Talking shop

Quite a few of us have considered founding a business, but not all of us take the plunge. In this issue, business owner Mandy Errington, reveals the steps she took in founding her concern and how we can make town centres more attractive.

After a succession of promotions, Mandy became Head of Marketing for the East of England Co-op, where she was in charge of their overall marketing strategy for 7 years. Mandy possesses 30 years of retail and marketing experience and eventually chose a different path, founding DJV Boutique in Ipswich which has been trading for 7 years.

“Feeling it was time for a change, I began to explore the business opportunities open to me, retail became a strong contender because, in addition to my professional experience, I’d always been told I had good fashion sense.

“I saw a unit and took the plunge – rushing in a little bit, but I had a business plan and I’d sought advice from independent consultants. Always seek guidance before setting up a business, but be judicious about who you ask, ask too many people and it could cloud your vision. My dedicated business advisor was absolutely brilliant, pointing me in the right direction so that nothing was missed, it would have been much harder without this level of support.

“You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and throw yourself into it, to have any chance of success. Starting a new business is demanding. You don’t anticipate how many hours it will take up or the barriers you’ll encounter – you have to be committed.”

Point of difference

“First opening in 2012, we initially sold designer preloved clothes, but it wasn’t proving successful, we changed the dynamic later on and since then sell a carefully curated selection of unique fashion lines. In order to be successful in business, you have to have a point of difference, ours is that we offer styles that generally can’t be found anywhere else locally. We also deliver bespoke services exclusive to DJV.

“We also offer styling and make-up advice, so that people come to us for more than a product. Our styling packages, which can be booked as a group or on an individual basis, provide advice on your optimum colours, assess body shape and include makeup application and refreshments. Making people feel special is what it’s all about. We strive to build a relationship with our customers so they make us a destination and return to us time and again.

“As well as the shop, we offer online and telephone ordering services, occasional late night openings and special events, in order to provide more convenience for our shoppers. It’s having these different facets that keeps us in business. We are looking to diversify further in the future and organise more special events.

“Taking part in community events and expanding your network is important too. We work alongside other retailers and participate in local fashion shows. We each have a trademark style, offering something different which complements each other. As local, independent retailers we are supportive of one another, recommending each other’s services.

“In addition, I co-host larger events, to support a nominated local charity and I mentor young people, which I find rewarding. I‘m also a Board Director for the East of England Co-op, which is invigorating, it’s great to work with like-minded people and to be involved in another role – you see your own business from another perspective.”

Creating a brand

“When it comes to creating your brand, keep it minimalist, legible and avoid too much text. If your brand is simple and has an impact, it’s less likely to date. Never choose what is ‘in’, go for longevity. I used a local Creative Marketing Agency – Bluesky (in Mendlesham, Suffolk) for whom I’d worked, so I knew their work and reputation was excellent! Using a professional freelancer to create your brand can also work well.

“In terms of marketing, establishing who you are is key, find your message and clearly communicate it on a platform that suits your market. You want a balanced marketing mix – with a strong online and social media presence, but with regard to the latter, be careful to choose the right place for your audience. Don’t bombard your customers with too much information, as it can be off-putting.

“People want to know the person behind the business, so tell your story and expand your network. Once people know you, they’ll buy into you, writing blogs is a great way to begin.

“In autumn 2018, we moved into larger premises closer to the town centre and took the opportunity to rebrand and relaunch, as well as relocate. We’ve been able to expand what we do and become a little edgier too.

“Although we have larger premises, we never stockpile. Carrying one or two of each item, means our range is more exclusive, which tends to encourage a purchase. If people see you have lots of a single item, they know they can come back for it.

“You have to be pragmatic in business. Regularly review your progress and your business plan. Don’t be afraid of change, don’t hesitate to pull something that’s not working and do fill the niches that you find. Look at your areas of growth and develop these.

“It’s a challenging time on the high street. Some people feel it’s not worth coming into town centres any more. We make our shop a destination so people come in specifically to see us.

“Having faith in our town centres is important. Presentation is crucial, town centres need to be kept clean and attractive. Seeing one or two more fashion brands in Ipswich, like Zara, would help too, as they would be a draw for people. The levels of rates, rent and parking charges also play a part in making town centres appealing to retailers and their customers. I want to see people dwell here, so they shop and stay for a meal, spending a few hours in the town centre.”

Location is key

“Research an area thoroughly before choosing a location. You need to look at both the competition and the contribution you could make. The right competition can be helpful for your business, at the moment, our shop is located in an area with a good mix of independent shops and businesses. We’re also fortunate to benefit from footfall to our shop from the car parks nearby.

“I checked what plans lay ahead for the area around my shop. Luxury flats are planned for the space above my retail unit in a former department store, and a school is planned to open opposite, so there’ll be even more people passing by in the future.

“Before making a full commitment, I visited the shop a number of times and got to know the neighbourhood, familiarising myself with the shops and their clientele. I also spoke to respected local business owners about their experience of setting up a business in the area.

“East Anglia is a great place to live and work. I particularly love Ipswich, where I grew up. There are so many attractions here, from a plethora of cultural events to beautiful architecture. The waterfront area has become a firm favourite of mine. I’d encourage people to get out and about exploring more of the town, it has a lot to offer.”

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