OK so it’s that time of year again folks- the time of year where Christmas Carols are in every shop you walk into, your kids are desperate to eat their entire Advent calendars in the first 2 days of the month and I have a good old rant about Independent retail.
I’m sorry I know I sound like a broken record, and you’ve probably read it all before but I’m going to write about it anyway! Why? Well because I’m passionate about it- it’s my livelihood (Coco Marie), my first baby and a huge huge part of my life. That’s not to say I don’t shop/eat/drink at any of the big boys- I like a Costa on a chilly Sunday morning whilst watching my son play football and who can resist the pull of Amazon when you’re as disorganised as I am and buy presents at the extreme last minute! However I also understand the importance of independent retail and the High Street. How it’s the life and soul of local communities and how buying just a small percentage of your Christmas gifts in an Independent store can change the owners day/Christmas from a good one to a bad one!
I think now more than ever it’s important that I write this blog post because this season has a been a tough one, the toughest season in retail I have known in the 10 years we have been open. I’ve never cried so much or had so many sleepless nights and near panic attacks over how tough retail is. You only have to open a newspaper to realise clothing retail is an especially tough industry to be in. When you’re competing against not just the big boys on your own High Street like Whistles, Phase Eight and Joules in Old Amersham but also online retailers such as Amazon and ASOS work life is bound to be tough. In the 10 years we’ve been in business Mum and I have seen more of our brands start selling to huge National Chains or large department store and websites. Whilst a huge proportion of my customers only shop with Independents (or like me much prefer to) no one can resist the pull of Black Friday- this godawful American phenomenon that has been dragged over here by Asda (Walmart). I had customers ringing and asking me to price match left right and centre. Now I of course always like to make our customers happy and where I could do so I did price match. However it’s heartbreaking for us every time we do it! It wouldn’t be so bad if they were asking us to price match another Independent but it’s when we are phoned and asked if we’ll price match John Lewis, Fenwicks or ASOS that it really hurts. A £100 sale to them is nothing, a mere drop in the Ocean, but a £100 sale to us can turn a bad day of sales into a good one. What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that these companies will be making more money from the same item that we sell. They will of course benefit from economies of scale as they will buy hundreds of a style of watch or scarf where we only buy 3 or 4. So where we pay £30 for something they’ll pay £25, therefore at full price they will have a better margin than us and even on Black Friday they will have a better margin than us. Then there’s the fact that they will nearly always be at the top of google as they have a whole office (or more) of people working just on their website. For us at Coco Marie it’s just little old me that does our website- we work with a lovely small company that hosts our site for us and makes larges changes such as slider banners/new pages etc, but overall just me on my lonesome. Kat who works alongside me in store is utterly fabulous with artwork which has come in handy and she has taken some pressure off by taking on some of the social media so that I can concentrate on the worst part of owning your own business- paperwork! Whether you’re doing well or not there will always be bills to pay, data entry on the Epos to do and emails to answer (up to 80 a day most days- god knows how?!?)
It seems like I’m moaning about all of this but I would say I love my job and I love running my own business. I also really apprecaite that whilst it’s hard for us to price match I do seriously appreciate our customers thinking of us and that they’d rather spend that £100 with us than John lewis so I really don’t mean to sound ungrateful! My apologies if I do.
being an Indie retaiIer I can forgive the paperwork and emails, the late nights and working bank holidays. My only real bugbear? That people immediately go to the big boys at Christmas. From the first time the darn Coca Cola “Holidays Are Coming” tune is heard on the TV they go running to John Lewis like a middle class apocalypse is about to happen or bring up their Amazon App on their Ipad and start adding things to their basket like the Internet is about to disappear into the ether.
It’s this time of year I urge you to think about where you shop. You may be an avid online shopper but that doesn’t have to mean you have to be obvious with it- how about getting on Instagram/Twitter or even Google and getting some inspiration from some of us smaller shops. We can offer the same items at the same prices and even offer next day delivery (or free delivery), but we just need you guys to believe in us. I have found some of the most fabulous Independent retailers by taking a look at Instagram and searching hashtags I’m interested in such as #indiexmas or #independentretail . Last year I discovered Roo’s Beach; a wonderful emporium of Fashion and gifts that had newly opened in Porth, Cornwall. I stocked up on Stocking Fillers and fun items for my Hubby and Kids all from the comfort of my arm chair and all with free delivery. I then also discovered Southwood Stores owned by the wonderful Hayley Southwood- her passion and delight at what she does shines through in every photo she posts and I have bought some fab exercise gear, stocking fillers and cards from her that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in the UK. Even the graphics I have used on this post are by a wonderful independent called LH Design– Lola is amazing at hand illustrated cards and artwork and produced this wonderful artwork last year for people to rip it off and take away her logo- soul destroying for small business like her- take a look at her blog post all about it here.
For us this Christmas being a busy and profitable one is crucial. With the rise in popularity of the discount culture we are struggling to compete with the shops around us in Old Amersham. When Whistles have their 30% off Grazia discounts every season we face a few weeks of no one through the door unless we can offer some sort of discount to our customers. Our margins are so teeny compared to any chain store it is extremely heartbreaking for us to try and compete. Many shops such a Viyella and Country Casuals (whilst I get they’re not really out customer base) opened their Old Amersham stores with huge discounts and by all accounts are rarely not in sale. It’s not just us that are struggling, if most of the Indie fashion shops around us are honest they are finding it tough to. Some are lucky to have 20 plus years of customers to keep them going or several other London based locations to prop up a bad day of sales in their Amersham store but ultimately footfall is massively down in our little Market Town. So what do we do about- well I for one am not ready to give up on baby Number 1 Coco Marie! I have lots up my sleeve for our lovely customers including a charity fashion show, pop up shops and more over the coming season but we need you to keep doing what you do wonderful customers and support us and buy from us!
So once again I urge you to think about your local high street over the next few weeks or you’ll start seeing vacant premises a week or two after Christmas and lose those lovely indies you’d pop into occasionally for a unique gift or dress for a party.
With Small Business Saturday fast approaching this weekend is the time to take action and help keep your High Street alive and full of one off shops rather than generic High Street Chains- pop in and chat to the owners, talk to them about why independent retail is important, why they do what they do and you never know you may discover some hidden gems (and exciting presents!) along the way!