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Sarah Coggles boss vows to transform online fashion

Owner Mark Bage tells Amy Shields about the premium indie’s growth plans following investment.

Why did you decide to find a partner to invest in York indie Sarah Coggles?

We realised we were doing well with our online format and our store and we had a lot more customers than we could serve. The growth rate was not achievable in an organic way.

What has made Sarah Coggles a success and an attractive investment?

It is the customers who have created Sarah Coggles and its community. It is because we are quirky and don’t follow our competitors - it strikes a chord with our customers. It’s a two-way conversation. For example, we will mention a new author [on Coggles.com] and they spread the word about us.

We want to get customers to talk about what they love about the clothes we sell and other brands around the world. We send out a newsletter once a week that is 50% about clothing and 50% about books, music, art etc to engage our customers.

Why did you decide to partner with Manchester Square Enterprises, the private equity arm of Pentland Group?

It is a professional and highly regarded fund. We turned down other people who were interested; it was more about finding the right partners. The involvement of Manchester Square Enterprises is purely as an investor. What we want is the team’s international and management expertise.

How can other indies emulate your success?

We are a very new type of business. We are such a champion of the indie world. We predicted about five years ago that demand for mini-chains and the traditional designer store would fall away. Just having a brand checklist is not enough. Indies have to be more innovative. Premium shoppers don’t want to go out - they can go to Net-a-Porter online.

We see indie success as two things - a successful location combined with a strong website. You must have blogs, more fashion from around the world, a community - that’s the way indies can survive and take on the big multiples.

In three or four years’ time we will not want to go to Cruise or Flannels, we will want to go to John Lewis; the department store has taken over the mini-chain business. The only way to succeed is to do a personal job through a website.

Can you still retain that indie essence and expand as well?

Our team is small and we are not corporate. It is possible to keep that essence, it’s all part of the ethos at Coggles. We are not going to do things that are not ‘Coggles’. We

will do more of what we do but better. I don’t think you will see much of a change on the website. We will see more interesting collaborations. Watch this space.

How can other indies secure this kind of funding?

We are more than happy to mentor and discuss these things with other indies. Whenever we take a step further it is a step further for all indies. You develop your own personality and business first, your own customer base and product. The money comes later.

Recessions are great for indies - we get rid of all the rubbish ones. If you make it through a recession, you are a great indie.

What are the disadvantages to the process?

I can’t comment because there haven’t been any. We’ve only just started the process. It isn’t a route that all indies should follow. We wanted to do it because of the partner’s international and management expertise.

What do you want to achieve through this investment?

To change the landscape of online in the fashion world. We feel online fashion is so polarised. If you want something cheap it is there, if you want something expensive, it is there. We are not cheap but we provide an experience.

There is a smarter way of dealing with the customer. We have a high-brow conversation, it’s not just about selling clothes. For example, we ask customers, ‘Are there any designers you would like to see us sell?’, we ask customers to take over the windows for a week. The customer can drive interesting leaps in the business.

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