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Retail lessons from award-winning independents

Previous winners of Drapers Independents Awards share their essential insight into what makes a successful indie.

The high street is challenging place for all retailers, but perhaps none more so than independents. Today’s competitive landscape, combined with business rates and Brexit headwinds, mean only the best can survive in a cut-throat market. But the independent sector has a lot to shout about, and is second to none when it comes to championing new, exciting brands, offering top-notch customer service and understanding their customer. Drapers speaks to winners of last year’s Drapers Independents Awards to uncover the secrets of their success.

Jules b

Julian Blades, co-founder of Jules B and winner of the Drapers Independents Lifetime Achievement Award

“The brands you buy need to have their own USP. Brands need to have a combination of quality, style and price at the right levels and that can be a hard balance to strike. A lot of brands struggle to get that right, and there is a lot of mediocre stuff in the market. You need to have a clear idea of the demographic the brand is going to appeal to and what market it is trying to hit because the retail industry is so oversaturated.”

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”: The Drapers Interview with Julian and Rhona Blades



Azeem and junaid ansari burrows hare

Azeem Ansari (left) with brother Junaid, co-founder of Burrows & Hare

Azeem Ansari, co-founder of menswear retailer Burrows & Hare, which took home the awards for Best New Retailer and Best Store Design

“My best advice for any emerging retailer would be to always live within your means and remember to build relationships with customers. You need to always be adding a personal touch in store to make sure you’re setting yourself apart. And finally, talk to your customers. Make sure you’re always listening to them.”

Quality was missing – we wanted to change that”: The Drapers Interview with Azeem and Junaid Ansari

Michèle Poynter

Michele Poynter, founder of Cornish specialist Mish, which won Lingerie Independent of the Year, and won Niche Retailer of the Year in 2016

“It’s important to offer the customer something different. Ensure that your collection is different and that it’s unique to you. This should always be coupled with really good customer service.”







Dionne Evans, co-founder of Designer Childrenswear, which won Multichannel Independent of the Year

“Multichannel retail is a demanding strategy that requires intricate planning and close attention to procedural detail. For us, offering the customer the most personable and engaging experience at all stages is paramount. Using new technology, making sure different departments are engaged and regular training continues to drive our multichannel strategy.”

Rachel Sneddon, founder of bridal boutique Rachel Scott Couture, winner of Best Customer Experience

“My advice to anyone working on their own customer service is to be aware that customers are expecting better customer service than ever before. They want something genuine, they have to trust you, and they will pick up on the little things. It’s also important to treat each and every customer the same way, even if they aren’t making a purchase on that visit to your store. Treating them differently can impact your business more than you know.

“The clients I work with have high standards when it comes to service and the quality of product. I have to sit and think: what can we give them that is beyond their expectations? The entire experience needs to feel like a journey. It’s about knowing your customer, and I’m never off duty for my clients.”


Drapers independents awards 2019

Are you a champion of independent retail?

Drapers Independents Awards are open for entry. There are 18 categories for brands and retailers to shine a spotlight on their achievements. As well as the best retailer and brand categories, new for 2019 are Bridal Retailer of the Year, Bridal Brand of the Year and Rising Star in the Independent Sector.

The winners will be announced at an inspirational lunchtime ceremony on 11 September at the Brewery in London.

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