The owner of Cornwall indie Fusion speaks to Marie Davies about the challenges of transforming a single surf store into a four-store young fashion destination.
When did you first think about opening a store?
It was my mum and dad’s store originally. I was an investment banker in London, and when my mum didn’t want to run the store after my father passed away, I decided to move to Cornwall and build the business. I first got involved in 2000, but after going along with surf brands for a while, I noticed their sales were dropping off, so I wanted to create my own unique store and make it fashion-focused.
Was it difficult getting fashion brands on board?
I had to start out with smaller, cool brands to build a platform for the bigger brands to come in. I tried to build the profile of the store myself. Recognition from Drapers [Fusion was a runner-up in last year’s Drapers Fashion Awards and is shortlisted again this year] has helped raise our profile because people don’t necessarily know about stores in rural parts of the country.
What were some of the first non-surfwear brands you signed?
Bench was phenomenal for us at the start and we also stocked Supremebeing, Fly London and Addict, which all worked together and enabled us to build contacts with agents. Ichi was one of our first young fashion brands and we’ve stocked Superdry for five or six years.
Fusion now has four stores in Cornwall. Do the customer profiles at each one differ?
Our store in Wadebridge is for local people around 16 to 25 years old. Our three coastal stores, which I opened after taking over the business in 2000, are geared towards tourists and are often more trend driven. Two are in Polzeath and one is in Padstow.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Getting a small business recognised as a fashion destination in a rural area. You have to be able to sell yourself and always be aware of what’s around you. Keeping up with the trade press and discovering brands first is key, because in a small town there is often only one account allowed per brand. Having a strong and loyal team and being able to delegate is vital. I have a great team around me.
What trends are you backing for spring 12?
I’m focusing on footwear and accessories. Superdry has an interesting footwear offer with some strong colours, as the colour blocking trend doesn’t seem to be tailing off for us yet. When people don’t necessarily want to buy more clothes, they are buying accessories. Bags by Quintessential are doing very well.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to open a store?
Always be thinking, not just locally, but further afield. Even when I’m on holiday, I’m constantly looking around for ideas and inspiration. I’ve just got involved in a mentoring scheme at Cornwall College. They asked me to be available to chat with business and fashion students in the area, which I hope they’ll find beneficial. l
- Rhowen Yoki is owner of four-store young fashion indie Fusion in Cornwall
Which is your best-selling brand?
Who is your favourite designer?
I really admire Vivienne Westwood.
Which brands are your newest signings?
Diesel, Luke and Franklin & Marshall for men and Is On and By Jam for women.
Are you doing anything different to drive sales?
We had pop-ups at the Rock Oyster Festival and Royal Cornwall Show.