John Reid has not only taken on the challenge of starting up a new indie in Bristol, he has also agreed to chart the ups and downs of his retail adventure in a regular column for Drapers.
Stephen Craig just slaughtered me one day,” jokes John Reid, co-founder of newly opened premium indie Garment Quarter in Bristol. “I thought the shop was looking alright, but he didn’t. Working for him at All Saints gave me a good grounding in high standards,” he continues, reminiscing about his shopfloor days under the tutelage of Craig, the retailer’s chief executive.
The hard work certainly paid off for Reid, who joined All Saints’ Newcastle store in 2006 after graduating from Durham University. He was seconded to the All Saints House of Fraser concession in the MetroCentre in Gateshead and later became assistant manager of the Manchester Selfridges concession. Not content with working on the shopfloor, Reid went on to join Vivienne Westwood franchisee Hervia as a stock controller, working up to senior manager responsible for buying and merchandising, before leaving to open Garment Quarter last month.
Reid’s decision to open a menswear and womenswear indie in Bristol was no pipe dream; tough, on-the-job training followed by the development of acute analytical and buying skills led to a 1,100 sq ft store in Bristol’s Cabot Circus shopping centre in late October. But will it survive the tough economic climate? Reid thinks so, and has agreed to document his journey in Drapers with a regular column.
“We [Reid and business partner Peter Lake] started off by looking at locations,” says Reid of deciding to open Garment Quarter. “I wanted a location without a hugely branded presence but that had the potential for it. Bristol’s a wealthy city and when we came to walk around, I thought Cabot Circus was fantastic.”
Reid maintains Cabot Circus is the right location, despite Bristol’s affluent Clifton neighbourhood housing more indie boutiques. “You get guaranteed footfall here,” Reid argues. “And we’re not about just opening the one store. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for me. I want to open more shops.”
Reid’s confidence - and experience at Hervia - led to him securing Vivienne Westwood Gold Label and Red Label as his first brands, adding weight to his strategy when he met with other labels.
“Westwood is a banker [for shoppers]; it doubles the chances of people coming into the store,” he says. “But it was key for securing other lines. It still took some negotiation to get it on board, though. Brands aren’t interested in your projected turnover or profits - they’re interested in which other brands they’re going to sit next to, who else in the area they are stocked by and what the shop will look like.
“They need to have confidence in you; a lot rides on you. So you have to find the right person to contact [at the brand] and their phone number, and have the nerve to call them. Emails don’t usually work.”
Garment Quarter’s brand mix includes Twenty8Twelve, Comme des Garçons and Melissa footwear, with lesser known, quirkier labels like Ashley Marc Hovelle (AMH) also featuring.
“I chose a handful of contemporary labels with a luxury kick and want to give them good representation in-store with standout pieces - this is what consumers are spending money on,” Reid explains, calling on both his eye for product and the knowledge gained at Hervia - which also owns a luxury multi-brand indie in Manchester - to back certain labels. “I started managing the back-of-house EPoS system at Hervia and introduced sell-through reports and category analysis. Richard [Duncalf, one of Hervia’s partners] grew my role and the experience was fantastic. The way we bought stock completely changed.”
Yet, despite his experience and a “well put together” three-year business plan, Reid struggled to get financial support from the banks.
Reid and Lake put in 70% of the capital needed to run the business, with NatWest finally making up the remaining 30% with a loan. “Because neither of us owned a property, the banks had nothing to secure against and some of them saw it as investing in stock, rather than a business. We did it via a government-backed scheme called Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme that guarantees the loan.”
Fit for purpose
Although it’s early days - when Drapers catches up with Reid, Garment Quarter has only been trading for a couple of weeks - he is pleased with the shop’s takings. He hopes to take about £10,000 a week once the store is in full swing (a transactional website was due to launch as Drapers went to press) and “we’re not too far behind that already,” says Reid.
He admits to overspending on the shopfit, but a “buffer” in the business plan allowed for that. “We could have gone with a white box but the shopfit is at the heart of what we’re doing,” says Reid of the store’s warm decor, where black and grey fixtures contrast to asymmetrical wood panelling. Product is split by brand across wall and free-standing fixtures, with an eye-catching footwear display at the back of the store.
A Facebook page and Twitter account (not to mention a launch party for customers and neighbouring retailers in-store the day Drapers visited) complete the Garment Quarter experience, ensuring this independent has all areas covered - from product and marketing to store environment and an online presence. “We’re acting like a bigger company,” says Reid. “Selfridges is a role model for me and I find it surprising when people don’t work like that.”
Although Garment Quarter has only just opened, Reid is already developing his strategy. “We’re now looking to photograph product before we buy it and show it to our best customers to see how they respond, and make some of our buying decisions that way,” he says.
“We’re aiming to make a small profit in the first year and over the last two days we’ve developed a level of consistency in terms of footfall. We’ve had very good days, not many bad days but no amazing days yet. But I remember the early days at All Saints when they were opening new stores and I feel confident. I’m very, very pleased.”
Store address 25 Penn Street, Bristol
Size 1,100 sq ft
Brands include Anya Hindmarch, Comme des Garçons, Markus Lupfur, Melissa, Vivienne Westwood Gold Label and Red Label, Twenty8Twelve, Unconditional