The retailer’s tide of success is due to a strong identity and careful growth.
Address 4 Fore Street, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26 1AB
Floor space 1,000 sq ft
Store design In-house
St Ives is one of those places overrun by galleries, Cornish pasty sellers and, of course, tourists. In season, this is a small town that more than doubles in population, and many who arrive to sample its delights head for the shops.
When they do so, the chances are high they will want a piece of the semi-boho, washed and printed fabric ambience that characterises so much of what this part of the world is perceived to be about.
And one option with considerable appeal is Seasalt. This store is one of 15 owned by the Falmouth-based, family-run concern that took £16m in 2012 and is targeting £21.5m this year, with 35% to 40% growth planned for the next three years. The bulk of this probably comes from its transactional website and 350 wholesale accounts, but the shops also play their part.
This shop has been open for more than a decade, but the 15th opened in Chichester a fortnight ago. Seasalt shows what can be done by keeping a range tight and controlling expansion.
Visual merchandising and concept: 7/10
The store is densely merchandised, principally owing to the fact it is narrow and small, meaning the stock is double-hung around most of the perimeter and that two rectangular steel and wood fixtures occupy a fair part of the mid-shop. This is not off-putting however, as there is still room to move from front to back and the decision to make things white and a turquoise blue helps to keep the space light and airy.
The front of the store in fact features an atrium with a sail strung across its upper reaches and when combined with the oak-planked flooring there is a natural feel to the interior. This is in keeping with the fact that Seasalt very recently became the first fashion retailer to win a Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development. Prior to being a Seasalt emporium, this store was an Army & Navy outlet.
If you like stripes and floral prints, then you’ll like Seasalt in a western UK regional, maritime sort of way. All of the stock is own brand, with everything designed at the Falmouth headquarters, and while the palette is a mix of pastels, neutrals and brights, all of them have a washed quality that means nothing shouts.
The offer in this store is entirely for women (although the brand also offers menswear and kidswear) and the profiles are relaxed, with a size range that extends from six to 20, making this a range for most shapes and sizes. And while there are some solids, it is the prints and stripes that define the range, with matching accessories.
The pricing is mid-market with a knee-length A-line printed skirt at £39.95 or a printed ‘summer vest top’ at £29.95 being typical.
This is an area where Seasalt St Ives really scores highly. Young, fresh-faced male and female staff are almost unremittingly cheerful and nothing seems to be too much trouble. They also manage to keep the blackboard with wind, tide and likely hours of sunshine chalked on it up to date. The other point is that each seemed to know the history of the company and what it stands for, and in an odd way they also seemed to stand for the business’s sustainable and almost homespun credentials. If you had to pick people to represent a brand, this is how you might go about it.
Does it work? 8/10
It does and you’d be hard-pushed to find an independent operation that does what it does better. Seasalt is the handiwork of the brothers Chadwick - Leigh, David and Neil - and since its establishment in 1981 this is a model of how to create a brand with a truly regional flavour.
And in spite of no longer being an owner-manager outfit, as it has grown to 15 stores it has remained true to its original ethos. Practically, this means there is a strong in-store element of storytelling in the St Ives branch and if the shopper has time, it is easy to find all you need to know from the several graphics dotted around the interior and on the window.
There is a fair amount of competition on the street where this store is located and some of it is very good indeed, but Seasalt stands the test of time and is a local favourite, as well as being popular with tourists. If a criticism were to be levelled, it would be that the shopfit could be updated, but this is carping and the fact that this store had customers on the day of visiting, where many of its neighbours did not, speaks volumes.