and a selection of swimwear brands and haircare products also feature.
Vardo Boutique is launching a website, which will help to attract a new audience to the boutique online, but it will need
to convey the glamour and luxury of the product it sells.
Ones to watch
Lé Chérie Boutique
178 High Street, Ongar
With a product mix aimed at the 30-plus woman, Lé Cherie Boutique’s point of difference is its comparatively low price points. Opened only three months ago, it stocks brands including Live Forever as well as stock from local stock houses, with dress prices ranging from £15 to £40. Owner Cherie Bacon is already planning where to open a second store.
173 High Road, Loughton
“Essex customers want that bit of bling, whether it’s
for a night out or their next holiday to Marbella,” says Sarah Vandepeer, store assistant at womenswear boutique Evergreen. And the product mix gives them just that. With brands including Allude cashmere, Hudson Jeans and HMH Couture (which appealed to the store owner after it was sported by Cheryl Cole on The X Factor), Evergreen is full of diamantés, jewels and embellishments.
Bonnie & Clyde
162 High Road, Loughton
Set up by best friends Gemma Lilly and Claudia Allen, Bonnie & Clyde is a hit with the young fashion crowd and is often filled with after-school teens. The price points are low (ranging from £15 to£45) and the fashion is fast moving. Store owner Lilly likes to move stock around on a weekly basis and constantly re-stock with the latest trends to keep customers coming back. All the product is bought direct fromlocal stock houses.
172 High Road, Woodford Green
With brands including Pretty Green, Franklin & Marshall and Ringspun, Junqi has a much stronger menswear than womenswear offer. Womenswear brands include Ringspun and Miss Sixty. Situated on the high street in Woodford Green with few other boutiques in close proximity, Junqi uses its strong product offering to keep customers returning and is known to have some loyal celebrity menswear shoppers.