St Helens-based designer fashion retailer OD’s won its second Drapers Independents Award last month, this time for its refreshed childrenswear business.
OD’s started life as a menswear independent in 1992, and today has six shops in St Helens, Merseyside, totalling 14,000 sq ft of retail space. It sells premium men’s and women’s wear from brands such as Hugo Boss, Stone Island, Canada Goose and Ted Baker, alongside the “mini-me” childrenswear versions, and watches and jewellery.
OD’s opened a new childrenswear shop in St Helens in September 2017 after demand “exploded”. Sales have soared and now represent 30% of turnover. Founder Chris O’Dea hopes to grow childrenswear sales online by launching a standalone website in 2019. He tells Drapers why he is betting on the mini-me market.
What made you return to the childrenswear market?
We used to have a children’s store about 15 years ago, which stocked dedicated children’s brands. We had to buy in sets, but customers wanted an age 10 top to go with age eight bottoms, so there were lots of odds and ends left at the end of each season and it wasn’t very profitable. Womenswear was flying, but childrenswear was too difficult to buy for and the timing wasn’t right, so we closed the business.
The hardest thing has been going up against some of the big monsters in the industry
About six years ago, we were approached by [Hugo Boss childrenswear licence holder] CWF. We had a huge Hugo Boss menswear account, and CWF asked if we’d consider selling its mini-me junior range. We set it up in one of our womenswear stores [alongside some other high-profile brands, such as Stone Island, Barbour and Diesel], and it had a good sell-through.
Then, about five years ago, I saw a photo of my 11-year-old daughter with about 20 of her friends, and they were all wearing Moncler and Stone Island. I thought, “We need to start taking this seriously.”
Is that what prompted you to open the new store?
We knew that, if we wanted to break into the higher end of the market, it had to be special, not just adjoined to the womenswear business. In 2016, four buildings became available across the road from our women’s and men’s wear stores. We turned them into a 4,000 sq ft childrenswear store [24-28 Claughton Street, which opened in September 2017]. After that, the brands could see we were taking it seriously.
What challenges have you faced?
The hardest thing has been going up against some of the big monsters in the industry: Childrensalon, Childsplay Clothing, Kids Cavern, and Alex & Alexa are all well established online. To get a foothold in that market, we are going to have to make a serious investment.
It’s also really difficult breaking into the top end of childrenswear. We’re bringing in Givenchy for 2019 – they only have seven or eight childrenswear accounts in the UK.
We need to think of childrenswear as a different part of the business now
We’re lucky that we have a successful men’s and women’s wear business. We set up childrenswear with zero overheads apart from staff and stock. By the time we moved it across the road, it was already established, and the extra space and improved brand mix has increased its profitability.
What’s next for the childrenswear business?
So far we have picked up Burberry, Givenchy and Balmain [as new brands] for 2019. The next stage is to target brands such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. To do that, we need to build more international awareness through our website. We are looking at building a standalone childrenswear website in 2019.
We need to think of childrenswear as a different part of the business now. If that means looking for an outside partner or investor, we’ll seriously consider it.
What advice you would give to others?
Don’t over-estimate. I’d rather sell out than have too much stock. It creates demand and you don’t want to continually put product into Sale. Take smaller steps and build a brand over several seasons.
Always answer the phone to suppliers, whether you have good or bad news. Everyone has cashflow problems at times, especially small independent businesses. Talk to suppliers, keep them in the picture – otherwise they’ll assume the worst.
OD’s at a glance
- OD’s was founded in 1992 in St Helens, Merseyside
- 4,000 sq ft childrenswear store at 24-28 Claughton Street opened in September 2017
- Stocks 40 childrenswear brands
- Bestsellers include Hugo Boss Pyrenex, Dsquared2, Kenzo and Canada Goose
- Prices range from £15 for a pair of Mayoral leggings to £595 for a Canada Goose parka
- New brands for 2019: Burberry, Givenchy and Balmain