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The Drapers Interview - Chris O’Dea

A show-stopping building and the Drapers Best Store Design award have helped OD’s go further upmarket.

Taking pride of place at the entrance to OD’s menswear store in St Helen’s, Merseyside, is the coveted turquoise statue presented to owner Chris O’Dea for Best Store Design at the Drapers Independents Awards in November.

The tag line for this year’s awards, ‘everyone wants one, so few get one’ is not wasted on O’Dea as he gushes about his unexpected scoop. “It was a real ‘wow’ moment for us. I didn’t think we were going to win it. I thought Carl [Peddie] from Diffusion in Wolverhampton might have pipped us - that building is just stunning. We didn’t expect to get shortlisted for four awards and we were fortunate enough to win one.”

O’Dea, who submitted an application for the first time last year, says winning the award has helped to raise the profile of the store, as well as introducing OD’s, which stocks brands including Barbour, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors, to new labels.

“The exposure from Drapers is helping brands become more aware of us now. We’ve been to a few appointments since we won it and people have said congratulations. We actually went on to buy Maison Scotch from Chris [Akrimi] at [distributor] Zone Two solely through meeting the team at the awards.”

The building that won O’Dea his coveted award - a former Indian restaurant located just 50 yards away from the original store on Cotham Street - was a “crumbling wreck” before O’Dea and his team got to work gutting the space and rebuilding it into a modern, spacious store. It comprises 4,000 sq ft of retail space, plus 2,000 sq ft of office space over two floors. Smart wooden flooring, a statement tiled wall and bespoke mirrors manufactured by local firm Pilkington Glass add to the impact for shoppers as they walk through the door.

It was the transformation of the store that caught the eye of Deryane Tadd, owner of womenswear independent The Dressing Room in St Albans and a Drapers Independents Awards judge. “It took real vision and guts to make this happen, and the drive and passion behind the business from owner Chris and his team was apparent in the entry,” she says.

The work was completed last June following 12 months of labour overseen by O’Dea, a former tradesman. “I was on site every day. I would be here at 7am knocking walls down, filling skips and running the job, but there was no disruption to trade at all [at the former site]. The whole time building up to the move we were bringing customers over to the new shop telling them that this would be our new location.”

O’Dea is already beginning to see a return on his £750,000 investment, as sales increased 25% in the first six months of trading in the new location. “It’s made a big difference to us. Our footfall has increased through word of mouth. I’ve seen the benefits of it from June until Christmas and the turn in trade has been phenomenal.”

He puts the growth in sales down to the clothes now having “room to breathe”. “We were cramming the stock in and you just couldn’t see it. Now that we can display the product properly we’ve seen a big uptick in sales,” he says. O’Dea has been in the fashion industry for 21 years running OD’s and has built the business up from a basement menswear shop in the original store - which is now home to womenswear and kidswear - selling brands including Lacoste, Brooks Brothers shirts, North Face and Rockport. However, just one phone call to Hugo Boss 10 years ago changed the direction of OD’s, “opening the floodgates” for a new level of brands in store.

“When Hugo Boss offered us Boss Orange it was a total game changer. That one phone call totally transformed the business and Boss remains our biggest supplier to date,” says O’Dea.

The store’s relationship with Hugo Boss has evolved further since the opening of the new premises, with O’Dea finally securing Boss Black after five years of pursuing the sub-brand.

“Since we made the move we managed to eventually get Boss Black after years of chasing. When they came and visited the new store their reaction was ‘yes’ straightaway. They said it’s the environment they want to see the product in,” he says.

The business has been moving more upmarket in terms of brand mix over the past two years, due to a “massive customer appetite” for high-end product. O’Dea believes the new building will cement OD’s as a real contender in the premium field. “We’ve set a direction we want to go in and we’ve driven ourselves towards that premium end. I think when people have come to look at us before we were really short on space, but the way that we’re looked at by brands has changed since moving,” he adds.

O’Dea will now use the same brand strategy to continue to grow the womenswear side of the business to 33% of total turnover, from its current 25%. Since moving out of the basement of the original Cotham Street store and onto the main shop floor, the womenswear brands have gained an extra 2,000 sq ft of floor space and are reaping the rewards.

He says: “Since moving onto the ground floor, womenswear trade has increased and I’d like to see that business doubling in the next three years. Canada Goose, Armani Jeans and Michael Kors handbags have been ridiculously good for us this season - we’re trying to bring womenswear in line with the men’s.”

OD’s will also work on bolstering its online performance, which at present makes up 6% of sales. However, O’Dea insists it is an essential marketing tool for attracting new customers to the store, contributing to 20% of new business, as people make the trip when they see the store and product offer on the website.

At the heart of the business is a strong emphasis on customer service, which has kept shoppers coming back to OD’s since it opened in 1992. O’Dea says: “It might sound like an old cliché but we go the extra mile. If a guy comes in and we don’t have his size we’ll do everything we can to get it for him. We’ll stay open late, we’ll deliver gear to their house - it is a very personal service. Once a customer shops with us, we know we’ll keep them.”

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