The fashion industry’s independent sector is often celebrated for its agility. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt businesses across the UK, Drapers looks to independents for inspiration on how to adapt to the new normal of business under lockdown.
This week we speak to Sally Gott, co-founder of Winchester-based Sass & Edge. The womenswear boutique, which Gott opened with business partner Rachel Hunt in 2017, has introduced services including personal delivery, Facetime shopping and a price-matching promise to battle the ongoing storm of Covid-19.
“Rachel and I are just doing every single thing we can think of to keep as much cashflow coming in while we are closed,” says Gott. “Every single penny counts. Both of us are coming into the store every day to process online and telephone orders while observing social distancing. Being in store to answer phone enquiries and being able to immediately respond to customer enquiries for photos or information about products they have seen via social media has helped to push sales.”
The store’s six other staff have been furloughed, and Gott is positive about the government support available to small businesses such as hers: “We think that the government has been brilliant in giving us the support we need. We qualified for the rates holiday, have already received a £25,000 grant which has helped so much, and we have furloughed our team to enable us to keep them until we can open again.”
In the meantime, Sass & Edge has introduced new services to boost sales and interact with customers as much as possible.
Hunt and Gott are now offering free delivery on all orders and, although they are mostly using a courier for deliveries, they have also been personally delivering local orders by ringing the doorbell and leaving the parcel on customers’ doorsteps.
Facetime and Instagram have proved invaluable, and the pair have introduced live shopping via the social platforms’ streaming services, as well as daily videos to push certain brands.
“We’ve had a really supportive and positive response from our customers,” says Gott. “We have had so many emails wishing us luck and best wishes during this difficult time, and lots of customer interaction through social media which has kept us going. Some customers have bought gift vouchers with us to support us now and spend later.”
Sass & Edge has also created its own price-match promise, telling customers it will match any brands that are offering their own discounts because of coronavirus.
The boutique currently stocks around 40 brands, and bestsellers this season include Air & Grace, Fabienne Chapot, Mos Mosh and new addition Moliin.
Gott tells Drapers that most brand agents were unable to amend autumn 20 orders despite stores being ordered to shut: “We contacted all our agents straight away to try to revisit our autumn 20 orders but, disappointingly, most were unhelpful and would not let us amend them even though we had only placed the orders a few weeks before. It was very unhelpful.”
She adds that brands have been far more flexible around paying outstanding invoices: “We have had mostly a really positive response from brands who have given us extended terms, payment plans and also discounts on the invoices to encourage us to settle them early. We think our constant communication and transparency with our brands in terms of outstanding invoices has worked well.”
With the boutique now closed, Gott admits that “weekends feel strange” for her and Hunt, who have both always held careers in retail.
“Our houses have never been so clean and our gardens are looking lovely already, and it is only the start of April,” she says. “We both keep saying we will do a wardrobe sort out, re-decorate the house, do some online yoga classes, read books and do all the other things that we always say we never get time to do, but in reality how much we will actually do remains to be seen.
“Rachel and I are lucky because we have each other to bounce off and we support each other. We are both still positive that when we re-open we will be able to trade well and, although the loss of sales for almost the whole of spring 20 will impact our year, we have to look forward.”
Check back next week for our next Inspiring Independent profile. If you wish to nominate a business for a future instalment, email: email@example.com