St Albans on a wet Monday in February has a rather low-key feel about it, but then where doesn’t?
Address 6-8 High Street, St Albans
Owner Deryane Tadd
Winner Drapers Inspiring Indies 2013
The high street in the middle of the city has the usual chains you’d expect to find on any reasonably prosperous thoroughfare in Middle England and, as elsewhere, there are a few empty units.
There are also a smattering of indies and among them is The Dressing Room - which took top honours in Drapers’ Inspiring Indies poll last week. As such, you would expect it to be better than the average run-of-the-mill independent womenswear retailer and this is certainly the case. The interesting point is that it also manages to make its presence felt above the mass-market noise that permeates the great majority of downtown St Albans.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
All too often, indies tend to be small and with equal frequency they adopt a quart-in-a-pint-pot mentality. Practically, this means overcrowding as owners attempt to cover all the brand bases and end up with too much on the sales floor. The Dressing Room does not fall foul of this cardinal sin and the overriding impression as you look across the space is one of, well, space. It may sound simple but it does much to set the mind towards browsing mode. This having been done, there is nothing too showy but there is an overriding sense of calm as the visual merchandising follows the curving perimeter walls. Also, in the mid-shop, low shelving units ensure working out what is available is not a visual assault course.
02 - CONCEPT
This is, to all intents and purposes, retailing in the round. The store is divided into two rooms and most of the action is in the larger room where a tiled circular floor area is demarcated by a run of darker tiles. This gives individual units in the mid-shop for brands, while the curving wall’s gym bar-style rails again allow selected brands to be merchandised. Accessories sit in the second, corridor-like space - a separation that makes reading the offer at a glance straightforward.
03 - SERVICE
The point about independent retailing is that there is always something to be done, even when there are no shoppers. Whether it is remerchandising the store as new stock comes in or changing the windows, life can’t stand still and on the day of visiting The Dressing Room, both members of staff were clearly busy. Not so busy, however, that they were unable to greet both your correspondent and a bona fide customer, who seemed to be well attended to. The store was also immaculate.
04 - PRODUCT
Aimed at the fashionable woman with a taste for brands that you may have heard of, but which it is equally possible may be something of a novelty, The Dressing Room does not select individual items on a piecemeal basis - rather it presents credible ranges and a variety of options. This can be overlooked by indies, many of which seem to take the view that items are designed in isolation. Brands such as Becksöndergaard, American Vintage, Twist & Tango and Day Birger et Mikkelsen, among others, are stocked.
05 - COMPETITION
There are a lot of mid-market chains on St Albans High Street and the great majority of them are much of a muchness. On the indie front, perhaps there is The Green Boutique, but this caters for the vintage and pre-owned crowd, so there is an argument that it does not serve the same customer. The Dressing Room has been around since 2005 and on the evidence of a walk around the city centre, it seems fair to comment that it has not only understood its customer, but that it does so in a way that puts it ahead of the pack.
06 - VERDICT - Leading by example
At a glam evening in the Kensington Roof Gardens last week, The Dressing Room scooped the Inspiring Indies top spot and it isn’t hard to see why. This is a store that takes care of its customers and which is small enough to be able to react quickly to individual demands - all of which should be bread and butter for an efficient indie. It also happens to look good, both inside and out. Everything about it says this is a model for others to take a look at. And in a location where there may be money, but which still has a few voids along the high street, this is an enterprise that looks set to continue thriving.