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Shopwatch: The Dulwich Trader

The Dulwich Trader has freshened up its store, creating a more seamless lifestyle look.

The Dulwich Trader was in full Christmas mode when Drapers visited on a chilly December morning, with the elegant double-fronted store showcasing its lifestyle offer in the two festive-themed windows, with womenswear to the left and homewares in the right.

A short walk from West Dulwich train station, in southeast London, the 1,850 sq ft store is at 9-11 Croxted Road, next door to Italian restaurant Da Porcini with a few small shops across the road. The business was set up 25 years ago by Penny Tomlinson, but today is run by her son Dan Rigby, who is head of online, and his wife Katharine Maclaverty.

The family have somewhat cornered the Dulwich market, having opened the fashion and lifestyle shops Tomlinson in Dulwich Village in 1992, and Ed in East Dulwich in 1999. All three stores share the same website, under the banner Rigby & Mac. Maclaverty was an occupational psychologist before her mother-in-law convinced her to come on board in 2008, and then a year later took full control when Tomlinson stepped back. Her husband then left his career as an events manager in 2011 to set up its website.

This year, Dulwich Trader stepped up a gear with a £30,000-£40,000 makeover from interior design firm Bobblehat. Maclaverty explains she wanted to freshen things up - its last refurbishment was in 2003 - and bring the clothing more to the front of the store: “Before it felt quite separate, and some customers felt as though it was an exclusive club that they weren’t part of”. Before the refit, the fashion offer, which includes brands such as Cocoa Cashmere, Part Two and 120%, had been sold at the back of the store, with footwear brands such as Hudson, Ash and Cara separately arranged at the front of the left-hand side, with a clear division between it and the lifestyle and homeware sections. Now fashion, which accounts for about 50% of sales despite only occupying a third of the floor space, is still mostly at the back but encroaches into the lifestyle section, blending seamlessly.

“It was a creative refurbishment,” says John Courtney, director at Bobblehat. “Our job is all about listening to what the client wants and developing that vision three-dimensionally. Katharine’s business is quite unique and its success is due to its Aladdin’s cave approach, which certainly should not be tampered with. The ‘new’ interior delivers freshness and a clearer direction and statement to the shopper.”

Inside there is a classic but modern feel, almost Scandinavian in style. A central wall display almost divides the store into left and right. The right-hand side has a large square paved floor and houses an extensive homeware and lifestyle offer displayed on shelving units placed along walls or on tables, along with the tillpoint. Here the customer can select from toiletries, to ceramics, photo frames, Christmas decorations (at this time of year) and paint from Annie Sloan. To the rear a doorway leads into a smaller room that offers a respite from the main shop floor where vintage furniture - much of it French - is on sale.

It is in the left side of the store, however, which the customer enters via a large passageway in the centre of the store or through a narrower walkway at the front, where the fashion sits, with about 30 womenswear brands including The Masai Clothing Company, Two Danes and By Malene Birger, as well as those mentioned previously. Prices range from around £18 for a vest to £500 for a coat, but with £95 being the average. By contrast Tomlinson’s has a slightly more affordable offer, with brands including Joules and Selected Femme, and an average price of £45, while Ed targets young shoppers and sells brands such as Twist & Tango and St Tropez and a men’s offer that includes Penfield and Original Penguin, again with an average tag of £50.

The Dulwich Trader fashion area occupies a glamorous but relaxed space, with wood-panelled walls and a Victorian-style black and white tiled floor covering half the area and a wooden floor the rest. “That’s exactly how I wanted it to feel,” says Maclaverty. “We want everyone to feel comfortable taking a look when they come in - that’s what the store is all about.”

Watches, jewellery and men’s gloves and cufflinks sit in glass display cases towards the front, with clothing towards the mid-section and rear on either wall-mounted shelves or hung. A central display table of accessories such as bags and scarves breaks up the area, complete with a sofa for weary shoppers to take a load off. Three changing rooms are at the very back.

Completed in stages, the shop remained open throughout the August refurbishment and was carefully reconfigured as each area was worked on. The investment has paid off, with fashion sales up 30% between August and November. /

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