Where do independents fit?

Where Do Independent Brands Fit In


And so it continues. This week alone we’ve witnessed the further closure of more Mothercare Stores, more Poundworld job losses, the careful restructuring of Marks and Spencer and a pledge by John Lewis for an increase of own brand products from their current 30% to an eventual 50%. Where does this leave small, independent businesses? A strong foothold on the high street seems virtually impossible for the big players, countess customers of an older demographic still express a preference for in-store over online purchases and now the traditional path to the consumer through wholesale deals and/or concessions in department stores is becoming a thing of the past. Add the ridiculous debacle of business rates and we have an almighty hot mess on our hands. For small independent brands who are finding their options steadily dwindling, all is not lost. People are always looking for quality products, something unique and fresh. Add a great backstory and a trustworthy reputation and you’ll find your outlet. Yes, it’s hard to be seen by your target audience when your route to market just got diverted, but innovation and hard graft is key in achieving your lucky break. The Drum recently analysed where it went wrong in the House of Fraser story, surmising that.

Being ‘good’ simply won’t do. Retail brands need a dominating difference to survive and thrive. Primark is a footfall magnet through its low price. Amazon has become the West’s biggest convenience store, John Lewis engenders trust through brilliant service and Selfridges offers an unparalleled shopping environment. Having a look at this list, it’s easy to see that Fraser’s house of brands approach needs a refreshed retail proposition to survive.

The Drum - 18th July 2018

The options for independent brands looking to be discovered by new customers are:

A reliable, high quality and regularly updated website which takes a variety of payment options and is refreshed with new content regularly. If any of these are lacking, your visitors will be off to browse somewhere else before they’ve finished reading the landing page.

Continuously hammer at the door of outlets who are still open to wholesale orders - It’s getting harder to achieve this and many industry discussions suggest that this will become a thing of the past in the next decade, but if you’ve made it part of your strategy then keep knocking doors or evolve your business plan to include sale or return. A presence is better for your business than nothing at all.

Look at Managed Retail Shops/Popups - These are managed in a way that allows a selection of like-minded brands to be brought together under one roof with minimal costs to all in relation to how much it would have cost. They are likely self-funded and the investment in the location will allow an independent to be closer to the big high street names than would otherwise be possible as a single business with huge overheads.

Seek out not for profit, community interest companies - Charities or government backed services who may run what looks to the customer like a normal shop, but is actually a co-funded operation for businesses such as yours. These opportunities are there to support independents who fit their support-based criteria and they are often in shopping centres or high streets where empty units are out of financial reach or unsuitable for standard retailers but can be far more affordable for an initiative who may qualify for discounts and waived operational fees from local councils.

Out of town Opportunities - It can be much more affordable to go to the locations that aren’t instantly thought of as fashion destinations. There are boutiques and shops setting up in villages, local high streets and out of town shopping centres to provide independent shopping to those who can’t or won’t travel to the city. Many of these establishments are keen for independent brands to work with (often sale or return) and are keen to explore what their customers are looking for, be it meet the designer events, pre-loved clothing, past season collections or sample sales. They need you arguably as much as you need them.

Online Platforms - some are very well established, others are gaining traction and many new opportunities are appearing every year. Regardless of the platform you choose, there will be necessary expenditure in the form of joining fees, commissions or running costs. As with any opportunity, being given a platform is only the beginning of your promotional work. Leaving your products in a shop or on an online platform and expecting them to instantly start selling is naive in today’s highly competitive world. It’s up to you how you promote your sales channels, how well you advertise who stocks you and how often you point followers in the direction of where they can buy your wares. Some argue that they don’t see why they should divert sales away from their own website but they don’t see that multiple revenue streams is the key to growth. If you don’t want to nurture more than one sales channel, it might be wise to stick to your own outlet and crack your SEO and PPC for a singular website.

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