Leigh Schubert (pictured right) was content on not opening a store. "I definitely did not want the risk, I preferred gaining exposure through the national footprint of other stores."
Schubert said that when she was contemplating opening a store she thought she would do it with like-minded designers and together they could showcase their clothing and share the risks and overheads. This is what Jacky Lucking (of Miss Scarlett) and Nicole Dersley and Jacqueline Corfield (of Hermanna Rush) decided to do with their store, Coat. "I was supplying Coat and I knew the owner well. She asked if I wanted to take over the lease and business because she was relocating. I had met the owners of Hermanna Rush at Fashion Week and invited them to join me in opening the store as we have complementary styles." Corfield said that they would not have entered the venture if their business was not ready.
For Tiaan Nagel it was a decision he had to make in response to his customers’ requests. Prior to opening his shop in Parktown North he was selling from his studio in Doornfontein and a lot of his customers complained about driving into the Johannesburg CBD for fittings. "I also wanted to have a shop that I could use as a testing ground for items that are very directional and fashion forward and see how consumers react to them. If it is positive I know I can design and sell a ready-to-wear range around those pieces."
Location, location, location
Location also played a large role for Schubert in selecting her shop in Morningside, Durban. "The space is the right size and location for the destination store that I had in mind. It has a very European look and is big enough," she explained. Like Nagel, Schubert opened her store to expand the nature of her business. "I produce a lot of clothes for shows that don’t get manufactured because they are too complicated. I want people to view them and if they like them I can make them in their size. It’s a made-to-order store; you can’t buy anything off rail or bring in pictures of items you want made."
While Abigail Betz (pictured right) had success in stocking The Space and selling her bridal wear and customised clothing from her studio, she said after 11 years, she grew tired of being a rail in someone else’s store and opened a store in Rosebank.
"This shop is supposed to be all about an experience where time stands still. When brides come for a fitting I order baked goods from a French patisserie and we serve tea and coffee." When selecting a store location, she did a lot of market research into who her customer is and where they live. "Most of my clients are from Saxonwold and Houghton. I was fortunate this space became available. It is convenient for my clients and there is enough foot traffic to attract new clients. "
While the opportunity seemed to dictate location to Lucking, Dersley and Corfield, they maintain that the location was still very important. "I would not want to be in a mainstream shopping area, I was more interested in selling in a community centre as it is better suited to my brand," Lucking said. Corfield agreed and added that the store also had the advantage of having a window facing the ever-busy Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank.
However, while their location was ideal and the opportunity came at a favourable time. Lucking, Corfield and Dersley agree that it was difficult publicising the fact that they had taken over Coat. Lucking said that it was particularly difficult to reposition the store. Betz also faced this challenge and said that almost a year after first opening she still has customers walking into her store saying that they did not know she had opened a shop.
Nagel preempted this by hosting a small launch party for media and invited guests. "Since opening, the media have been very kind to me and drawing attention to my store," he explained, "I like how it has been panning out."
Schubert is only scheduled to open shop on 1 April and has said that she thinks her biggest challenge to date has been ensuring that her ‘recipe’ is right. "It is a challenge to make sure my price points are correct and that the idea for my store is right so that people go for what I’m offering."
For Lucking, maintaining stock demands has been her greatest test. "I’m selling out and can’t replace soon enough, which is good news but also challenging," she said. Nagel said that not only is it important to keep your stock full but you also have to keep offering customers something new. "Customers come in on a weekly basis and get frustrated if there is nothing new. There has to be at least one new style in store per week," he said.
Like Schubert, Corfield said that ensuring that your prices are correct is imperative. Hermanna Rush is still stocked at a number of stores nationwide so they had to ensure that they standardised their prices so that customers did not complain about differing prices.
In addition to running a business and designing seasonal ranges, these designers handle the general administration and management of the shop. Hiring staff can be another setback because it is important to find people who you can trust with your business. "I have a great team who are always on the ball, but it can be difficult to find the right people because this is a stressful working situation. A lot of our clients are brides and we need staff who can think on their feet," Betz explained.
Pros and cons
According to Nagel owning a store is a double-edged sword. You have the advantage of being in control of the whole operation and not having to debate with a board of directors whether to put signage in your shop window. "But as much as the store is your vision it is also your nightmare which you take home every night. You have no one to hand anything over to. It is your capital which you raise and then have to grow and manage," he explained.
These designers agree that is helpful being able to interface with clients and get first-hand feedback about your merchandise. As Dersley pointed out, your brand and store credit each other, so whether the brand or store is gaining recognition, either way you win. Betz agreed and said, "In a multiple brand store you are competing for customers where with you own store customers come in to see your stock and every inch of the shop reflects your brand. The clothes are merchandised correctly and often end up selling better as a result of this."
All these designers agree that it can be a large financial burden and for this reason is not something to race into. "Designers can have a successful business and build their brand without opening a store. I don’t think it should be a benchmark of success. I don’t want to discourage it because I’m also doing it, but if my shop fails it will not mean the failure of my brand or my clothing business. I am offering something different without putting my whole business on the line," Schubert said.
Nagel echoed her sentiments by saying that it all depends on the nature of your business and your product. "If you have a range of T-shirts, with skirts and a few funky jackets then your business can be very successful by stocking stores," he commented.
The stability of your business is paramount and both Betz and Dersley agree that your business has to be established; you have to be well aware of who your market is and what your product is.
Advice for future shop owners
Schubert and Nagel both suggest that potential business owners should get as much industry experience as possible. "Watch your employer make all the mistakes that you don’t need to make and learn from them," Schubert offers.
Both Betz and Corfield urge that you ensure that your business is ready. "I think a lot of people graduate and want to open their own store but I can honestly say that only after 12 years of owning my own brand, am I ready to open my own store. You have to have financial reserves because it takes time for even your established customers to know where you are and even one bad month can be very difficult for a new store," Betz said.
Lucking agreed and said that the retail environment is unpredictable so ensure that you are aware of all your costs. "Consider everything from shop fittings to stock demands and even knowing that the credit card machine takes 5% of the amount of the transaction. I would also say first stock stores for at least two years so your skin can toughen and you can learn a lot."