Click the title to read my Easter fashion article on Liberty Belle’s website!
By Amber De Smet
The recession is taking its toll on small fashion retailers, as times are tougher than ever. Retail expert Dees De Smet offers essential tips to get through these difficult times.
After five years of recession, more and more independent fashion retailers struggle to survive. With rents still going up, and big chains becoming increasingly prominent on the high street, small businesses are very uncertain about their future.
And with one third of Internet users making online purchases, online shopping is a factor to consider as well, since costumers may look for cheaper alternatives online instead. “With the Internet, small shops compete against competitors they aren’t even aware of, ” says Dees De Smet, 57, CEO of several leading European fashion retail chains over the past 30 years. “Especially with fashion. Fashion items are luxury goods – not something people necessarily need, so people want to spend less money on it these days.”
However, there is a way to improve your business, even in the current economic climate. “The shops that stand out are the ones that survive,” De Smet says. And, according to him, most successful small businesses do this with at least one of the SOS elements: Super-specialists, Outstanding service, and Smart Location.
The first group of survivors consists of the so-called “super-specialists”. They either specialise in a unique product that only they provide, or focus on a niche group of costumers.
But is it possible to still invent a unique concept these days? It may be difficult, but it is possible, according to Dees De Smet. “Remember, every chain started out with only one shop,” he says. “Successful super-specialists focus on something that nobody else has.”
Repeat, a brand focused solely on high quality cashmere, is an example of super-specialism in the fashion field. The brand only sells products made of high quality goat’s wool, and can be found in shops from Austria to Kazakhstan these days.
Another great example is YKK, the one brand behind practically all zippers in the fashion industry these days. They started out with only one independent shop in Japan in 1934. According to their website, “The owner, Mr. Yoshida, believed he must manufacture only useful, high quality zippers that would benefit, or enhance, the end-use goods in which they were installed” – and this focus on one high-quality product was exactly what eventually gave the company worldwide success.
The second element is outstanding service, which means – apart from having friendly staff – building a relationship with your customers. “Communication is the key: give your regular customers extra attention, and make sure they feel like you know them on a personal level. Find a place in people’s hearts – and in their wallets,” is the way De Smet puts it.
Ladies’ Boutique Sisters, based in Sheffield and Chesterfield, uses traditional mail service. The shop tries to tune in to their customers needs, even when it comes to sending them invitations and information.
“Our shop has been in Sheffield for twenty-odd years, and we very much rely on regular customers. Our business is very much about keeping in touch and really knowing customers,” says 33-year-old sales representative Jenny Webster. “We still use traditional mail service, because we rely on customers that are quite mature. You’ve got to adapt to your customers after all.”
And even though mail service is expensive compared to the e-mails most shops send out, they see their efforts back in their sales results. “It’s worth it,” according to Webster.
Because small shops may not have the best choice when it comes to location, as they do not bring the amount of traffic that big chain stores bring, they may opt for a special location instead. Shops near hospitals, train stations and students’ accommodation pay far less rent than their counterparts in city centres, yet gain traffic due to their convenient location. “You move to a location where your costumers already are, so they don’t have to come to you,” says De Smet.
Liam Smith, 24, and Amber Savage, 22, own vintage shop Vulgar in Sheffield. Their shop is located near The University of Sheffield’s main buildings, and only a stone’s throw away from most student flats.
“We tend to sell mostly to students,” says Smith. “Those are the kind of people we see walk into the shop, as they live around here.”
“It’s going really well, even though we started our business during the recession. We are still young, and we don’t know any better. Older people are probably used to different times,” Savage adds.
But whether you’re old or young – De Smet’s ideas are essential advice for anyone considering entering the business as a small retailer or anyone encountering a difficult time business-wise.
He finally adds: “As a small shop, you can’t survive if you have too many fixed costs, like rent, to pay every month. Also, you should really specialise in good service or a unique range of products to become successful – preferably both. Offer your customers something special.”
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A short video about Sheffield’s Arts Tower, made in collaboration with Journalism students Adam Gale and Andrew Musgrove.
It was our first try with a rather tight deadline, so don’t be too harsh on us!
DJs, music fans, and regular partygoers – you’ve all got two things in common. The first one is a love for music. The second one is a great risk of hearing damage.
Most of us have probably experienced at least a couple of crazy nights out in our life – ones that left our ears ringing long after we’d returned home. Whereas most people would shrug it off as normal, or attribute it to having had a proper night out, you may in fact be gambling with the condition of your ears. And if music is your passion, why would you risk no longer being able to fully enjoy it?
Gorki Duhra, 35, from Action On Hearing Loss, believes that music lovers need to be aware of the risks they’re taking.
“Ten million people of people in the UK – that is almost 20% of the population – suffer from some form of hearing loss,” he said.
Loud music can lead to hearing loss, but may also result in a condition called ‘tinnitus’. This happens when hair cells in your ear are so damaged that they produce a constant ringing or buzzing. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for tinnitus or hearing loss.
“A few years ago we held a survey, and we asked 1000 people if they knew what tinnitus was – it turned out that 20% thought it was an allergy to metal! An even more serious issue is that 40% of people know that they are listening to music that’s too loud, but don’t do anything about it,” said Duhra.
“So it’s still an on-going issue, and a fight we will continue – we want to make people aware of the risks of loud music. Remember - would you stand next to a pneumatic drill in the street? No. So why would you do that to yourself in a nightclub?” he added.
London-based DJ Marc Nicholson, 33, experienced what it was like to literally get tinnitus overnight. He started playing the drums when he was 11, and went on to become a DJ in his early twenties. He started to play regular nights at London nightclubs, unaware of how this damaged his hearing until it was too late to turn back.
“I have been exposed to loud music for the past 20 years. At first, the ringing in my ears used to be a sign that it was good night. Then one day, when I was 28, I woke up and the ringing was still in my ears. A week went a by and the ringing was still there. I went to my GP, and he told me it was chronic tinnitus.
“I struggled with it for about a year, but my contact with Action On Hearing Loss made me feel like it had at least some purpose. Now, I use hearing protection when I DJ – I think it’s a matter of educating people, and making them aware of the dangers.”